Saturday, March 17, 2018


Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends
                                                                               - Walt Disney

The culture of a golf facility is the quality that arises from a concern for service, protocol, and atmosphere. Creating a Culture takes vision, passion and total commitment. It is the sum of attitude, education, enthusiasm and language that distinguishes one facility from another and that is precisely why it is worth the effort.

Cascata GC

There are many unique competitive differentiators in the golf industry. Buyers worry about green grass only distribution. They produce private label product to build their own brand and make their selection of goods exclusive. Clubs move to “Mill River” and modifications of same to produce pricing structures to inspire customer and member loyalty but the hardest and most meaningful competitive advantage for golf facilities to duplicate is to create an organization that consists of highly engaged associates who are totally focused on the customer. All definitions of culture point out the development of the intellect and the resulting enlightenment from training and education. Hopefully this manual will help to educate and inspire you and your staff to become such an excellent organization and rise above your peers.

Everyone has been to clubs where the atmosphere was decidedly negative. The staff walk around with a scowl and members spend an inordinate amount of time venting. It’s hard to determine in such an atmosphere what came first, the grumpy members or frustrated staff but placing the blame wouldn’t make the culture any more pleasant.

It seems in this case that a Leader with a totally rejuvenated outlook or a new Leader is needed. More to the point, someone needs to stand back a little and reevaluate the culture because once the course is built, the business plan and marketing put in place, the superintendent hired and the fertilizer and sand purchased the two variables that most shop owners/managers and/or head pros control are the merchandising and the culture.

Revere GC

Or consider the course where players arrive anticipating a pleasant, enjoyable round of golf with friends to encounter staff telling them at the bag drop where they can and can’t park, at the counter they only take coupons on Tuesdays and don’t take American Express. The starter hands them a list of do’s and don’ts and the marshal stops by a number of times to inform them how they are doing with time. Of course, everyone is just doing their job and none of these individual incidents is necessarily a problem, but cumulatively the rules and the attitude with which they are delivered has the group convinced by the turn that they won’t be hanging around after the round, they won’t be buying anything in the shop to remind them of the experience. In fact, next month when they take a day off for golf they are going back to that course that had the water in the cooler on the cart and everyone including the maintenance staff wanted to know if they were enjoying the day and was there anything they could do for them – the “country club for a day” atmosphere.

Conversely, I had the pleasure a few years ago of being part of the team that opened a high-end club in North Carolina. My position on the team was two-fold. I was there to quarterback the opening of the shop and my other role was that of head cheerleader at the training session. We had the luxury of three full days to indoctrinate the staff about the culture the Leader envisioned and everyone’s role in its execution because we were able to organize it two weeks before the Grand Opening.

We invited the Footjoy and Zero Restriction reps to give product knowledge seminars about their products and they were both outstanding; going through all the features, benefits and buzzwords needed to intelligently talk to people about footwear and outerwear both as apparel and equipment. The question and answer afterwards was more of a discussion with the staff about how to fit people, how to sell the tough customers, how their respective companies were thrilled to be working with them and how unique this session was in what in both cases were long careers.

I spoke about shirts and the appropriate product knowledge involved with the different brands and fabrications. Since it was October, I finished up the session with a football analogy. We had just had three days of training camp, obviously opening day was coming right up and if everyone played their position the way we had been describing it we would win the members and their guests as fans. We could think of ourselves as going to the playoffs if, in a few months, people were talking about the warm, friendly atmosphere at the great new Tom Fazio golf course - they were. We could consider ourselves as getting to the Super Bowl if and when we were nationally recognized as a place you need to play - they have been.

This was a fulfilling opportunity for me but one that can be duplicated anywhere there is a Leader with a desire to take their level of service up a few notches, to raise the bar for their staff and create as a result a more meaningful culture.

Tobacco Road GC

Customers/members need to plan a day of golf anticipating an environment that appreciates their business and where there is camaraderie with the staff as well as their foursome. They need to feel it is fun to hang out a bit at the 19th hole and by the end of the day they want a memento from the shop that will remind them of the experience and tell others that see them wearing the logo what a great place they thought it was to spend a day. They need to be made more than satisfied and they need to view your facility and its culture as their provider of choice.

This may seem obvious and a “goes without saying” description that everyone in the industry agrees is the experience they provide, however the execution does not always follow the hype. As Tony Robbins points out often and in many different ways “There are no decisions really made until there is action.” When it comes to making it a reality, enthusiasm tends to give way to confusion.

In Summary – Culture is a work in progress:

• Management must make the decision to proactively create customer loyalty and to measure the success of these efforts by the customer’s feedback.

• Management needs to institute an orientation program that involves more than a tour of the facility and a primer on keying a sale. It needs to indoctrinate, as soon as an employee is hired, the facility’s principles of customer service and its vision for the future.

• Management needs to establish policies that are customer-friendly and do away with any rigid guidelines.

• Management needs to educate and empower employees to make their facility and culture the best in the area.

• Management needs to institute the “ten foot rule” that all golf staff within ten feet of a customer will look them in the eye, greet them and ask if they need any assistance.

More specific actions:

Establish at the season’s first staff meeting that this season’s primary goal is to be perceived by everyone who plays here as the most customer friendly place to play.

Provide every player a 4x6 preprinted index card that thanks them for spending the day and asks for feedback on their experience.

Have weekly staff meetings and ask at each what was the most customer friendly thing that happened since last week’s meeting.

Set bi-annual evaluations with each staff member to discuss their contribution to the culture.

Make the “ten foot rule” second nature by mentioning it often. It is a practice now employed by almost every industry.

Challenge all employees on a regular basis to submit ideas for service efforts successfully employed elsewhere and not necessarily by other golf facilities.

Bearspaw CC

This is the first chapter of “The Winning Golf Culture” which has been well received by all who have purchased it and made required staff reading at many facilities. The rest of the table of contents is as follows:

Table of Contents

The Culture

The Leader

The WOW Factor

The Intimacy Factor

Salesmanship is Service
a. Pre-servicing
b. Shop Salesmanship
c. Follow Up

Hire to the Culture

The Result

Blog Entries
a. Pump up the staff for the new season
b. Gentlemen’s (and Ladies’) Night
c. The Nordstrom Touch
d. Phil Owenby on “Cutting Edge Service”

I like telling service stories at staff meetings. Here is one I like to tell.

I went to pick up Mike Pifer to go to an Oriole game. He said we were early and would I wait while he got a quick haircut. I’m sitting in the front of the salon, flipping through a magazine, while Mike is getting his 67 hairs cut and the owner of the shop makes himself known and asks if I’d like a glass of wine while I wait. I thanked him and said that would be great. He asked me if I liked red or white.

A year later almost to the day. Mike and I are going to our annual Oriole game with Mike Healy and Phil Owenby, we have seats behind home plate, but Mike needs a quick haircut. I’m sitting waiting and the owner comes over, shakes hands and says “Red right?”

Friday, March 2, 2018

Feeling Special

About five years ago I visited Nordstrom in Towson, Maryland and was kicking tires in the men’s department when I was approached by Amanda. Amanda had let me start touching the sport coats in my size before she struck up a conversation. She did not ask me if she could help me but began by telling me some things about the Joseph Aboud clothing line which happened to be the designer of the blazer I was admiring. She introduced herself and helped me try the coat on – all the while continuing a conversation about me – ‘What did I do for a living?’, ‘Did I wear sport coats on the job?’, ‘Had I been to Nordstrom before?’ Amanda assumed I loved the blazer and laid some gabardine slacks next to it, a couple of shirts and ties that were killer. My ‘maybe’ sport coat now looked like a photo shoot. Obviously I made the purchase. There is a lot that is worthy of discussion about this comfortably handled experience and we will come back to them in future entries. What I want to address in this entry is the professional follow-up.

 Amanda made sure she was present when I returned to pick up the coat and slacks from the tailor. She asked me for my business card and asked if I would be interested in being informed of new Joseph Aboud arrivals or the occasional sales in the tailored clothing department. I said I would and we shook hands.

A few weeks later I received a ‘Thank You’ email that expressed in a very positive way an assurance that the outfits I purchased would work well for me as we had discussed but that if for any reason that was not the case to please let her know and she would do whatever she could to make it right.

A few months later I was informed [again via email] from Amanda that the new Aboud line had arrived, and there were also some pieces soon to be on sale. She offered to put some items on the side in my size if I was interested. She inquired as to when I thought I would be coming in so that she could be sure to be there to assist.

 Now I ask you!

Who do you think I will call the next time I need clothes?

Amanda is a retail professional – they are not born – they are trained. The niche aspect of Pro Shop Retailing lends itself to an easy intimacy with very regular customers and yet there are almost no Amandas.

Instead of the proven ‘good customer’ just being informed that the new Taylor Made drivers or Peter Millar shirts have arrived, it could also be suggested that his/her son on the golf team at the University of Michigan might also be interested in one and by the way, we know his shaft strength and size and his birthday is a week from Friday.

Having an incentivized Amanda on your staff could possibly double your business; it would most certainly make your shop the one in your area that people are talking about. Even if I move out of state I will still buy sport coats from Amanda. There is no substitute for feeling special and it holds true in every case.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Custom Ball Program

Any initiative that reduces inventory and increases sales needs to be seriously considered. The most impressive promotion I’ve worked with over the years that accomplishes this has been the Personalized Golf Ball Program. This exclusive program maintains an inventory of at least 3 dozen personalized golf balls in stock at all times for members and/or any regular clientele. The service obviously requires access to the member’s locker or a properly shelved closet somewhere near the shop. It also requires a certain amount of count-and-fill maintenance but the upside is incredible. 

• Implementing this custom program says the ‘right stuff’ about the personalized service you and your staff are more than willing to provide.

• Suggesting that customers can personalize their inventory with not only the choice of any Titleist ball type, e.g. with any number they prefer but also the club logo, their name, and/or their corporate logo, plants the seed for more corporate business in a soft-sell way.

• Members or customers on the program tend to purchase balls only from the program.

• Customers are billed upon order placement eliminating the cost of inventory.

• Members/regular-customers cannot wait to show off this service to guests and friends. Your staff accommodates by having two sleeves sitting on the counter at client’s tee time.

• Solidifies partnership with the ball vendors chosen. My experience has been that Titleist is an excellent partner and you won’t lose any sales or interest due to brand.

The clubs that have instituted this tend to have more balls on campus, most of which are paid for and less of a need for retail inventory.

Email blasts and staff “talk-it-up” are the easiest way to market this to your clientele. Word of mouth will soon assist as long as the program is properly maintained. By offering a 10% discount off regular retail pricing the program becomes a no-brainer and a win, win, win!

The service feature of this program is best illustrated by an experience I had an opportunity to be witness to: 

Dr. Smith checked in at his club for his tee time with two guests. The first assistant had put a sleeve of his custom balls on the counter and asked if he wanted any for his guests. While this was going on I heard one guest say to the other. "I'm a member at High-End club and no one has ever offered that to me."