Your Greatest Asset – is it your golf course?

I frequently hear golf industry people saying that a golf club’s greatest asset is their golf course.  Maybe, if you believe the value of your golf club business is the value of the land per acre, then perhaps it is.

But I actually see that golf courses and clubs are not being valued in terms of a ‘price per acre’, (unless they are being bought or sold for agricultural use) they are being valued against the historical profits and potential profits of the business and the possible ROI that an owner could expect.  Taking this argument on to the next stage, profits are generated in a business by talented and committed people, designing services and programmes that customers want to purchase – profits are not generated by the land.

Empty golf courses, however well designed, constructed and maintained, do not generate profits.  People work hard to promote their course, encourage people to visit, look after them whilst they are there and hope that this leads to them wanting to return again another day.

I would therefore argue that the most important asset of a golf business is its people.

Ask yourself this question:  “Have I ever visited a golf course where the staff where the staff were friendly, helpful and welcoming, and that made my visit enjoyable?   Did the friendliness of the staff lead me to tell my friends about the positive experience and perhaps persuade me to return?    I think most readers would probably say yes.  Conversely, have you ever visited a golf course where the staff were unfriendly, even rude and unhelpful, and if so, did you end up telling your friends about that negative experience and you are therefore unlikely to return?  

Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills

I do not think you can ever teach someone to smile, but you can teach them how to do the job. One way to ensure your staff are friendly and welcoming to your guests is to hire happy people!  You know them – and you can probably tell straight away at an interview what type of personality and character the person in front of you has.  Make sure that ‘hiring happy people’ is your guiding principle when recruiting staff, you can teach these people the technical requirements of the job, and let them be the naturally happy person they want to be.

Make sure that the remuneration of your team members rewards and recognizes those staff members that demonstrate the right attitude towards members and visitors.  Make sure the atmosphere in the clubhouse and pro shop is a happy one – this can be affected by what programmes are on the TV in the lounge bar, any music that may be playing, décor, lighting and other factors, but whatever is going on in your club, staff with the ‘happiness-gene’ will create the right atmosphere for a friendly club.

Key positions in a golf club that must be filled with ‘happy people’ are the barman, receptionist, pro shop staff, starter, on-course rangers and others – probably everyone in the team now I come to think about it.  And make sure that you do not dampen the happiness by being a miserable owner/manager/pro yourself – constant talk about the financial climate, the bad weather, the lack of business, politics etc….. will only rub off on your team members.  If you want them to be happy in their work and look after your golfers, then you must be happy yourself. Most of us have worries and challenges in our lives, but in the hospitality industry, we must keep these to ourselves and not let our own problems affect the member or guests visit to our golf club.

Identifying ‘Happiness’ at an Interview

This is easier said than done, isn’t it?  Surely people looking for a job will put on the best act they can to get you to like them and offer them the job – but the mask that they wear at the interview will start slipping after a few hours/days/weeks in the job.

I have used a couple of techniques to try and see behind the ‘mask’ at an interview.  You could try these, or something similar.

  • Set up the location for the interview so that the applicant has a long walk across the room, or down a corridor towards you when you invite them.  Watch their body language, their facial expressions and their general demeanor.  Hunched shoulders, looking down at the floor (or mobile phone) and their hands in pockets may indicate a negative personality, whereas a person who is smiling, looking up at you and extending their hand to you would tend to indicate a very positive person.
  • Always have a couple of interview questions ready to try and tease out their personal likes and dislikes.  Get the applicant to talk about their favourite football team, or their favourite holiday destination or their favourite book/film/tv show – let their mask slip off to reveal their true character.

Golf is for Enjoyment and Relaxation 

So why not make sure we are creating an atmosphere of fun and relaxation at our clubs?

In my view, the game of golf has lost its way, and it is now up to the practitioners in the business – owners, managers, golf professionals and course managers, to put the laughter back into the game.  Turn off the golf on TV if all it shows are millionaire golfers scowling and angry – at themselves, at the crowd, the photographers, anyone and everyone.  Put Harry Hill’s ‘You’ve Been Framed’ on a continuous loop in the TV in the lounge bar (or something with a similar hilarious theme – Fawlty Towers perhaps) and see the atmosphere in your club change overnight (both staff and customers).

Get your golf professionals telling jokes, funny stories and anecdotes – happy people will spend more money and come back again for more.

Do not take the game too seriously every day – but set aside a few days each month for competitive play, just to keep those people happy who seem to enjoy the feelings of disappointment and shattered dreams.  Celebrate winners in your club of course, but also celebrate triers and improvers, commiserate with victims and losers.

Golf is a great game, but difficult to play well.  Let’s make it acceptable for golfers to play at all levels of the game, as long as they have fun along the way.  My great friend and former colleague PGA Professional Dean Nelson (now Director of Golf at Hong Kong Golf Club) had the best business card and job title ever when he worked at the Sheraton Pine Cliffs Resort in the Algarve – Director of Fun !!

Make fun and happiness Key Performance Indicators for all your team members, and your people will be your greatest asset !!