It’s a question we get all the time – “How can I attract more __________ to my __________?”

Fill the blanks however you like.. skiers to my ski hill, families to my attraction, weddings to my hotel…

Marketing involves trying to convince someone that something is a good idea. You’re trying to show someone why a product or service is important. You typically think about what it is that people like about you and use those traits to your advantage. If people say you have the best burgers in town, you might use the ol’ “best burgers in town” quote in your ads.

Although I like the idea of figuring out what you’re good at and running with it, sometimes it’s important to look at the other side of the coin. Think about reasons people don’t use your product or service and use those ideas to your advantage.

The golf business is a perfect example. Many golf courses are struggling to fill their tee sheets, but very few want to acknowledge the things that could be keeping golfers away. Let me tell you a story…

Once upon a time, I worked at a fairly well-known local golf course. It was always in good shape, it was reasonably priced, and it was about 30 mins from Edmonton. We were usually pretty busy on weekends and holidays but struggled to fill our tee sheet otherwise. There were lots of “theories” about why we weren’t busy…

  • Location – Some of us were convinced that the 30 min drive was too much for people. Truthfully, Edmontonians are pretty golf-crazy. 30 mins is not that far to drive around here.
  • Food – Others figured that people wanted a more “complete” golfing experience. They wanted to hit the range, play some golf and have a meal afterwards. Maybe the food wasn’t being promoted enough. Maybe we needed lower our food prices to get people in the door.
  • Price – Some though slashing our prices was the way to go. If we were cheaper, people would flock to the golf course. Our prices were already very competitive, and if we went much lower, we’d all have to work for free.

There was this other “minor” thing hanging over the course. It had to do with the way we advertised, and in turn, the way people perceived us. We regularly promoted ourselves as one of the most challenging courses in all of Alberta. Golfers love challenges, right?

If you’re familiar with 99% of the golfing public, their “challenges” involve hitting the ball in the right direction. Making par on a 500-yard hole featuring a fairway surrounded by water and an island green goes a bit beyond a “challenge” for the average golfer. It’s just cruel. To make things even more difficult, we had water on 15 holes.

I’d often tell people about where I worked. The most common responses I’d get went something like this..

  • “Oh ya, I’ve heard of that place. Lots of water there. I’d lose a dozen golf balls!”
  • “I went there once. It was in really nice shape but I shot 120! I’ll need to practice a lot more before returning.”
  • “I hear it takes forever to play a round with all that water.”

The good news – Our advertising was working! People knew that the course was a challenge.

The bad news – Our advertising was working! People knew that the course was a challenge.

Instead of coming up with new ways to attract more golfers through promotions and price-slashing, the answer to our troubles was right in front of us. We were creating our own consumer barrier. We were telling the public that our course was extremely challenging. The average golfer is looking for an enjoyable round of golf with a few challenges sprinkled in along the way. We were doing our best to position the course as an ego-smashing, ball-eating monster.

That’s not what the people wanted.

Would a foursome of beginner golfers want to visit us? Not a chance. Would a parent want to treat their aspiring young golfer to a round at a place that swallows golf balls? Nope. Would the person organizing the company golf tournament want to bruise the bosses ego by sending him or her to one of the hardest golf courses in the area? Probably not (unless they didn’t like the boss).

We needed to soften our image and help smash the preconceived consumer barriers that were created. The course was actually very friendly for most skill levels; we just didn’t tell people that. Over the past number of years, the course has really done a good job of removing the barriers. They’ve made a few adjustments on the course, but most of the changes have come in the messaging. Gone are the days of the great “challenge”. The course is still tough… it’s just not positioned that way anymore.

So what does my long-winded story have to do with marketing?

Think of the reasons people DON’T choose you. What barriers prevent them from making you their first call? What can you say or do to smash these barriers? How were these barriers created and communicated? Is consumer education a priority? Are these a product of misinformation?

Let’s look at some common consumer barriers in the golf business… reasons why someone doesn’t play a certain course…

  • Poor conditions – This is a big one. Someone might visit your course when it isn’t in good shape and all of a sudden they identify it as “never in good shape”. A simple solution might be to regularly post pictures and videos of your course conditions on your website and social media channels.
  • Cost – Some people are just cheap. So be it… leave them to do their own thing. People might view your course as expensive. Instead of automatically cutting prices, find ways to demonstrate the value that the consumer is getting by visiting you. What’s included in the price? Are there simple value-adds that you can package into the experience? (Hint: look beyond complementary range balls or a cart)
  • Cost of the game – This is a big barrier for those looking to give it a try. Someone shouldn’t have to drop hundreds of dollars to give golf a shot. Try offering a “beginners night” where people can come out and experience the sport for a reasonable fee.
  • Time – Time is one of the most valuable commodities around. Golf gets a bad rap because it can take up too much time to play. This can be a huge barrier for some. What if you allowed busy golfers to pay by the hole instead of making them go the traditional 9 or 18 holes?

Take some time to think about the reasons people don’t play your course. It could change the way you market in the future.

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Post Written By:

Brian Siddle

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