A befuddled Freud once famously wondered, “What does a woman want?” For the last two years, two University of Wisconsin-Stout professors have been asking the same about those who play our game.
What does a golfer want?
The researchers, Eric Brey and Kris Schoonover, who is also director of operations at Erin Hills, have been working with the USGA and National Golf Course Owners Association on a deep dive into what they call the “full golfer experience,” not just the four hours on the course for a round of golf but the lead-up and after-round activity that complete the golfer’s experience. Their work includes interviews with nearly 5,000 golfers across the country and 17 focus groups lasting 90 minutes in efforts to determine what things satisfy – or, just as important, dissatisfy – golfers. The goal is to help course operators increase revenue by improving the golf experience, the two said in a recent webinar in which they unveiled their findings.
“It is ground-breaking because no one’s ever looked at the full golfer experience,” Brey said.
The researchers focused on 1,000 “touchpoints,” everything from availability of water to placement of trash cans to width of fairways and more to measure golfers’ expectations. But they also examined what they called golfer psychographics, starting with the basic question of why do golfers golf?
More than 30 percent of respondents said it was love of the game, its traditions and the environment around golf. Next came spending time with friends and family (though a significant majority of golfers reported they would rather play with friends than family), followed by the challenge of the game and, at 5 percent, the beauty found on a golf course.
The challenge is “why they love it. They want to get better at it. They want this to be part of who they are,” Brey said, while “beauty is an underlying reason (for playing), the sights, the sounds, the smells.”
Exercise was also cited as a major motivation for playing, though 73 percent of respondents said they rode a cart for golf.
“I guess it comes down to what your definition of exercise is,” Brey said in an interview.
The prestige of playing golf, especially at high-end courses, mattered to only one percent of respondents, indicating, as Brey put it, “prestige is not as important as it once was.”
The study found disagreements among golfers on some areas, including how they view the Rules of Golf.
“Rules was a challenge,” Brey said. “There are those who follow the Rules and want the Rules followed and there are those who want the rules to be changed to increase enjoyment of the course.”
Not surprisingly, pace of play and a course’s willingness to take corrective action when needed matters a lot to golfers. That’s a message for course operators, Schoonover said, that “pace of play is something that needs to be monitored” to satisfy golfers’ expectations.
One interesting part of the study was of “disconnects” between factors golfers found important versus how operators viewed the same. While the two groups largely agreed on the importance of course conditioning and pace of play, golfers said the availability of restrooms and appropriate directional signage was very important, while operators ranked them much less so. Similarly, 43 percent of respondents said flexible pricing (pay by the hour or hole) was important while just six percent of operators agreed.
The challenge for course operators is, by better understanding what golfers want and expect, to minimize dissatisfiers and enhance the things that most satisfy customers. A major takeaway for operators is that the post-round experience offers the most opportunity for doing better – “By removing the we have your money now … feeling courses can increase loyalty and get more repeat business through simple, personal interactions.”
Schoonover said the results have already been shared with employees at Erin Hills to help them better understand what golfers want – and what will bring them back.
“At the end of the day operators are tryng to keep their course open. The ultimate goal is to help operators know who their customers are and what they expect,” Brey said. “To me, it’s really taking care of the basics.”