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Buyers Guide Accelerate

A Message from NGCOA Membership Director, Joe Rice

During the NGCOA Annual Conference’s general session on Tuesday, February 29, Joe Rice had this to say to attendees…

LAS VEGAS, N.V. (February 28, 2012) – Before I took on the role of director of membership, I worked for the NGCOA for 10 years, mostly on the marketing and publishing sides of the Association. But in all of those years, I never knew where Cobb, California, was. In fact, I’d never heard of Cobb, California. Now I have. It’s about two hours north of San Francisco. Go to Loch Lomond and take a right.

Last year I had the opportunity to visit Cobb, California, and Eddie Mullins. As some of you may know, Eddie is the owner of Adams Springs Golf Course, which is located alongside beautiful Cobb Mountain. I went to northern California back in June and visited with Eddie and his son, Sean. Palmer, their black Lab, even sat in on part of the meeting. We sat in Eddie’s office and talked about how tough the business is these days. Eddie told me that if it weren’t for a tremendous love of the game and a great staff – people like superintendent Iggy Argamburo, whom Eddie calls one of his “saviors” – Eddie says he might have thrown in the towel and gone back to his real estate business fulltime.

During the year, I also found my way to Rumbling Bald Resort at Lake Lure, North Carolina, where I met with general manager Tom Judson. I also spent time with members at chapter meetings in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Minnesota and Nevada. Everywhere I went, I listened to members with responsibility for a unique business. But those conversations were also filled with common themes. Three things seem to be on almost every owner’s mind these days.

First, everyone wants to have a better understanding of the changing consumer. That's a topic that our guest speaker, James Chung, will explore in a few moments with much more depth and understanding than I can give to it here. So I’ll simply say this: The recession has rekindled some values that seemed to go out of style there for a while. But self-reliance, hard work, personal savings and community service are once again in vogue. The shift back to these basic values has changed the complexion of the post-economic crisis consumer. Business owners need to recognize those differences so they can adapt the experiences and services they offer to what consumers today want – and demand – from their discretionary dollars.

The second familiar theme is that you’re interested in someone or some organization that can run interference on legislative issues that affect – or potentially affect – your business. Immigration and labor, health care, regulation and the environment, disaster relief - these are all issues of great importance with serious ramifications for golf course owners and operators.

But just try making sense of all of the twists and turns as policy makes its way through the legislative process. It’s more time consuming and frustrating than being stuck behind four guys on Saturday morning who want to line up their puts from six different angles.

The third issue that seems to come up in most every conversation with owners is the ongoing challenge to increase revenues.

As our own Anne Lyndrup put it when she was developing the educational content for this year’s conference, most operators have wrung just about every nickel out of the cost side of their business. Now they’re intently focused on revenues. Many of you would like to find a way to increase revenues without discounting, working with a third-party marketer, or bartering tee times. I think that message came through loud and clear earlier this month when the PGA was considering a relationship with GolfNow.

The fact that these three subjects seem to find a place in almost every conversation with owners doesn’t surprise me. But hearing about their importance, over and over again, did reinforce the urgency to find solutions. I’m happy to say the NGCOA is doing something to address each of these important issues to help you weather this lingering economic storm. You’ll see evidence of our work here this week in our education sessions and networking events. I encourage you to pay attention. Open your eyes and ears to new ideas and opportunities. And take home the business card of anyone who might be a resource down the road.

As I said, we’ll begin examining the changing consumer in just a few minutes. You’ll also see evidence throughout the year of our commitment to being your most important business resource on these issues. On the legislative front, we’re part of the National Federation of Independent Business, which works to promote and protect the rights of small business. We’re also helping to lead WE ARE GOLF – the coalition that includes The PGA of America, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, and the Club Managers Association of America.

As you know better than anyone, golf remains misunderstood by many policymakers in Washington and throughout the nation.

WE ARE GOLF aims to change that by telling the stories of golf’s diverse businesses and their employees, the tax revenues golf creates, the tourism it spawns, the charity it generates, and the environmental leadership it provides.

Several of our members have accompanied us in Washington on National Golf Day to tell their personal stories.

With the support of these organizations, we’re giving you a voice in Washington to stand up against inequities in legislation. And we’re looking out for your interests in labor, tax, healthcare and environment issues. We know everyone needs to increase revenues. And we’re confident some of the national programs aimed at driving players through your doors are finally getting traction. And they’re doing it without resorting to discounting. Let me say that again: These programs are getting traction and they’re doing it without resorting to discounting.

With three years under its belt, some very promising results are coming out of the Get Golf Ready program.  Here are just a few that impress me:

  • 78 percent of participants in the program are still active after their first year.
  • Get Golf Ready participants are playing 10 to 11 rounds within their first year of completing the program
  • and they’re spending an average of $984 in their first year as a new or returning golfer.

That’s progress.

So, three big issues on most everyone’s minds: changing consumers, legislative advocacy, and revenues. Rest assured, we’re listening and we’re doing something about them. After all the listening I’ve done in the last year, here’s the one thing I’ve concluded: We control our own destiny. No one is going to come riding in on a white horse and make everything better. A lot of people have already figured out that they hold the key to their success in their own hands.

One of those people is Donna Horvath, owner of Honeybrook Golf Club in Honeybrook, Pennsylvania. I visited with Donna at the Pennsylvania chapter meeting back in October. Donna is a delight to be around because she puts her passion and her creativity right out there for everyone to see and feel. One of her latest strategies has been to take advantage of the strong desire by businesswomen in her area to network with their peers and to share ideas. So Donna has developed programs and clinics that introduce women to the game and to each other. They’re forming relationships that may pave the way to their next job, their next deal or their next customer. Honeybrook’s highly-successful junior camps and family fun nights are examples of Donna’s philosophy that if things are going to get better, she better get started making it happen.

Jeff Hoag – co-owner at Scott Lake Country Club and the winner of this year’s Don Rossi award – is another outside-the-box thinker. I consider him a marketing genius in our business. Talk to Jeff for any length of time and you’ll come away not only with a couple of new ideas, but also reminded that owners control their own fate.

Donna and Jeff are examples of your fellow members who are living out the vision that attracted them to golf course ownership in the first place. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still working hard. But for all their hard work…

  • They’re also enjoying the satisfaction that comes from bringing their customers a few hours of fun and relaxation.
  • They’re building a business with their own hands, the way they always dreamed.
  • Maybe they’re even putting something away for the day when they don’t turn the key on the lock to the pro shop every morning and turn off the lights at the end of a long day.

Ours is a great business. And it can be an even greater business, if we make it that way. Yes, we control our own destiny, but that doesn’t mean we’re in this alone. You’ve got the NGCOA, and you’ve got each other. I hope you’ll continue to look to your association for educational resources and support.

In recent weeks, you’ve seen the value of Listserv and the power of a collective voice on an important issue. We must continue to lean on each other, learn from each other and work with each other. However you choose to come together…in the spirit of partnership…for the sake of your business…and for the sake of our game and industry…I urge you to do so. Yes, it’s tough out there. But as owners from Cobb, California to Lake Lure, North Carolina have reminded me this year – it’s worth the fight.

© 2000, National Golf Course Owners Association