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Breaking Down Barriers to Golf Participation

If you work at a golf course, what are you doing to break down barriers when it comes to participation?

NGF researchers dug into the topic in 2013 and again this year, asking highly-interested non-golfers (either those who have played in the past or those who haven’t played) about what’s holding them back from starting or returning to the game.

The chief barriers remain the same:

  • Concerns about cost and time
  • Social obstacles (no one to play with; haven’t been invited)
  • Concerns about ability and potential embarrassment
  • Inertia (just haven’t gotten around to it)

Interestingly, these barriers are cited less often today than they were in 2013, and remain surmountable. In fact, one in five interested non-golfers – a pool of almost nine million potential participants — indicate they simply haven’t gotten around to it. The number of non-golfers who cite cost and time as a barrier dropped 13 percent, for example.

Here’s a look at what some golf operators are doing to help people overcome these obstacles.


People say:

  • I’m too busy right now with work and/or family.
  • It takes too long.

Josh Lesnik, president of KemperSports — To break this barrier, create shorter golf experiences through clinics, lessons or playing the game. Our KemperSports-managed courses offer everything from your 9-hole junior development course, shorter loops as well as other family-friendly offerings. For example, courses such as Cantigny in Wheaton, Illinois, and Wilderness Ridge in Lincoln, Nebraska, are widely popular because they offer shorter weeknight classes for juniors, where they are provided great instruction in a relaxed environment. Additionally, many courses have incorporated a wealth of other activities and offerings to accommodate time for the family. The Ventura Golf Courses – Buenaventura Golf Course and Olivia Links Golf Course – are good examples of courses that are incorporating more family-friendly activities by investing in non-traditional events and fitness-oriented activities.

Nick Bednar, VP of Operations, Billy Casper Golf — BCG has a long list of family friendly offerings. Most prominently, its “Kids Play Free” program, whereby each child is comped with a paying adult at designated times, has been successful in bringing young families to the course. Other offerings such as “Family Fun Days” and even “Night Golf” embrace the notion that golf is quality family time.  Much has been said about shorter course “loops” that come back to the clubhouse (4 holes, 6 holes, etc.), and Billy Casper Golf has employed a few of these with moderate success. With that said, 9-hole play is huge for us, especially in regions where weekly league play is prominent. In my neck of the woods — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky — weekday afternoons are often filled by league groups. Some of these leagues are competitive, but the general motivation for most leagues is social, for recreation, exercise, etc. Further, many of these leagues have been passed down generationally. It’s exciting to see young players carrying on these traditions, and it’s obviously great for the facility owners to have loyal groups that fill up their tee sheets every week. Where leagues are present, BCG has several 18-hole courses where 9-hole play rivals or exceeds 18-hole rounds played.



People say:

  • I have concerns about the cost.
  • I don’t want to make the investment in equipment.

Danny Ackerman, GM of Golf Operations, Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia — I don’t believe there has ever been a better time for golfers to play at reasonable cost due to supply and demand. At our facility we offer multiple season passes, a resident card program (for free) that we extend discounts for signing up, email specials, GolfNow, EZLinks, Groupon just to name a few. It’s also our job as golf promoters to assist in finding ways to put clubs in new golfers’ hands. We have a driving range that we allow people to hit with our rental sets. We also have a Play it Again store that offers used clubs at greatly reduced prices. We focus much of our attention on getting clubs in juniors’ hands through donations, fundraising, support from our men’s golf club and First Tee program. We have to make sure this is not a deterrent for first time golfers.

Nick Bednar, VP of Operations, Billy Casper Golf — There are a wealth of statistics out there to illustrate that the average public greens fee is actually quite affordable ($35 for an average 18-hole round). Many courses offer additional cost savings through loyalty and rewards programs, or memberships/annual pass programs. Frankly, the competitive landscape of golf over the past 15 to 20 years has helped keep pricing very affordable, despite inflation. Technology and third-party vendors have also made it easier than ever for golfers to find discounted pricing within their local golf community.



People say:

  • I am not really sure how to get started or start again.
  • Nobody has invited me
  • I don’t know anyone else who would like to learn and/or play with me.

Doug Friess, General Manager, Bolingbrook Golf Club, Bolingbrook, IllinoisOne of the ways that we have encouraged people to get started is by hosting social events for our members. For example, we recently hosted ‘Links and Drinks.’ We break it down to very simple concepts. We give them a cocktail to come out and enjoy at our restaurant, and each week we get a little more technical. We make sure the member feels comfortable and teach them basics, such as how to navigate around the driving range. Oftentimes, you go to a golf course and no one knows where to go. At Bolingbrook, we want to make sure everyone feels invited and excited to return to play.

Danny Ackerman, GM of Golf Operations, Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia -Our efforts with getting golfers started has been with junior programs. Year one we had 40 juniors in our summer camp to a First Tee program, PGA Junior League and LPGA-USGA Girls golf and we’ll have over 300 participants in the various programs. For the adults, we’ve hosted Get Golf Ready for Women. On the social side, we have a Men’s Golf Club and Ladies Golf Club that work independently to increase membership. Both have regular play days along with competitive tournament schedule. Facebook is the social media channel the men have used and have had success in growing membership that last two years.


People say:

  • It just seems intimidating to start.
  • I worry about my ability to play well enough to have fun.

T.J. Wydner, General Manager at Galloping Hill Golf Course, Kenilworth, New Jersey — Cost and ability go hand in hand – you want to go out there and meet people like you; however, you are not going to do it if it is too expensive. At Galloping Hill Golf Course, we recently introduced ‘boot camps,’ where you learn the basics of golf at an inexpensive price over a 6-week period. The adult programming has been widely successful — not only increasing revenue, but also introducing people to others that want to learn the basics and have fun. We introduced the ‘boot camps’ about a year ago, and we are starting to see people come back with the same people, which is great. The ‘boot camps’ are a great way to introduce people with like-minded ability who want to play golf and make friends. The great part about the ‘boot camps’ is they are flexible. It’s not every Monday at 5 p.m., so can pick the classes that you want to do based on your schedule.”

David Evangelista, Regional Director of Sales & Marketing for Billy Casper Golf, St. Johns Golf & Country Club, St. Augustine, Florida — Golf is hard. We understand how it can be the most frustrating sport on earth. However, one good shot a day can keep a person coming back, and the level of improvement is limitless. Ensuring each new player has realistic expectations will determine the level of fun they are having. We make each learning curve as small as possible so it builds into overall enjoyment of the game.

What are you or your facility doing to help overcome these participation barriers? Click here to let us know. We will be sharing select ideas and approaches from operators around the U.S. as part of a future piece.


(Top image: Raleigh Country Club in North Carolina, courtesy of McConnell Golf. )
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