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April 2014
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Reinventing Golf

The New York Times recently published an article relating to the need to reinvent the game of golf The article references the concerns of the PGA of America, changing the rules, using a soccer ball to making the hole one putts in 15 inches. A giant caveat here because I have not spoken to the author or anyone at the PGA or managements at clubs reported to be investing in these changes but you are WASTING YOUR TIME AND MONEY!

This article does offer us a worthwhile example of how so many organizations miss the putt (sorry had to) when it comes to reinvention. For the purpose of this discussion let’s assume that everything in the article is true because it has so much to teach us about how NOT to reinvent your business. This post will not suggest golf isn’t in need of a reinvention but will illustrate how they are going about it in the wrong way.

If a business or service doesn’t have reinvention on it’s to do list then it will become irrelevant and disappear. The world, the consumer, the competitive landscape is for ever changing. If you don’t change with it then you get left behind. Reinvention can (and should) include how you are positioned, the product you offer and to how you go to market. Think Cadillac five years ago versus today. What portion did businesses spend on social media five years ago versus today?

The article covers a number of stakeholders (PGA of America, Country Club owners, equipment companies) as if they all have the same business objective,  problem to solve or consumer to serve. The PGA’s consumer has to only like golf (want to go to a tournament, support a sponsor or watch TV.) A Country Club (is that a full service country club, a golf club, a public course) all need to have members or users but do they all have the same consumer?

Consider a “prestige” Club whose members rarely use the services at the club but have a business or social need to belong. Or the Country Club with tennis, golf, swimming and summer camp for the kids. Or the Golf Club that is there for just golf and some minimal social activities. Or a public course which was built to enhance the community and is available (if you can get a tee time) for the occasional golfer or someone who can’t afford a golf club membership. So which consumer is the 15 inch wide hole going to appeal to? Any of these consumers or someone who has never played golf? Would someone who is paying tens of thousands of dollars to belong to Pebble Beach want to take clients there or would the PGA want to have a major tournament there if it had 15 inch holes?

Reinvention like so many things requires laser like focus. What is your objective for what consumer cohort? Do we want to get more business people to pay higher fees because it is a proven place to socialize and “do” business “deals”? Or do we want more average golfers to use the municipal courses so they will enhance the community and pay their own way? It is so important to understand your consumer.

As an example, Oronoque Country Club in Shelton, CT was in need of more members. Golf Magazine named it one of the 50 toughest courses. They were so flattered by the designation they began to use it in all their materials. Then they were puzzled when people didn’t join. They set an expectation (true or not) that didn’t resonate with the average golfer. Who would want to boast about being a member of one the 50 toughest courses and have a 25 handicap?

The article referenced above talks to “10-person task force to foster nontraditional pathways to golf. The task force has some golf insiders, but it also includes Arlen Kantarian, who led American tennis’s successful effort to reverse a decline in participation, and the Olympic ski champion Bode Miller, whose sport was revived by better equipment and cultural changes that tempered skiing’s reputation for stodgy elitism.”

Hopefully this group is having fun and meeting new people because their probability of success is in the single digits. Let me illustrate with a case study from an assignment with Brunswick, the leader in boats and boating. Boating had the exact same problem, too expensive, too time consuming and requires water, lots of water. Our first task was to understand the consumer and their changing habits and practices.  A key piece of learning was that about 50% of consumers have what we identified as the “water gene”. They wanted to be near, on or in the water.

This was a key piece of learning because that allowed us to eliminate the 50% of consumers who don’t have the water gene and would have no interest in boating.  Why care what they think or how they want to spend there time?  We then took the 50% who were possible boaters (had the water gene) and segmented them into identifiable groups with varying needs and desires. Some were weekend boaters and some were fisher people. Some were socializers other like to get away and chill on their boat.

The point here is we were able to identify and quantify who were the target consumers and then we designed or redesigned product that they would want to buy and use. We began to understand that just selling the boat was not enough. We had to invest in different programs that kept each segment using their boat and to encourage others to want to be in boating. The key trial device for a boater is being with someone who has a boat. A happier boater with friends who have the water gene makes for a new boat intender.

Let’s get back to golf. Gimmicks are not reinvention the same way tactics are not strategies even though people confuse them all the time. For many the game of golf with all it rules and long rounds is just fine.  Be careful not to ruin what you got in a desire to get more.  Remember not so long ago when there was a big flap over how long a putter could be? Talk about sending the wrong signals. If the golf industry wants to bring in more golfers they first must define what that means to whom and stop sending mixed messages or no message at all..


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