While the business world is fascinated with analytics & big data, who you know and what you know remains valuable
By: Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
Tyler Gosselin (top left) has been the PGA Head Professional at Scarsdale (New York) Golf Club for two years. Early on, the Metropolitan Section pro noticed many of his members had Ping clubs in their bags – however the facility’s golf shop didn’t carry Ping at the time. Realizing that they were buying their equipment elsewhere, he established a new Ping account and sales of the product took off.
In today’s often complex and competitive business market, the “big data” that is derived from Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Market Analytics and Social Media is vital in driving increased revenues and greater overall success in many businesses and companies.
However, green grass golf facilities have a huge advantage in the quest to achieve their sales and revenue goals – it’s called “small data.” With most businesses relying on information like consumer trends and patterns that are supposed to predict consumer behavior, private golf club professionals enjoy relationships with members and have an array of sources available to attain the small data that drives sales, revenues, profits, rounds, lessons and memberships.
Small data refers to seemingly elementary, yet personal and sometimes intimate bits of information to which private club professionals are privy, like knowing member’s and their family’s first names, their occupations, their apparel preferences, what clubs are in their bags, any injuries they may have and even their food and drink preferences. The opportunity for member-interaction at private facilities is an instant advantage and a vital catalyst to success across the facility.
“This engagement and community are part of what they pay for,” says Gosselin, who meets with his staff regularly and highlights the importance of engaging with members on a daily basis, as well as playing with them, requiring each assistant professional to periodically submit a log of such interactions. The relationships forged between golf professionals and members go well beyond being merely transactional. Gosselin is present on the first tee on busy weekend mornings, greeting members, seeing what’s in their bags, and ensuring their member experience is exactly what they’re looking for.
Holly Taylor, PGA Head Professional at PGA Golf Club, in Port St. Lucie, Florida does something very similar. She, or one of her six PGA Assistant Professionals or PGA Associates, will set up camp on the first tee every day – until noon during the slow season and 3 p.m. during peak times. She says the conversations and subsequent relationships that come out of this task can change a member’s experience entirely. They discuss family and any vacation plans the member might have, while engaging guests and getting to know the golfers on the course that day.
At Wiltwyck Golf Club in Kingston, New York, PGA Head Professional Luke Burbach ensures that he or one of his assistant professionals is on the first tee during all busy times. He also makes walking the range a vital part of every day.
Burbach makes it a priority that he, one of his assistants or PGA Teaching Professional and Life Member Jack Breno, is on the range chatting with members, answering questions or offering a quick tip. These daily interactions provide the golf professional with important, and personal information with which the member is entrusting them.
When it’s time for new clubs or some lessons, members are more comfortable and feel like they know the pro. Burbach cites the many custom clubfittings he and his staff have conducted. He says hard goods sales are up in his first two years at Wiltwyck and also states: “Sometimes the best sale is no sale.” He pushes what members need but doesn’t sell for the sake of selling – an unwritten policy that astute members recognize and appreciate for sure.
Melissa Williams takes a similar approach. The PGA Head Professional at Tara Golf and Country Club — where she’s celebrating 20 years at the Bradenton, Florida club — also maintains a presence on the range, picking up empty baskets as time allows. She will greet members and strike up a conversation. “It has turned into lessons,” she adds, highlighting the benefits of the small interactions that are available to private club pros.
Both Gosselin and Williams emphasize that taking a peek in members’ bags often leads to increased revenues, as well. After all, it just took a quick look in his bag room and the Ping epiphany took place for Gosselin. Williams will analyze members’ clubs, especially grips, during each lesson. In fact, she says that 50 percent of her new students will have their grips replaced based on her advice. She’ll also have her assistant peruse members’ bags, applying a tag advising members that their grips need replacement.
Finally, another effective method implemented by PGA Professionals to foster valuable relationships with members is travel. Golf trips with members put the pro and his or her members not only on the course together, but on an airplane, at the dinner table and in countless photos commemorating an experience that members won’t soon forget.
Baton Rouge Country Club PGA Head Professional, Bobby Jacks, recently traveled from Louisiana to Wisconsin with 40 members. They took in an LSU Wisconsin football game and played golf at several top courses in the state.
Aaron Krueger, the PGA Director of Golf at Wakonda Club, in Des Moines, Iowa, accompanied 11 members to Scotland where they played Muirfield, Royal Aberdeen, Carnoustie and St. Andrews. “It is good to interact with your members away from the club, out of your office or from behind the counter in the pro shop. Members see you as more than their pro, but now as their friend, and that goodwill and relationship-building goes a long way when you get back home.”
“It’s the best part of my job,” says Andy Warren, PGA Head Professional at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe (California). Warren organizes several member golf trips per year, and has visited many great destinations, most recently accompanying a group of his members to Hawaii for six days. The excursions are so popular that he says he could fill a trip per month if his schedule permitted.
Warren plans trips geared toward specific groups of members, including couples, women, young members, older individuals and even better players. However, regardless of who’s on the trip, the relationships Warren has already established at his facility are developed even further, as are the friendships between the members themselves. Engaging members away from the club forms a bond that translates to increased lessons and more time spent at the club by members, boosting revenues across the board.
These professionals are not re-inventing customer service or personal interaction. They are, however, keeping alive (and reinforcing) the notion that relationships continue to serve as the primary catalyst to success at private golf clubs across the country. With all the vital indicators out there and the perks that technology provides big business, a simple chat, tip or greeting can manifest into huge sales. In fact, the term small data is a bit of a misnomer for these PGA Professionals, as this information very often results in big financial prosperity.