During a day of workshops at the National Golf Industry Show in Orlando on Tuesday, I heard many golf course operators share their frustration and even some anger at the bind they find themselves in. Online tee time providers like GolfNow.com were singled out for having forced green fee prices way down. But these tee time consolidators are invited by the golf club to help fill in their tee sheets, and they can be uninvited at any time. The golf course operators mistakenly thought they could control third-party pricing, and they are upset now to find out they can’t unless they turn their backs on the incremental revenue stream.
Private clubs are putting themselves in a similar bind. In an effort to backfill for lost members, some of these clubs have eliminated initiation fees altogether in order to generate much needed cash flow from dues. But a new member with no “skin in the game” is not tied to the long-term viability of the club. If they are not getting their moneys worth from rounds played, nothing keeps them from fleeing the club after a few months. In many cases, members-only clubs are also shifting the definition of “private” by permitting outside play through providers like GolfNow.com and BoxGroove.com. That may solve some short-term revenue problems but will likely erode the notion of exclusivity, the reason why many joined their club in the first place.
For the most part, the series of 90-minute “education sessions” on Tuesday at the Golf Industry Show provided a bit of tough love for the many
Many clubs will see innovation as an expensive proposition. But those that don’t innovate to meet the new market will pay the ultimate price.