Where is golf headed in 2023?

Despite predictions saying that the pandemic could be the end of golf, the sport continued to thrive and grow in 2022. Now, we are excited to share what we expect of next year.

Lucas Balleby
March 24, 2023

Picture a world where the pandemic has left many industries struggling. But not all of them. There is one industry that seems to be thriving; Golf. Despite predictions of golf's downfall due to the pandemic, the sport has actually managed to stay on course. Literally, on course.  

In early January 2023, the National Golf Foundation (NGF) revealed that the number of on-course golfers was up again by 500.000 players, bringing the total to 25.6 million. This was the fifth straight year of overall growth – something that has not happened in two decades. 

Graph of the 2022 U.S. Golf Participation made by the National Golf Foundation (NGF).
2022 U.S. Golf Participation - the National Golf Foundation (NGF).

Looking into the rest of 2023, the future of golf is less clear, as Covid-19 has caused inflation to go up. And here is how it can influence your golf club. 

To try and keep inflation from getting too out of control, central banks around the world have increased interest rates, making it more expensive for people, including golf clubs, to borrow money. Basically, it is a method to make organizations and people (read: golfers) spend less in the hope of returning prices to normal levels.  

And it works. Inflation is starting to slow. But the American news source NPR could recently publish an article that revealed that the numbers are yet to match the central banks' target levels. And for that reason, the interest rates will keep going up. Even though it will be by smaller percentages than before, it still creates a delicate balance between stopping inflation from running out of hand and triggering a major recession. And we have no clue where it is going. 

So given this uncertain outlook, what can you do to reduce these threats and position your golf club for another successful year?   

Here are 3 essential strategies to strengthen your business and golf club to thrive in these uncertain times.
Players 1st

1. Recession-proof your club by making golf the consumer's top priority 

During a recession, people tend to spend less - especially on things they do not find necessary. And is golf really necessary in this context?  

Good news. People will still spend money on activities and experiences that make them happy because it makes the tough times seem a bit more normal. And this is your chance.  

You must make golf their top priority. A round of golf at your course or facility should be that delightful treat they long for. And if cuts are made to household budgets, it is your responsibility to ensure that golf remains above the line. 

And making golf a top priority for people has not been a problem for the past few years. During Covid, golf courses in the U.S. were popular – big time. The high demand even meant that there were not enough courses for all the members and guests who wanted to spend their hard-earned money on golf. But soon, things might change – and you better be ready for it. 

So now, let's talk about the first strategy that you can use to keep your golfers engaged and coming back for more in 2023.  

Put the player at the center of everything you do.
Players 1st

By creating experiences that meet your golfers' needs and exceed their expectations, you can make sure that each visit is worth the money they spend. This approach focuses on your players and their satisfaction, which is the key to success in the golf industry. So, get creative. Think outside of the green to make sure every player feels like a VIP at your club. 

But how do you start putting the players first?  

Placing your members and guests at the very heart of your club is more than just a catchphrase. It takes real dedication, and you need to put in the work. That means having an ongoing dialogue with them and listening to their feedback about their experiences - from the moment they set foot on the course to the moment they leave. And then using those insights to take your club to the next level.  

At first, starting this process may feel like trying to putt with a driver - almost impossible. But luckily, you do not have to create a complicated system from scratch.   

For years, the hospitality industry has used Customer Experience Management (CxM) technology to measure and improve the customer experience. This technology has slowly become essential to running a successful golf club too. While some golf clubs have not adopted the technology yet, now is your time to get a head start.  

Platforms like Players 1st offer easy-to-use solutions that can help you collect feedback from your golfers. The feedback will help you identify areas you need to improve upon and track the impact of your initiatives. By making minor improvements based on the feedback regularly, you can make a massive impact on the success of your golf club over time.  

2. Take advantage of the growth by listening to both new and loyal golfers 

As a golf manager, you know that the game has seen a flow of new and returning players over the past few years. In some ways, the flow is central to the impressive growth. But it can also result in a severe headache if you do not address it correctly.  

How can you serve the needs of the newcomers without losing your loyal core golfers?

It is a balancing act way more complex than shooting from the slope of a bunker. But intelligent operators are rising to the challenge. And this is how. 

Successful golf managers are creating fresh opportunities to continue the onboarding process and encouraging these beginners to become loyal and enthusiastic club members. They have made simple changes, like adding more forward tees and creating alternatives to the traditional 18-hole round.  
Players 1st

The golf managers are also starting to use new technology, such as simulators and gamification, which adds a wow factor and new ways to earn extra cash through driving ranges and off-season participation.  

And this is all good, of course. But it is apparently not enough.  

The National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) states that owners are not over the moon about how they introduce new golfers to the game. In the paper, NGCOA Golf Business Pulse 2022, the association reveals a shocking finding.

87% of owners (red. golf course owners) agree that golf needs to do a better job of managing the customer journey of golfers once they complete their initial introduction to the game.
The National Golf Course Owners Association

The key outtake from that sentence is the customer journey. You cannot say customer journey without saying CxM. Managing the customer experience and using feedback are two vital things to do when making a better onboarding process.  

You will come a long way by understanding the golfer journey as they shift from beginners to regular golfers. And by identifying and removing any possible conflicts your member might experience in that process, you have made a huge difference in ensuring long-term retention.  

So, back to CxM. Using data analytics, you can gain valuable insights into how your new players feel about entering your club. This allows you to balance their needs with your existing core golfers - peace at its finest. And with tools like a customer experience management platform, you can easily track and manage the customer journey, making a smooth and enjoyable experience for all.  

3. Focus on your staff 

The main character of the third strategy is your staff. Because your staff members play a crucial part in your golfers' overall experience at the club. We know that if you care for your employees, they will take care of your guests. It is actually pretty simple. A satisfied staff equals satisfied members. 

But the tight labor market caused by the pandemic has not made it easier for the course and club operators to retain staff and fulfill their employees' needs. The staff's needs could be the desire to work remotely or flexible working hours, which is quite common post-covid. And as a golf manager, you will probably struggle with finding someone who can cut the green or greet the golfers from their home office. 

And it does not stop there. We are also entering a gig economy, where people search for short-term contracts and freelance work. And despite interest rate hikes, the latest labor market trends still point to a strong job market with no relief in sight.   

All of this will definitely create a continuing challenge for golf operators, and attracting and retaining staff will be key to success in 2023.   

So how do you keep staff members that enjoy working at your club and delivering excellent service day in and day out? 

You ask. You listen. You act.
Players 1st

Daily conversations with your staff can take you far. No doubt. But you should consider using associate surveys for several reasons. Sometimes, employees might not feel comfortable sharing their feedback in person – especially if it is negative. For capturing those issues, surveys are particularly great. 

Regular feedback from employee surveys can also give you a better understanding of your staff's thoughts and opinions on your club's management and operations. This information can help you make better decisions and provide your employees with the necessary resources and training to deliver excellent service. So, make sure you are listening to your staff and using their feedback to improve your club. It will pay off. We guarantee you.  

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