What will COVID-19 change in membership marketing in private golf clubs?

By: Robert A. Sereci, GM/COO, Medinah Country Club April 28, 2020

It is no secret that private clubs, like many businesses, are experiencing some significant degree of financial pain, and most likely will be for the foreseeable future.

While there is no playbook for how clubs should conduct business during a pandemic, we do have a playbook from past financial crises. While the causes and circumstances are vastly different, the impact is familiar.

Hopefully, we all remember our successful solutions and also what did not work as well. So, let’s examine solutions.

Get the view golf club membership marketing

What we should avoid doing?

Discounts and Incentives

While discounting and large incentives are tempting to offer, because they address the immediate problem, avoid doing this at all costs, instead, work on redefining and strengthening your value proposition.

Most clubs do not have a fee problem, they have a value problem. Many clubs first consider the possibility of lowering initiation fees or the possibility of significantly increasing rewards in order to speed up the rate of member referrals.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not totally opposed to rewards. I think they are effective in the short-term. In clubs, rewards rarely work in the long run, as they do not inspire loyalty.

If we were a gym, then rewards are appropriate, as a gym does not really care about loyalty. Whether you use the gym is not their concern, customers paying monthly is the goal.

Another downside to rewards is that members start redefining who should be invited into membership; the monetary reward is the carrot, as opposed to enriching the membership body.

Clubs are different; we don’t want casual members, we want congruent, loyal, and engaged members who want long-term relationships within our community.

When creating long-lasting relationships, we create the right offerings, attracting members who believe what we believe. People don’t join because of what we have they join because of why we have it.

Ideally, we do not use tangible features and benefits to build rational arguments about why prospective members should join our club.

Considering our current threats, we will all do better to focus on why we exist in the first place. To do otherwise compromises the foundation of our culture.

Change is inevitable, and policy changes that you may put into place today can strengthen the foundation that we build upon in the future. 

Employee recognition and experience membership marketing
Negative Messaging

There is no shortage of bad news and the last thing your prospective members want to hear from us is more of the same. No one wants to voluntarily hand you a check and experience more anxiety.

Keep it positive and communicate hope, while continuing to be realistic, and addressing change safely and prudently. Provide a destination postcard that is so attractive that your prospects do not consider alternatives.

The goal is to include positive news in our newsletters, as newsletters are our marketing collateral and, as such, should remain positive. When we must address critical issues, isolate such communication in the form of white papers and topic-driven letters.

Do not discuss negative information with those who do not need to be involved in, or concerned with, the solutions. Avoid publishing bad news utilizing media tools that may reach the non-member community.

Keep situations internal.   

employee experience membership marketing

What we should continue doing?

Prospect engagement

Now, more than ever, we need to be assertive and deliberate in our methods for engaging prospects, especially online. Continue emailing updates as to what is being done.

Spotlight featured offerings. Demonstrate how nimble and flexible we are during times of uncertainty.

If an “exclusive” club with no public page, this may be time to reconsider and pivot to become a welcoming club community, as this may not be the best time to promote exclusivity at a time when so many are feeling isolated.

Furthermore, I would encourage reflecting on whether a club that is positioned as “exclusive” is truly exclusive, or merely expensive. There’s a big difference.

Focus on children

There is a high probability that many sporting events will be postponed for an indeterminate amount of time. Movie theaters, and amusement parks and other gathering places will be closed, and families will be looking for a safe place to spend time with their children.

Take advantage of this importunity and address this in your selling proposition; review club websites and how the site speaks to this issue, if it all. Simply alleviating anxiety by reassuring safety may not be enough.

Providing a destination postcard of what the club experience is can be beneficial. Displaying images of outdoor movie nights, camping on the golf course, family picnics, fishing, biking – whatever club community has to offer.

If these are offered, consider making quick and small investments in staging them. The investment members voted on many months ago might not be applicable in changing times.

In lieu of spending money on a landscaping project, reinvesting in family-centric activities like bocce courts, or purchasing an outdoor movie screen and movie sound systems, may now provide better value.

Do not leave it to your prospects to envision a better future – this is our job. 

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What you should start doing?

Reconsider what is being sold

Let’s be clear, you are not in the business of selling memberships. You are in the business of selling and fostering community.

Prospective members talk about buying things such as access to a clubhouse dining room or golf course, but what they really want to buy into is a community with like-minded others.

The activities and amenities are just the details surrounding how to build experiences of community and fellowship, which enriches relationships and personal connections throughout members’ lives.

The fundamental building blocks of the club community is the need to belong to a group with common interests and a basic alignment of core values among members.

Naturally, people want to be with others who share an interest in the same activities, like golf, tennis, or other specific social activities. They are driven to seek out that which supports their values.

Many clubs tend to focus on externals, such as buildings, golf courses, and the “state-of-the-art” amenities. Those things simply facilitate relationships, whether during golf on the courses, during dinner in the clubhouse, or while at the pool, or paddle courts.

What satisfies the human psyche most is our need for relationships and community. Relationships are the ultimate magnet for new members and the staying power driving member loyalty.

My mentor used to say,

bricks and mortar attract, but do not sustain.

In the final analysis, the sense of community is what wins hearts and minds.

history membership marketing
Revisit club policies

Our club policies should continually be realigned with what is happening in society. This includes reevaluating the impact of dress codes, cell phone usage, child-friendly policies, and family-centric offerings.

We cannot encourage members to work from the club if we disallow necessities, like cell phone usage, and everyday realities, like jeans. Start with your service offerings, adjusting your rules and policies accordingly.

Dress codes are essential to any organization’s culture, or standards, but in the case of country club life, dress codes may be an influential deterrent to those contemplating joining a club, especially prospective members 55 years of age and younger.

Dress codes do not play a direct role when a prospective member is deciding to join a club, however; rigid dress codes may subconsciously influence that prospective member in how they perceive the club community.

To me, belonging to a country club is like adding a room to your house. Our club is an extension of our living space and is an environment we choose to experience to escape work, stress or to find our happy place.

The key component to a club’s success and longevity is member usage. To influence any member to frequently use their club, we must take the proper measures to ensure that they feel comfortable within its surroundings.

800-growth membership marketing
Go to your prospects

Traditionally, clubs host member prospect nights, or events where they showcase the club and its amenities; however, we can also chose to travel to them.

Organize a smaller, intimate event at a location near prospects. This is especially effective for non-neighborhood clubs. Reserve a room in a restaurant or facility where it is possible to host a small prospective gathering.

Gathering in groups of 10 or less can provide a unique individual and custom experience. One thing is certain; doing nothing nets nothing.

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Step up and lead

For years, we complained about our boards and committees not listening or being unwilling to change. Capitalize on this moment and be the beacon of reason during trying times.

Our boards will never be as open-minded as they are right now!

People rarely heed wise advice from doctors to quit smoking, exercise regularly, or eat a healthy diet until we experience a health emergency when we become more receptive and willing to do whatever it takes to live another day.

We can play the role of the emergency doctor with an opportunity to provide life support to our club in difficult times.

While it may be difficult to see clearly in emergent times, I can assure you that the opportunity for clubs is there. Take a deep breath, pause, strategize and reframe.

Surround yourself with team members who can see beyond the now and are excited to move the club forward.

Your board may, or may not, have the capacity to see the future, so it is up to us to lead them there.

We can do this! I know we can!