The recession, a slow recovery and evolving social standards have put the U.S. golf industry in a slow, but steady decline for the past few years. A recent report from the National Golf Federation indicated the numbers of players are dwindling, rounds of golf are decreasing, total players 18-34 are down 30 percent in the last 20 years and more golf courses closed than opened in 2013.
To turn these statistics around, savvy northern Nevada golf course owners and managers are blasting out of the economic sand traps with some new approaches to building business.
Getting kids under 17 excited about the game has long been a key recruitment strategy at the 50-year-old Carson Valley Golf Club in Gardnerville.
“We’re going to run out of players if we don’t teach the next generations,” said Manya Brooks, who, with her husband Tom, has spent 16 years running the 18-hole, par 71 course along the Carson River.
They offer a variety of affordable opportunities for kids. Spring clinics for ages 5-16 start April 20 (also one in the fall) with six weeks of classes for $130, which includes use of brand name clubs, instruction and a Junior Range Pass good for 10 buckets of practice balls.
Working with their PGA pro Rob Harbottle, kids learn etiquette, putting, chipping, full swing and “get lots of time to have fun on the course and experience using what they learn,” she said. For additional incentives, juniors get deals on seasonal walking passes as well green fees and club rentals.
Though very popular with adult leagues, family golf gets a lot of emphasis at Carson Valley. The Brookses installed forward tees, which they liken to “bunny slopes on the course,” she explained, especially to increase family fun on a more level playing field. During summer evenings, a foursome (must include one junior player) can compete on nine holes, for just $10 a person with a cart.
Last year, the course became the first in northern Nevada to offer Footgolf, a combination of soccer and golf, available on the back nine holes daily after 2 p.m.
“It’s brought interest and people from a whole new demographic,” Brooks said. “There were skeptics, but it’s all worked out and is just a hoot to play. It checks a lot of boxes — you don’t need clubs, it’s fun for all ages and a great, affordable way to enjoy being outside, while getting some exercise.”
The courses run by Reno-based Duncan Golf Management — Fallon, Tahoe City and Dayton Valley as well as Lakeridge, Rosewood Lakes and Wolf Run in Reno — have taken a multi-pronged approach to introducing new people to each property and increasing existing customer loyalty, according to Vice President TJ Duncan.
In addition to emphasizing the family friendly nature of each course with special rates and programs, they serve as wedding venues, offer wine and food paring events, host local business mixers and networking parties and are supporting fundraising programs for Northern Nevada non-profits.
To more effectively manage the numerous requests from charitable organizations, and give back to the communities in each of their markets, Duncan said the company introduced a new philanthropy program this year offering six grants for a fundraising golf tournament complete with cart and green fees at DGM-operated courses. They will also provide internal resources by partnering with each charity to help promote the event and make it a success.
Success at Sierra Sage in Reno is measured by delivering the best possible experience to every player, which takes focus on the course as well as off, according to General Manager Mike Mazzaferri, a PGA pro whose team includes his PGA pro wife, Denise. The Par 71, 18-hole municipal facility, located off Stead Blvd., “has seen 4-5 down years,” he admits. More positive outcomes are resulting from responding well to customer feedback in an annual survey, delivering faster, better service in their on-site restaurant and taking steps to more fully engage younger players.
They have an active kids program and support a strong PGA Junior League team, but a big challenge has been finding new ways to attract the device-attached, texting, always-in-touch, 21-35 year olds, many of whom are put off by the rules and rituals of golf’s heritage. So Mazzaferri has enlisted the expertise of his 22-year-old son and 25-year-old nephew, whom he’s sending through the Professional Golfer’s Career College, a two-year business degree program.
They’re all learning together.
“These younger generations don’t care as much about the traditions of golf — they are social in a different way, and even teaching them is different,” said the busy pro. So the course now has an active Facebook page that offers special deals contests and newsfeeds, Mazzaferri expects to deliver the customer survey now via email, text and social media. “A report indicated that by 2017 Generation Y will outspend Boomers, so we better pay attention.”