American Public Golf – Customer Service?

I recently was following an Internet golf industry discussion group and I could not help but offering my two cents.  The topic was “How is public golf going to increase their play and profitability?”   There were many interesting “how-to” strategies, but I felt that my cohorts and maybe the industry are missing an essential ingredient.

No one directly addressed the issue of “Customer Service” as a strategic initiative to restore golf’s health. The other strategies are nice, but won’t work without an effective delivery system. Introduce people to the game, but don’t follow-up with fun, attentive, and courteous experiences and you will lose many of them.  Based upon my experience, too much of public golf’s delivery system is broken or needs replacement.

Having played more than 2,300 golf courses and consulted with more than one hundred more and administered a major PGA Section as well as leading several significant non-golf businesses, my experience is that golf course customer service, and particularly the public-access sector, is abysmal. Levels of service that are apparently considered acceptable in golf would flat out not tolerated in other industries – the hotel industry for instance. I estimate that 1/3 of public course personnel are incompetent and a quarter are totally disinterested with senior management essentially “AWOL.” We place “introverted player types” in positions of hospitality, service, responsibility, and visibility and then wonder why things aren’t prospering? At these facilities, there is no attempt to make the game fun or welcome people. At the other end of the spectrum, people are smothered with service people with earpieces who are often intrusive and have their hand out. Neither fits. Some people who are lauded as industry heroes would be somewhat more commonplace in other industries I have worked in.  It comes down to poor management and supervision, not bad people.   We need to make excellent service the rule and not the exception.

A good example is a major regional golf entity that not long ago hired a “player” to be their Director of Golf/GM for one of their flagship properties. That person is nice, interviews well with a resume of experience and playing accomplishments, and is very personable, but he’s never available, always playing on or off-site, and his large staff is absolutely lost, and now disheartened. People have effectively quit, but are still on site collecting their paycheck, and rounds/revenue are continuing to decline. No one is actively working the business and too much will be lost before the situation is noticed and rectified.

Yes, the discussion thread had much good input and I hope that the industry addresses slow play as well, but operators at too many facilities are asleep at the wheel. You can have all the initiatives and ideas you want, but when you lack the delivery system to implement them, these exciting initiatives will fail. I saw it time and time again in seven years as Executive Director with a PGA Section and since as an industry consultant.

Yes, I am speaking in generalities, but in my opinion the weak service providers in golf are far too prevalent and have dragged the rest of the diligent, smart operators down with them. And to further my point, there are pockets of service excellence within the golf industry that translate into profitability and growth even in this economy. Some operators do get it and really are making golf fun at their facilities despite the external challenges. They are on top of planning, employee selection, training, and most importantly follow-up.

And to those industry insiders that may disagree with me or feel that my comments may not apply to their facilities, just for a moment pretend they do. I love this game and count many, many golfing friends throughout the world and they are all now echoing the same sentiments. We need to make sure our people are well trained, appropriate to their function, are thoughtfully supervised, and have the tools they need to do their jobs, as well as do the things to make golf a fun and valuable experience. To me, that must occur before our strategizing will be meaningful.

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