It’s a tough economy for entertainment and recreation industries, but despite the economic slowdown, and despite changes to the golfing demographic overall, golf clubs are managing to keep off the rough and into the green. How are they adapting? By thinking outside the box.
As Ron VanderMey, head golf professional at Lewis Estates Golf Course, explains, being flexible is the name of the game when it comes to attracting new target demographics.
“The demographics definitely have changed. Golf used to attract an older crowd, but now lots of youth and lots of women are getting into the game,” says VanderMey. “With these demographics, everyone is getting into the game—and that is a good thing for the industry. We have a big juniors program, and our ladies league is one of the bigger leagues in the city. We also started offering special events, like ‘date night’, which is very popular—it typically sells out in 20 minutes,” VanderMey laughs.
“We also hold parent and child night after 5 p.m.,” he continues, adding that staying ahead of the game is all about “getting creative” with new opportunities.
“All of our leagues here are full,” VanderMey notes, pointing to Lewis Estates’ central location as a big factor in its success. “We also have a good product and a fantastic course. Over last couple of years, we’ve been experimenting by adding food and beverage vouchers for our restaurant. It gives people an incentive to stay and have lunch on us—a thanks for coming out. It all helps, especially in today’s economy.
“Last year we didn’t see as much of an impact as we expected from the economy—it was more a reflection on the weather—but we do notice some things are not picking up. Corporate passes from business memberships are down, and tournaments are down because companies aren’t spending as much to have tournaments.
“It’s still going to be tough year. Things are coming up, but we’re not out of it yet.” That continued strain on golf could add even more stress to Edmonton’s economy. “Golf is huge in Edmonton,” explains VanderMey. “It brings in tourism from all over—from the States (especially with the way our dollar compares) from out of town—people come in to play, and a lot of business gets done on the course.
“It really is a fantastic game. Even if you just come to the driving range, it’s a great way to meet people, socialize, hit a couple balls, forget about a rough day, and have fun!”
Murray McCourt, general manager and executive golf professional at The Ranch Golf and Country Club, agrees. “No matter what goes on, people need to have leisurely activities in their lives, whether that means golfing with friends or spending quality time on the green with family. Golf offers a well-rounded lifestyle and an extremely enjoyable game that can be played by the young and old alike.
“It caters to an important part of people’s lives in terms socializing, family time, health benefits, comradery with friends and family and more, but there are other benefits to golf too. Golf courses and tournaments are a great way for businesses to grow. Businesses can thank customers or employees by bringing them out for day on the course.”
Those tournaments aren’t just good for promoting strong business deals and efficiency among employees; they provide a lot of benefits for the economy.
“Tournament business has people coming from far and wide to play and participate, and that really does help economy,” McCourt emphasizes. “People come into Edmonton, stay in hotels, spend money in restaurants and at shopping centres — there is no question that golf creates a significant positive impact on the economy.”
The Ranch, heading into its 28th year of operation, has a number of claims to its success, including three Canadian tour events, and at one time holding a ranking among the top 100 golf clubs in the country. However, the golf club doesn’t just have its high-end status to thank for the fact that it is still one of the busiest courses in Alberta.
“We’re pretty creative,” McCourt explains of the golf course’s growing success. “We’re definitely always thinking outside the box. You need to do that, in times like this especially. The economy has changed dramatically, and that has impacted business to a dramatic extent. We don’t have regular memberships. We have corporate members, public play, and tournament play, so our business was typically corporate based.
“Some of the companies that had done golf tournaments at The Ranch don’t even exist anymore. That’s a huge revenue source that has gone to zero. Other companies are scaling back on tournaments, etc. It’s been challenging for us to maintain our level of business. We’ve had to figure out other ways to generate that revenue and keep the golf course busy.”
McCourt’s solution? “Do more than just golf.”
“We’ve done things a little differently to diversify in terms of promotional products. All clubs sell corporate products, but we’ve taken it to a new level by creating our own promotional product company called Tough Stuff Promotions,” says McCourt.
“We also do weddings and Christmas functions, and, to encourage businesses to support us through the winter months, we host parties and meetings with a la carte add-ons, like sleigh rides, bonfires, and fireworks shows,” McCourt describes. “We’ve taken steps to make ourselves more appealing, showcasing ourselves as more than a golf course to encourage people to come out.
“A few years back, we started the winter warrior challenge. It’s basically a tough mudder—5 kilometres and 12 obstacles—and we work with local charities to put it on. It’s a good promotional tool, not to mention a lot of fun! We’ve had a ton of ideas for how to get more people out to golf and to use The Ranch in other ways. We’re doing big things others have never done in golf before, things that have the potential to drive business in our direction,” he adds, unwilling to say more about what The Ranch is up to, besides a hint that the “big reveal” will take place during March. “Fingers crossed it goes well,” McCourt smiles.
Chad Rumpel, head golf professional at Eagle Rock Golf Course agrees that a tough economy and a changing demographic have introduced a few challenges into the business.
“Every club is different,” Rumpel explains. “At Eagle Rock, we have a good core group of seniors, but the game is shrinking for a lot of reasons. It’s time consuming, difficult and too expensive. We hold corporate events, and we have noticed a big impact as a result of the economy. Alberta’s wealth is oil, and the decline of oil prices created one of the biggest impacts on golf: fewer corporate tournaments. Companies used to spend money to take clients or staff out on the green, but it hasn’t been happening in last year.”
When the economic downturn, a short season, and fickle weather all combine, it hits golf courses hard, but the changing demographic has also offered Eagle Rock a competitive edge.
“There’s a lot of competition out there, but the key to this demographic is the price point,” states Rumpel. “Eagle Rock is very aggressive when it comes to marketing its price point. Golf is expensive, so I concentrate on keeping a low price point and trying to get people bigger bang for their buck.
“It’s about creating better value for the money people spend. People can play my course twice for the price of the golf course down the street, and we offer fun deals for the same services you would get going out to play a higher end club.”
That focus on marketing, creativity, and maintaining a low price point helps, but nothing helps draw more people to the golf course than the nature of the game itself. “Golf is a great sport to go out and spend four hours with friends or work peers,” Rumpel concludes. “It’s a great way to network, and it’s fun for all ages. Whether you are 7 or 70, it’s the sport you want to take part in.”