Developing an effective marketing plan is critical for golf operators looking to grow the courses they are in charge of. The right plan puts the right actions in motion to target the right people, engage them, and bring them in to start generating revenue.

Whether you are the general manager, head professional, or employee who has been chosen to spearhead marketing efforts, having a plan will bring reliable growth that can be replicated year after year.

What goes into a golf course marketing plan

The basic components of all marketing plans are the same. What makes a golf course different from other business are the customers that are coming in and the means that they are using to drive revenue.

Most plans will break a strategy down into actions for an entire year. This usually coincides with the fiscal year to make it more convenient for budgeting. The plan is further divided into quarters so that plans can adjust to the season, which is important for such a seasonal business.

The general steps that go into developing a plan include:

  • Identifying the mission of the course
  • Choosing goals and KPIs to measure them
  • Describing the target audience
  • Choosing promotion strategies and marketing channels
  • Making a budget for the year
  • Analyzing competing golf courses in the market
  • Defining roles and responsibilities for the team

Completing each of these steps provides a comprehensive marketing solution that can be implemented throughout the year.

Finding the ideal direction

A course first has to decide on what its desired outcome will be. The targeted mission will help determine relevant goals and choose the metrics to measure them.

It will also help hone in on the key marketing channels that will help fulfill those goals. Each marketing channel has its strengths and weaknesses. Choosing which channels are best isn’t possible until there is a clear direction that the golf course wants to head.

Here questions are answered like:

  • What is the property fall on the continuum of luxury vs. value?
  • Is the focus on the game itself or developing a community?
  • Does the property cater to families, young people, seniors, or anyone else?
  • What is the desired position for this course in the market?
  • What is the desired customer experience?

Setting appropriate goals

Knowing what the property is trying to do sets the compass for where it should head. The planners need to further refine this vision into a set of specific goals for the year. By having a specific target, it will be more clear what needs to be done and easier to evaluate if the steps being taken are working.

These goals will be accompanied by Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which are objective metrics that demonstrate an action is towards reaching their goal.

Example goals that some properties have used include:

  • Get 50,000 annual rounds.
  • Have at least 5,000 tournament rounds
  • Host 5 non-golf community events
  • Start 10 new golf instruction programs
  • Increasing customer satisfaction scores to a 3.9 average.
  • Merchandise sales exceeding $250,000
  • Driving range sales exceeding $300,000
  • Keeping operating expenses under $3,000,000

Different performance indicators include:

  • Collecting 100 customer comment cards and scoring in all categories.
  • Tracking sales
  • Tracking expenses
  • Hosting secret shoppers and scoring the visit

Find the Ideal Demographic

The campaigns developed in a marketing plan have to be specific to the consumer. Different strategies work better depending on factors like age and income level. The course itself will be best suited to bring in a certain customer. There could also be an advantage in moving away from what the rest of the competition is doing to stand out from the crowd.

The answer to this isn’t something that should be decided off-hand but determined through research. By looking at the people who are already coming in, the course will be able to get a more objective view of where the course is in the market and find a strategy to capitalize on it.

Choosing Marketing Channels

While the modern marketing plan will include multiple channels, most courses won’t have the resources to develop all of these channels equally. Understanding what will help show where to concentrate efforts to get the best ROI.

Marketing channel possibilities for golf courses are:

  • Website
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Online booking
  • Tee time distribution market places
  • Email
  • Pay-per-click
  • Social media
  • Traditional media

Websites and SEO

The course website will be where most customers go to find out more information about the course. The homepage is the face of the organization. It is where most customers will get the first impression of the course and its amenities.

The website is also where the majority of tee times will be booked. The only other channel that gets as much traffic for bookings is the pro shop phone. Adding a user-friendly online interface decreases the labor required to book times and is the most convenient method for younger golfers.

Online bookings are also the ideal time to capture contact information for customers who are already interested in the course, adding them to your direct marketing pool to bring them in repeatedly.

Focusing on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) makes it easier for customers to find the website online. This doesn’t just apply to when someone searched for the course directly, but whenever they search for tee times in the local area.

Effective SEO consists of optimizing both on and off-page content and linking for the website. SEO is a reliable way to get consistent traffic once the company puts in the work, but it often takes months to start seeing measurable results and boosts in the ranking.

These efforts will also increase the return for tee time distribution market places. These online sites show the best deals in the course’s locale and provide another avenue for customers to find them. This includes services like:

  • GolfNow
  • Tee-Off
  • Chronogolf Marketplace

While these market places initially worked to have courses ruthlessly compete against each other, they are transitioning into partners in business. While they do have significant costs associated with them, they are excellent sources of new customers that can be directly marketed to later. If the course is positioned right, the next time the customer goes there, it will be by booking directly on the company website.

Pay-Per-Click Campaigns

If organic traffic isn’t bringing in enough customers, or the results are taking too long, then golf courses with the budget can pay to reach them online.

Setting up a pay-per-click campaign puts the organization’s message in front of people. These curated ads can be placed at the top of search results, banner ads, videos, and social media posts.

Running a campaign is expensive, and unless it is properly managed, it won’t give the company the results it needs. These ads have to be highly specialized to appeal to the target audience. The message is rigorously tested, tracked, and optimized.

Many brands do well by targeting the people who have already visited their site, who are interested in golf, and who live nearby.

Social Media Marketing for Golf Courses

These tools provide access to relevant audiences and another way for people to interact with the brand. The biggest platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, all offer unique possibilities to show off the course.

Each tool will emphasize different content, which can play to the strengths of the course. As social media matures, different demographics are flocking to different services. Facebook, for instance, has a wide reach but has the highest concentration of middle age members. Instagram and Snapchat both resonate with younger followers.

Some compelling content released by golf courses include:

  • Pro tips
  • Food pictures from the restaurant
  • Photos of the course
  • Gear reviews
  • General announcements
  • Tournament results
  • Initiating groups
  • Holding contests and giveaways

Effective Email Campaigns

Building and leveraging mailing lists are still one of the most effective strategies for keeping the course top-of-mind with customers and repeatedly bringing them in the doors.

This channel gives the organization an unlimited reach and is easy to automate. Modern tools make it possible to segment and target specific customers with special deals that are designed for them. Sending out visually appealing messages that are expertly written created evergreen marketing materials that will pull in profits for years.

Some examples that golf courses have sent out through email include:

  • Promotions
  • Newsletters
  • Event invitations
  • Thank yous
  • Loyalty rewards
  • Discounts

Similar messages are now starting to be used for SMS and mobile apps. The direct reach into devices that people have on them at all times makes this medium ideal for sending personalized, urgent deals. While there is a fine line between alerting customers to great deals and harassing them, these messages have impressively high open rates. If the course can strike a balance, these are effective tools to consider.

Traditional Media

These include both print ads like posters, flyers, banners, billboards, and brochures as well as broadcast media like radio and television. These methods continue to produce and resonate well with older audiences.

These strategies do well when developing brand awareness, getting attention, and building hype for events.

Measuring Success

Finding the mix of channels that will be used is the first step in the plan. However, every channel needs to be monitored to see what results they are bringing in to make sure that the money is being spent in the most effective areas.

Each strategy will have its metrics for success. These KPIs will show when emails are opened, clicked, and convert to the customer. They will track campaigns, how much the company is paying per click, and how often the ads are converting.