Of course, apologies to Mr. Robert Thompson if I’ve got it completely wrong, but I’m thinking that at least from my perspective, I’ve got the point. It’s a great read and one that as simple as the message appears, really takes a second read and some time to digest just how far reaching the message could be.
And I knew that at some point I’d want to write about it. And so 11 months later, here I am to indulge myself.
Golf is a game of tradition. Always has been. And though I prefer to consider myself part of a younger, progressive generation, I am already 40 after all and reminded daily that the generations after mine are likely to be the real game-changers. So I’m probably a traditionalist too, in some respects. And as traditionalists (a.k.a. golfers) we hold to convention because for so many reasons it links us back to the good old days. In particular for the business of golf. And really, until the struggles of the last decade and a half, I’m not sure anyone even referred to the “business” of golf, at least not in the harsher sense we refer to it today. Then it was still just a game. A widely popular, at times exclusive, and most definitely profitable, game. Any concepts of business, fiscal responsibility, and forethought were often jaded with waiting lists, under-supply and over-demand.
So, of course, as business-people, we collectively made an effort to accommodate. We met demand with supply. And more supply. And more supply.
Then came the recession of 2008, failing infrastructures, and changing socio-economic demands and the “business of golf” would (almost overnight it seemed) flip to over-supply and under-demand. Now, I understand that I’m not identifying a problem that you can’t find in every consultant’s report conducted in the last half dozen years in Ontario. (And trust me – consultants have not been suffering from that same under-demand, clearly.) And further, this isn’t professed to be an earth-shattering epiphany in the year 2016. It’s more what followed all these shifting trends that struck me.
Faced with this complete reversal of business economics, as golfers we simply reverted to what we knew. We turned back to tradition, to the glory days. We looked at patches and band-aids and bailing buckets, thinking that the sunny shore was just ahead in the distance. That we’d hop off this Titanic and wake up to a waiting list of membership and packed tee sheets. And maybe you can’t even blame us for thinking so, it’s how we were raised, it’s all we ever knew. And we were really slow to change.
The problem is much like the Titanic, you have to veer your rudder long, long before you see the iceberg or it’s too late. And as an industry as a whole, the worst part is, we are still making the same mistakes. And then we dole out blame. We blame time. We blame family commitment. We blame culture. We blame economics. We blame UnderPar. We blame GolfNow.
But we should blame ourselves. It`s us that keeps pushing toward the iceberg.
And so we get back to the article. And I’m hoping that before you finished this one that you’ve clicked over to read Mr. Thompson’s view on The Summit’s decision to abolish Entrance Fees. If you haven’t please do. When you get back you’ll see why I’ve stored this one away.
As golfers (a.k.a. “traditionalists”) we continue to look for a path back to the Treasure Island. A way back to the good old days of waiting lists and huge entrance fees. And wondering why we just can’t find it. But here’s the truth: it’s not there. It’s gone. And it has been gone for a long time.
The old model is dead. It’s time to stop looking solely at metrics, marketing, and membership drives and start looking at the model. The model has been on life support since 2008 and we’ve buried our collective heads in the sand ever since. We need to try new things. It doesn’t even matter what it is, we need to try new things. And we need to be ruthless.
And please don’t misunderstand me – I know clubs have tried various new approaches and concepts – but I’m not talking about soccer golf or larger holes or 12-hole facilities. I’m talking about the economic and business models that underlie whatever products we choose to put out there.
And whether you, I, or the other clubs competing with Summit for new members agree with Mr. Leggatt’s strategy, you have to applaud he and their management group. And not for removing Initiation Fees. For taking steps to try new things. To change. To go against the grain. It’s refreshing. And my guess is this is only the beginning for them.
And, while our model at Kawartha isn’t perfected just yet, I applaud our Board of Directors for two years ago seeing the trends, stripping it down, and trying, testing, and tweaking new membership and corporate models to move into the future. I applaud the membership for overwhelmingly supporting, voting for, and embracing, radical change. For going against tradition. It’s certainly not without its headaches, but neither is muddling through the same model for five more years until you’re staring down the barrel of receivership. I prefer the headaches, and I trust our members do as well.
And for the clubs like Kawartha and Summit that are making significant changes, for adopting new traditions, the future holds real possibility. For the rest, well maybe I should just leave well enough alone.
FDR had it right: Above all, try something.
And while I can attest to the positive trends in membership numbers at Kawartha since our changes, I’ve yet to sit down and talk with Ian or Robert about how things have gone at Summit since January. But I sure intend to.