If there's one topic we hear golf operators ask about more than any other, it's golf course marketing.
There are many moving pieces inside a good marketing campaign, and a one-person team can’t be expected to manage a comprehensive strategy on their own.
You might be great at applying a few marketing tactics in your day-to-day, but with general managers having to wear so many hats, golf courses often lack a consistent multi-channel golf marketing strategy that is truly focused on revenue generation.
If you're a general manager, a head professional, or any golf course employee that has been tasked with developing a marketing plan, this guide is for you!
We're going to take a comprehensive look at everything about golf course marketing from planning, to development, to execution. Whether you want to re-launch your brand, implement an automated marketing campaign, or optimize your website, you'll find the answer here.
Golf course marketing encompasses all of the actions taken by a golf course to generate awareness, develop a branded experience, sell tee times, advertise pro shop and restaurant items, and delight customers.
Golf courses typically use a mix of tools, channels, and strategies to accomplish their marketing and revenue generation goals.
Some marketing channels golf courses use include:
The point of identifying each channel is to help create a specific set of tools and strategies for each one.
We will dive more deeply into each one later, but for now, these are the most common marketing channels we see golf courses putting to use.
Putting together a real marketing plan can be a daunting task.
Considering the amount of money you will ultimately pour into your marketing strategy and the amount of time it will take for you to see real results, you need to make sure you have a strong plan in place before you start.
A standard marketing plan typically spans the course of one year, and is divided by each quarter. This timeframe makes sense for golf courses, given their seasonality.
In order to consistently analyze organization-wide targets and key metrics, most companies align the beginning and end of their marketing plan with the beginning and end of their fiscal year.
How to build a golf course marketing plan:
Your marketing plan is the jump off point for creating a branding strategy. It develops a message, identifies marketing channels, and generates interest in your business.
Everything you do to market your golf course should be defined within your marketing plan, and while the plan above is concise and could go into much more detail, it is a good starting point for developing a better strategy.
Before you go start your marketing campaign, you need to assess your branding strategy.
Understanding how your brand will fit within your golf course's market is critical for planning your marketing strategy.
Not all courses are created equal and your golf course has a specific fit within your area’s golf market. Your branding tells the market who your audience is, the kinds of customers you expect to visit, and the overall experience these customers can expect when they come.
Pick the right branding and your fit within the market will come easily.
If you choose to not pay special attention to your brand, you risk confusing the market and losing customers. Or, you’ll attract the wrong kinds of people, people who won't be coming back.
To develop a strong golf course brand you need to understand your ideal customer demographics, market position, and customer experience. These three key areas of branding help tell your audience what they can expect when they walk through the clubhouse doors.
1/ Ideal customer demographic
Whom are you trying to attract to your golf course? Do the features and benefits of your operation cater better to families, young people, seniors, or someone else?
Understanding who your customers are can help to identify marketing initiatives that enhance experiences, dictate ideal product offerings, and address the needs of that specific demographic.2/ Market position
How is your golf course positioning itself within the market? Municipal courses create experiences that are open to all, whereas private clubs build their reputation on premium service and exclusivity.
Where your operation fits within the market depends on the design of your facility, your physical location, and your history within the local community.3/ Customer experience
Golf course brands are built on customer experiences. Customers have come to expect a certain quality of experience based on how much a round of golf costs, and how the media and their peers describe their past experiences.
For golf courses, especially those that offer a premium experience, every customer interaction builds your brand.
Determining a target demographic takes some critical thinking. You need to consider how well your golf course suits the demographics needs, whether your offering is realistic or attractive, and whether this demographic is lucrative enough to be worth chasing.
For example, if your golf course is in a premium location you may want to target wealthy individuals in a private setting, with traditional branding and product offerings.
However, if your golf course is in a competitive market and most golf courses serve senior citizens or wealthy elites, you may benefit more from targeting families and young people with a fun, less traditional, atmosphere.
In reality, there are many ways to brand your golf course. The key is taking the time to do your research and understand the best way to fit into your immediate market.
We’re certain your golf course uses some kind of email marketing strategy, most golf courses do.
It’s an important channel for many operators, but getting it right can be tough.
What makes successful email marketing strategies perform better at than others comes down to targeting, segmentation, messaging, design and even automation.
Too many golf courses send confusing and bad looking emails to unsegmented listed. These communications do not land in a contextually meaningful or effective way.
Some common marketing emails golf courses use are:
The trick to getting more out of your email marketing is to make sure every communication you send is on brand, contextually relevant, and meaningful.
To do that you’ll need good segmentation features with your database of golfers, but more importantly, you’ll need to think through a variety of reasons why your golf course would be justified in contacting a golfer via email.
While putting together a good email design or crafting a clickable subject line is very important and there are plenty of good resources for optimizing the design of your emails, the key to success is timing your emails well by sending the right communication to the right person at the right time.
It’s not a surprise to hear that most of your members own a smartphone and will have one on themselves while at your facility (even if you have rules against this).
Today’s phone screen is a high-value piece of marketing real estate, especially for golf courses.
The value behind mobile apps and SMS marketing lies in their ability to create a marketing channel directly into the pockets of your customer audience.
Since open rates for push notifications and text messages are astronomically high, there is a lot of potential to benefit from leveraging this kind of marketing channel.
Mobile apps help to improve the customer experience at your golf course and are more than just a score tracking tool.
A good quality custom app can actively promote and push tee time deals, they allow members to monitor house account activity and see who is playing on the tee sheet.
Best of all, mobile apps open up a channel to send push notifications for tee time deals, restaurant or pro shop promotions, course-related announcements, or even an event invite. There are a lot of ideas for using your mobile app as a marketing channel.
Some golf course managers may be concerned that implementing a custom mobile app isn’t worth it because they are afraid their customers won’t download the app.
The truth is, with a well planned mobile app download campaign across the organization can help you put together the right messaging and incentives to encourage a significant percentage of your audience to download it.
SMS Marketing works similarly to mobile apps because they are able to put messages directly into people’s pockets.
However, this channel can be a little intrusive. So, some different rules apply.
The main key is to only send text messages that are contextually relevant and only engage those who have provided consent to be contacted.
A good example might be to send a text promoting a burger and beer deal in the restaurant to people who are actively playing on the course, but there are many other great examples.
Many golf courses use promotional strategies to get players in the door, however it’s not uncommon for these promotion strategies to at times feel disjointed or disorganized.
Developing a clear promotion strategy takes a lot of careful thought and consideration.
Golf course promotion strategy ideas:
To be successful with your next promotion strategy you need to make sure you have clear goals and a plan for maximizing the value of each sale.
The ultimate goal should be to ensure that anyone who engages and uses the promotion will become a long term customer.
To generate long term customers with your promotions you need to ensure data capture for each sale.
Collecting data isn’t as difficult as you might think, modern tools like online booking software, tee time call centers, and good staff training can help with ensuring more customer data is collected from every transaction.
Tee time marketplaces or distributors are a well known method of marketing tee times to a larger audience through large websites like GolfNow, Tee-Off, or the Chronogolf Marketplace.
In the past some of these distributors have come under fire for devaluing tee times with aggressive trade policies that took advantage of golf courses. However those days are coming to an end.
Make no mistake, tee time marketplaces aren’t going away, in fact, they serve as an excellent marketing channel if you have a good relationship with your supplier.
Do not look at distribution websites as an online booking channel, there are costs associated with using them and you need to measure marketing ROI whenever you use a distribution website.
The ability to generate new customers to your golf course is where the main value in partnering with tee time distribution lies.
So, whenever a customer comes to you through one of these websites, your ultimate goal should be to convert them into a returning customer who books through your website, not the distributors.
Again, capturing this kind of data is best done with online booking technology, customer loyalty programs, and well-trained staff. Once you have their contact information, you now have the permission to market your own channels to these customers and hopefully win them back as a paying customer, not a distribution website referral.
Building a good relationship with your tee time distribution partners takes a fair amount of analysis and negotiating. But, if you know what it takes to get a fair deal, your golf course can benefit from the massive audience these huge websites attract.
Today businesses have the opportunity to advertise online through banner ads, online videos and in search engine results.
Google AdWords is the main supplier of these advertising placements, and will most likely be your go-to should you choose to use a pay per click marketing strategy.
Running a successful campaign using takes a lot of careful planning and consideration since pay per click campaigns can be very costly and time-consuming–– especially if you don’t know what you are doing.
If you plan on running ads through Google, we recommend that you hire a specialist or a least consult an expert.
Some key items to consider before running a pay per click campaign are:
Don’t rush into a full campaign right away, you are better off experimenting to find the right promotion mix.
Keep in mind that arguably the best targeting strategy is to remarket to anyone who visits your website.
You know those ads you see after visiting TaylorMade’s online e-commerce store? That’s how a remarketing campaign works.
Visiting their website shows you already know their brand and are interested in their products. TaylorMade knows you are more likely to return to by that new set of M1s since the retailer is top of mind and you are familiar with their brand.
Beyond remarketing, there is a lot to consider and optimize when it comes to targeting and placing your ads. So, make sure you have a well-planned strategy in place before you start investing in a pay per click campaign.
Aside from the pro shop phone, your website is a primary source for information and bookings for tee times at your golf course. Especially if you have a user-friendly online booking interface.
A customer generated through your website represents an ideal transaction because the process of managing a tee time booked online is much less complicated and much less costly than having a staff member take a call in the pro shop or having to pay for a customer who booked through a distribution website.
Best of all, when a customer books with an online booking tool you automatically capture important customer data like email, phone number, and even credit card. Owning this data is key for marketing to new customers and generating return visits.
We highly recommend partnering with a reputable design agency to build your website, since creating a quality site that is optimized for conversion is not a simple task.
Plus, good design agencies know how to optimize your website to ensure it will rank well in Google search results.
We call this process Search Engine Optimization or SEO, and it is extremely important for generating tee time bookings when golfers search for tee times in their area.
For many, your website will be the first part of your business that golfers interact with, so don’t pinch pennies when it comes to investing in this critical marketing channel.
Social media is a very common channel that golf course managers are interested in leveraging.
It makes sense, these channels give easy access to relevant audiences and can be great for sharing promotions, announcements, and golf course related information.
To get started, golf courses should have an account on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Snapchat.
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram offer business focussed tools that permit your golf course’s social media page to share detailed information. Your facility should make sure the information for these pages is complete and accurate with high-quality images.
With social media you only get as much as you put in, so make sure you and your team are regularly posting useful and interesting content.
Some good ideas for golf course social media posts are:
Part of the reason why social media is an attractive marketing channel for golf courses is due to their appeal with younger audiences, especially millennials.
There are plenty of creative ways to produce campaigns that appeal to this demographic, but the main goal is to build a community that gets people sharing and talking about your golf course.
Social media strategies that encourage commenting and discussion
Since social media is all about community so make sure your posts are designed to start discussions.
The good news is that you already know that your audience is interested in golf. Your best option is to generate discussions about the game, the pros, golf technique, and hopefully your golf course.
The narrative within the golf industry that millennials aren’t interested in the game, needs to end.
So many golf courses use this as a license to not put in any real effort to attract these important customers.
This is the main problem the golf industry has with attracting young customers and members.
Millennials show up to a golf course and can tell that no updates have been made to accommodate their needs.
So, they (rightfully) say, “looks like this place isn’t for me” and they don’t come back.
Getting millennials to become regular customers at your golf course takes a little bit more effort than keeping around your base of older, more loyal customers.
But, those efforts pay off because millennial customers represent a considerable lifetime value that is worth going after.
If you want to understand what millennials like, and what they need to come back over and over again, look at Topgolf and consider the way they market to millennials with the help of influencers, simplified versions of the game, technology-infused service and premium experiences.
If you are wondering why we put millennials and influencers together under one marketing strategy it is because of the degree to which millennials are affected by what they see on social media.
This demographic lives on their phones and they like to share fun experiences with their peers online. Young people are mini-influencers when they share an Instagram post of their friend teeing off on a Saturday morning.
Millennials crave authenticity and experiences. If you offer an incredible experience that is integrated with new technology while creating an authentic atmosphere where young people are comfortable enough to feel as though they belong, you will attract millennials and they will share about your facility on social media.
Of course, there are tons of specific tactics you can use to generate more millennial customers.
However, your main goal should be to create a consistently branded experience, where your customers can tell they are in good hands from the moment they book online, to the last round of beers at the 19th hole.
Posters, flyers, banners, radio, billboards, and even television advertisements are a tried and true marketing strategy that many golf courses have used in the past.
It makes sense, golf is a very traditional industry and consumers have long received marketing communications from golf courses in these formats. Customers are conditioned to expect this marketing, this is why they respond to it and why it works.
Typically this kind of marketing is used for raising brand awareness, pulling in foot traffic, and spreading important information about upcoming tournaments and events, or deals and promotions.
Often these marketing campaigns are very expensive, especially if you choose to advertise through media such as radio, television, or billboards.
If you choose to go down this route, you need to make sure your advertisements get the message right.
Campaigns like these need to convey a fun and exciting tone, incorporate smooth design, and require smart placements to be successful.
Even if you print off fliers to advertise an upcoming tournament or event there are many design principles at play in order to ensure success.
Be careful with any media strategies you put in place. Tracking conversions from them can be extremely hard to measure.
One strategy could be to put a promotion code that can be used when booking a reservation or tournament start online.
Of course, you’ll need a course management software system that can track and generate promotion codes to support this kind of strategy.
The most important part of marketing is measuring ROI.
There is no point in investing time, energy, and money into a marketing campaign if you aren’t sure whether it is generating positive returns on not.
Any campaign you run should come with a predefined set of goals, key performance indicators (KPI’s), and dashboards to aid in monitoring performance.
Each marketing tactic has its set of key metrics that come with it. For example, an email marketing campaign should track opens, clicks, and conversions. Whereas, a pay per click campaigns will track costs per click, conversions, placements, and reach.
Here are a few examples of KPI’s you might want to track for your marketing campaigns:
If you feel overwhelmed about having to track all these metrics, modern technology helps make analysis much easier with dashboards that are easy to read and understand.
Ultimately, the goal of any marketing campaign is to generate more bookings, pro shop sales, restaurant seatings, and revenue.
Any analysis you do of your marketing should focus on how your results are affecting revenue, that way you can easily make decisions about what tactics are working and what is not.
It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that technology plays a big role in running a successful marketing campaign.
Yes, there is a clear correlation between your digital marketing campaigns and technology, but even a tee time distribution strategy can be aided and monitored with the help of modern software.
Some tools golf courses can use to improve their marketing campaigns might be:
These tools all perform specific functions to aid a variety of tasks. Some open new marketing channels, while others provide analysis and insight.
The Golf Marketer’s Toolbox is an excellent free resource we have available for download. It dives in-depth into how each marketing tool can be used to aid with measuring and analyzing your campaigns.
If you struggle with putting in place a strong golf marketing program then it may be time to reassess and rebuild your strategy.
Sit down with your team and set out to create a comprehensive marketing plan. You’ll need to identify the channels that work best, what you need to communicate, and how you budget for expenses.
Remember that your brand will often be the first thing about your operation that customers will see and interact with. Make sure that you’ve put plenty of thought into the way your golf course presents itself in terms of look and feel.
Your branding strategy will send a lot of signals about what to expect at your facility, simply through the way that your branding, website, and promotions appear.
Most importantly make sure to track and watch ROI on any marketing initiative that you put in place. You need to ensure that the hard work and effort you put into marketing is paying off.
Using marketing tools and software can help with tracking performance and simplifying tasks. But at the end of the day marketing is a personal daily activity that requires creativity, analysis, and willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.
Marketers use a lot of lingo, so to help you understand everything we’re talking about here’s a few definitions for some of the more advanced acronyms and terms used in this marketing guide.
Automation describes when a computer, a piece of software, or machinery is able to perform manual tasks that once required human labor. In marketing, automation typically refers to software applications that can remove some of the manual tasks that come with executing a marketing strategy.
Branding refers to the overall aesthetic, quality, look and feel your operation sells and will be known for. Developing a strong marketing strategy starts with making the appropriate branding decisions for the market you plan on serving.
Customer Relationship Management or CRM, refers to the strategies and tools a business uses to manage customer relationships. Typically, CRM requires the use of software to capture and maintain customer data.
The word demographic refers to a specific group within a population. In marketing demographics are used to divide large audiences into specific groups.
Demographics can be divided into groups by gender, age, income, experience, and more.
A Key Performance Indicators or KPIs, is a measurable number that measures whether your operation is achieving a specific goal. In marketing KPIs are used to measure the success of a particular marketing campaign.
For example, a marketing KPI used by many marketers in an email marketing scenario is the open rate and click rate on an email.
Pay-per-click or PPC is term used in digital marketing within Google Ads and Facebook campaigns. PPC describes this concept where these advertising platforms charge for clicks towards your website.
Return on investment or ROI is a term used in business to descrivbe the amount of return derived from an investment. In marketing, ROI is calculated by taking the amount of revenue minus the costs of the campaign divided by the cost of the campaign.
For example, if you invest $100 into a marketing campaign and generate $1000, you get ($1000 - $100) / $100 for an ROI of 900%.
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO refers to the actions an organization can take to ensure their website shows up in Google search results for appropriate searches. SEO encompasses actions taken within a website’s design to be more recognizable to Google’s search engine, content written to rank for specific keywords, and actions taken to increase the authority of an organizations website.
An action taken to improve a websites design could be increasing the load speed of a website, or submitting the site’s architecture for Google’s indexation robots.
An action taken to write content to rank on a specific keyword could be writing a blog post about a tournament your golf course hosts to rank on queries about that specific blog post.
An action taken to increase the authority of a golf course’s website could be receiving a listing and link on a top ten list from a reputable golf course review website.
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