The changes to our lifestyle imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to take a toll on the mental, emotional and even physical health of millions of people. We typically enjoy a variety of outlets to relieve the stress of normal daily activities but the ability of COVID-19 to spread through social gatherings has had an unprecedented impact on those outlets. Most are still closed and some will be altered for years to come. The impact on our health and well-being beyond the direct, potentially deadly threat of the virus is just beginning to manifest itself. It is more critical than ever that we find ways to safely enjoy life, have fun and have “normal” experiences. Luckily, golf is well suited to continue operating smoothly despite the pandemic making the sport a very appealing outlet for many non-golfers.
Team Sports On Hold
Team sports as well as any sport that requires close contact are considered high risk activities, and are not allowed in many communities. There are efforts under way to develop and implement safe guidelines to resume these activities, but so much is still unknown about the virus making it difficult to balance the risk of exposure with the reward of conducting the sport. The inability to play certain sports or participate in many leisure time activities has created a void for millions of people around the world. People are not only looking for something to replace their favorite activities, they actually need something to fill what they are missing in life to maintain their physical and mental health. You don’t have to dig too deep to see why many people will turn to golf.
The Nature Of Golf
Golf has a number of inherent qualities that make it especially suited to address some of the immediate challenges we are currently facing. It is surprisingly easy to make some minor adjustments that can greatly reduce the possibility of infection. It is played outdoors in a wide-open environment, and the nature of the game avoids exposure or interaction with large crowds. Even the potential for physical transmission through physical contact can be greatly reduced – there are very few common touch points and they can be reasonably eliminated. Perhaps the most important points is golf’s ability to provide a fun, challenging physical activity that can be enjoyed by all ages – and has long been recognized as a great stress-relieving activity. These factors have all combined to bring about a huge surge of interest in golf, not only among existing golfers but among those who have never played the game. It is important that the golf industry reacts by making sure that they provide an easy pathway for everyone to enjoy golf in a fun and safe environment.
Those of us that are familiar with golf often forget that it is only enjoyed by about 1 out of every 10 people. The other nine have either never tried it or had such a minor (or poor) experience in playing that they did not pick up the sport. Now is the ideal time to reach out to those non-golfers and invite them to experience the greatest game ever, a sport that will last them a lifetime.
Don’t forget that millennials are an important group to consider when you are introducing people to the game. Golf operators have been struggling to attract millennial golfers to their courses in recent years. These young people want to share their experiences socially; they embrace technology while at the same time shunning activities that force them into conformity. They consider their mobile devices an essential tool in their social network, and it is their primary method for sharing their experiences and seeing what their friends are doing. The opportunity for attracting these people to golf has never been better; millenials are sociable, outdoorsy and most importantly, they are extremely bored with so many of their regular activities not available to them. To attract this demographic, we need to make golf a frictionless, fun and appealing passtime, and that means looking at your golf operation a little bit differently.
Are you providing the most advanced technology features that you can at your course? This includes everything from the booking and check-in experience to embracing mobile devices throughout your golf course – such as USB chargers on your golf carts. Do you have dress codes that will negatively impact the experience of those who shun uniformity? Do you market through social media and encourage your golfers to share their experiences while on the golf course? Young adults represent the future of golf – we can and should provide positive experiences for them. Showcase golf as being a fun activity where you can enjoy the outdoors, have a beer or too and have a nice day with your closest friends – all while staying safe and socially connected. Millenials are always looking for a new experience, so let’s introduce them to golf!
One way to do this right now is to call local news organizations and invite them to do a story on the steps you are taking to protect your golfers and staff. COVID-19 responses are one of the really hot topics in news these days, and local-interest stories that are upbeat, informative and show reactive efforts in a positive light are almost always of interest to local news organizations. Be sure to stress the importance of following social distancing and strict adherence operational procedures, but also communicate the inherent safety of golf as an activity. The ever-changing news cycle may present challenges in getting free publicity, so you should also develop a clear marketing strategy that also includes social media, online advertising and effective email marketing. These channels can be extremely targeted and cost-effective, and if you have the right tools your marketing strategy can be an easy, efficient and inexpensive method to grow your business.
Recognize that things we understand and take for granted in Golf are foreign concepts to many “newbies”. Don’t overestimate what they may know; everything from the terminology to what clubs to use are new concepts for people who have never played before. So remember that in addition to absorbing the new guidelines we are imposing to keep them safe, we need to show patience and understanding as we introduce them to the game. Consider developing an “Introductory Manual” that beginners can use to walk them step-by-step through enjoying a round of golf at your facility. This can be produced in written form, and made available as a .pdf download on your website. You can even produce a video or series of videos that make this information available online.
Adapting Your Course
Strong First Experience
This is perhaps one of the most difficult objectives to achieve while also being the most critical. If someone has a bad experience on their first attempt, it can easily stop them from trying golf again. In addition, there are many things that can result in a bad experience. Your staff needs to make a special effort to help these people understand what to do and even how to have a good time! If your course is fairly challenging, offer them some tips on how to make their golf experience more enjoyable. If they are playing at a time when the course is crowded, a regular occurrence these days, try to let the groups behind them know that they are beginners and make sure that your rangers/ambassadors offer friendly assistance in completing their round and ensuring that they do not have a bad interaction with more experienced golfers.
Creating A Safe Environment
When it comes to potential for spreading COVID-19, golf is an inherently safe activity. But we still need to take steps to make it as safe as possible, both for our staff and the public in general. We continually review our operations to make sure we are proactively reducing risk. You should limit cash payments and minimize points of contact at your facilities as much as possible. Consider offering the ability to pre-purchase rounds online and using convenient self check-in kiosks at your course. Enhanced cleaning standards are also critical which includes sanitizing your golf carts between each use as well as providing hand sanitizer at multiple locations throughout your facility. The leaders in the golf industry, through the WeAreGolf.org coalition, have been very proactive in developing clear guidelines for safe conduct of golf operations. They recently released the Back 2 Golf guidelines for course operators. This information includes professionally designed posters that you can print out and display at your facility as well as making them available for download on your website.
The world has changed, and it remains to be seen when and even how much it returns to the way it was before COVID-19. Every business is faced with significant challenges in how it adapts to the “new normal”. Golf is very fortunate in that it is an inherently safe and fun activity that also provides physical and mental benefits for people of all ages. Nevertheless, the responsibility of safely introducing people to the game lies fully on the shoulders of golf operators.