In keeping with the current Golf Business magazine edition’s theme on research and data, Golf Business hit up Mike Ryan, Chief Operating Officer at Troon, a professional club management company that serves 600-plus golf courses, for some answers on how research and data can improve course operations. He happily obliged and we thank him for his time and expertise in sharing what follows.
Question: Those in the golf industry talk a fair amount about research and data (R/D) but it’s not always clear what that really means. How do you define R/D as it relates to the business of golf?
Answer: Since we are in the service and hospitality industry, R/D from our perspective means an ongoing commitment to capturing, measuring and responding to guest or member feedback and data. It means getting feedback each and every day. It’s about having an evergreen, quick-response mechanism for daily and weekly feedback and a more comprehensive system for annual surveying. For example, you can have an annual member survey. In our case, we also do a broad, two-year lifestyle/psychographic/demographic golfer survey with a wider swath of our current and potential customer base.
Q: What should course owners/operators understand most about R/D – in essence, why should they care about R/D?
A: It’s vital because the supporting data and feedback is reflective of the customer voice, who is the ultimate end user – the one paying dues or paying green fees. In our business, winning the battle one at a time will help owners/operators retain market share and support retention. Doing this on a frequent, say weekly, basis and then also having a more comprehensive annual effort to dive in deeper to what your members or guests want. Think about larger-scale member or customer surveys that provide the best combination of consistent data or feedback.
Q: What kind of R/D is proving most effective for golf course owners/operators in terms of bottom-line profits?
A: Capturing daily feedback from your users then aggregating the data based upon feedback of those users is key. Then make smart business decisions based upon trends and commonalities from the data and feedback to drive your business and ultimately give your guests what they desire or seek.
Q: Can you share a real-life example of how R/D can boost a course’s bottom line with numbers and/or statistics? Or in lieu of an actual course, what kind of improvement in profits can course owners and operators expect when they generate and apply robust R/D efforts?
A: There are probably countless examples of how golf owners/operators can see a return on investment for this effort. It’s easy math and also relates to the old adage: ‘It’s easier and more cost effective to keep a guest then attract a new one.’ If you have a guest who spends $2,000 on golf fees annually, and you’re surveying and applying what that guest is telling you, you can prevent losing that guest. So, you just retained $2,000, plus you get the word-of-mouth effect of having a net promoter instead of a net detractor.
Q: For course owners/operators who perhaps don’t have the budget to hire a consultant or buy expensive software, what are some easy and/or inexpensive ways they can begin generating R/D to improve their course/operations?
A: Relative to survey data, one can easily employ survey providers that have the methods and the tools that any individual golf course owner/operator can use. For example, one can easily tap into Players 1st [a company that offers surveying software] and set up systems of automated surveys, feedback and net promoter scores, and even benchmark those data over the totality of clubs using Players 1st. This tool is very cost effective and easily implemented.
Q: Anything else we haven’t asked about that you can share about R/D that might help course owners and operators?
A: Be on a never-ending quest to hear from your golfers and then act upon the feedback. Implement what you can to resolve any challenges and reach out to any net detractors to win them back to become a net promoter. If you do that, you’ll retain and grow market share.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Some of Mr. Ryan’s answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.