Taking Stock of the Golf Business, An Expert’s Perspective

Taking Stock of the Golf Business, An Expert’s Perspective

Tom Stine is a co-founder of Golf Datatech LLC. He and partners Dave Overmyer and John Krzynowek created the company in 1995 to provide the golf industry with retail market share data. Since that time, Golf Datatech has become the leading market research company for the golf industry.

Tom is the former founder and publisher of Golfweek Magazine along with his father Charley. After selling Golfweek, he was part of the executive team that launched The Golf Channel in 1995. He has a journalism degree from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, where he attended on a football scholarship.

If you want to know about the golf business, Tom's the man to talk to. I was fortunate to speak with Tom about his thoughts and golf business and related topics. 

1. What's your perspective on the business of golf? 

Golf is a good, solid business. Generally the people in the golf business are intelligent and genuinely nice people. The business is tough now, but what industry isn't?  Golf retail sales are down roughly 10 percent, but not as much as other industries. It’s still a good business. 

You hear a lot about participation and the emphasis of getting more players. We would like for golf to have more players, but it’s not the end all for improving the business. There are approximately 26-27 million golfers in the US. That number is probably about the same as it was 10 years ago. It seems logical that as the population grows, you should get more golfers. But that hasn’t panned out.

The media headlines tell you that it’s a bad thing — that golf isn’t growing. But the headlines could also say that golf has a consistent, steady participation population. There are a lot of industries, a lot of sports industries that would like to have steady base to work from. If the base is steady then we know we are getting new players because eventually golfers give up the game, or die, whichever comes first.

I believe it could be just as productive for the overall growth of the business of golf to get current players to play more often. I believe it would also be less expensive to put these kinds of programs into FlyFishingMT 034 (2) place.  

If we focus on only new golfers, we lose perspective of our loyal customers. We have to take care of the customers we have. It's easy and basic to do. Buy them a cold drink, give them a free bucket of balls, a simple golf lesson with every new driver or set of irons. How about a pat on the back and asking them about their golf game? 

 2. What examples do you have of this approach working?

I’ll give you a great example. My brother Bill is a golf course owner/operator in Florida. His second course, Kissimmee Bay CC, is semi-private, has members, but takes all the off-the-street play he can get. During the “season”, the course gets crowded for the members. So Bill realized this and at the end of the season, in late April, he started an event called “Thank God, The Tourists Are Gone!”It is strictly “members only” and everything is free all day, including golf, carts, cocktails and a big barbeque. He has a band for entertainment and a big sale in the pro shop. That event creates an amazing amount of goodwill with his members, and results in new members joining the club so they can get in on the fun. And every member brags to their non-member friends about it. There are no tickets or loyalty cards to punch or bookkeeping to track. Does it cost him a little money? Sure, but it saves a lot of ill feelings with his members when his premium paying tourists come back next season. It shows his members that the club’s management cares about their year-long patronage. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun!


3. What type of businesses are succeeding now?

The same ones that succeeded when business was good. The same ones that succeeded in the last economic downturn. Don’t forget that companies went under when the economy was good. Quality products and quality service win out in the end no matter what the economy.


4. If it's that simple, why isn't everybody doing it?

First of all, because it’s hard. The most successful people/companies tend to be the ones who work the hardest. I think everybody probably starts out that way, but they get distracted with a fast buck, or cutting corners or not paying attention to the customers. They're distracted from their core mission. Whether you’re selling tee times, or golf balls or grass seed or shirts or golf cars you have to put the focus on your customers. If there’s no real benefit to the customers, it will fail or it will have short success. Ask Frank  Jemsek and his family in Chicago if there is an easy way to run a top notch public golf course. They’ll tell  you there’s not.  


5. How can golf businesses change to grow their business? 

Pay attention to your customers, and work to make your products truly better. Everyone knows that it’s easier and more profitable to keep an existing customer than to get a new one. Think about it, if you’re a course owner. You already have golfers committed to your course. Golfers know the cost, which door to go into, they know the person behind the counter and are thrilled when the pro offers to look at their swing. There’s a sense of comfort there and that creates a good, loyal, recurring and profitable customer. The same principles work with golf equipment, apparel and retailers, etc. If all the customers you had last year, came back this year, it would be a lot easier to grow your business this year.


6. What excites you about the golf business?

Golf is fun. It's 500 years old and it's not a fad or a craze. We can't lose track that golf is a game, a hobby, a passion and a past-time. And it's not a passing fancy thing like skateboards, or rollerblades or treadmills. Do you know anybody over 20 who still skateboards? Golfers are like fisherman. It’s what they do! It’s their passion. They may not get to do it as often as they would like, but they have rods and reels and tackle boxes and boots and shirts and they read everything they get their hands on. They may not fish as much as they like this year, maybe the little league games or dance recitals take precedence sometimes, but they still love fishing like golfers love the game of golf. And they will get back out there again as soon as they can. That passion makes for a powerful business market.


7. What impact can social media have on golf businesses?

It has to have a big impact.  Golf's a social game for all except the Tour pros who do it for a living. Golf is about interaction, conversation, tips, reviews, ratings and good advice.  It's about what to avoid, what to take advantage of and where to go. Golf itself, whether it's on a public course or private, has an important social interaction element.  It fits well with social media. Social media is about real people, their similar likes, their dislikes, their hobbies and their businesses. So golf is really ideal for social media.


8. What has been your personal formula for success?

That’s a bit presumptuous, but it’s pretty simple. Get up in the morning, and go to work.  And my Dad used to say, “Don't let people dictate your ethics. Your ethics are what’s in your own head.”  

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