So, do you own a cell phone? Well, if you do and you live in the US, there is almost a 50% chance you own some type of smartphone. For those of you who did make the upgrade in 2011, there is a 29% chance you own an iPhone and about a 50% chance you use an Android phone. About 11% of you still have your Crackberry clinging to your belt holster. And then there are the very few of you out there that have a Windows phone (or other smartphone) in their pocket.
In 2011 there were 130 million smartphone users accessing mobile internet. Mobile app downloads will reach over 20 billion by the end of 2011. And this is just the beginning.
We are in the first stages of the internet boom all over again, except now it’s on your phone. And the new craze isn’t a website for your business, it’s an app for your business. I guarantee you that if you thought 2011 brought a lot of changes in the mobile world, 2012 will blow your socks off. The technology is improving so quickly and the culture has shifted so much that we are in the ideal environment for the mobile monster to flourish like we’ve never seen. Your phone will soon be the most critical personal possession you own. It will be the key to your car, the key to your house, your wallet, your credit card, (basically the way you pay for everything), your identification, your travel agent, your map to anywhere, your personal shopper, your remote control for everything, your computer, and more. Oh yeah, and you can call people with it too. If there isn’t an app for all of these things now, there soon will be.
2012 will shed light on even more things that your phone will have the ability to do. The amazing thing is that many of those advances haven’t even been dreamed up yet. I’m curious when we will stop calling it a phone, because even now it would take me too long to tell all the things I do with my smartphone, and every once in a while I even make a phone call with it. It boggles my brain to try an imagine what my 4 month old daughter will see when she is my age! Heck, even by the time she is 10 and probably asks for her own phone!
And I haven’t even started on tablets! Just more fuel for the mobile monster! I don’t care what business or industry you work in, but this will have implications on how you do things. I am doing everything I can to encourage the golf industry to recognize and capitalize on this trend. Not an easy task!
You can choose to ride the wave, or be crushed by it.
Below are some stats and links just to show this isn’t just my opinion, it is happening and next year is the boom, 2011 was just a preview:
- 79% of smartphone consumers use their phones to help with shopping, from comparing prices, to finding more product info, to locating a retailer.
- 70% use their smartphones while in a store.
- 77% have contacted a business via mobile, with 61% calling and 59% visiting the local business.
- iOS Took 13.4% of Online Sales on Christmas Day
- 18.3% of all online sessions on retailer’s site were initiated from a mobile device, up from 8.4% on Christmas Day 2010– an increase of 117.8%
- Sales from mobile devices reached 14.4% versus 5.3% on Christmas Day 2010– an increase of 172.9%
So it’s a fact that participation in the game of golf has fallen over the last few years. So where did all of those golfers go? Did they find something else they would rather do, like go fishing? Or are they trying not pull cash out of their wallet and just sitting on their couch twiddling their thumbs? Is this something that has only affected golf, or has this occurred in other recreational activities?
A friend of mine sent me some data on this that might help to shed some light on this question. The data shows the overall trend in recreation participation from 2000 to 2010. It then compares the overall recreation numbers with individual recreational activities, like golf. The recreational activities are broken into 2 categories (as defined by the National Sporting Goods Association): Series I Activities are established sports that have participant bases of at least 10 million annually (this is the category golf falls into), and Series II Activities are sports with smaller participant bases. Activities that fall under Series II could have been around for awhile and are just more niche activities, or could include newer sports that are earlier in their adoption and expansion life-cycles.
Some examples of Series I Activities are Golf, Basketball, Bowling, Hiking, Tennis, Fishing, Camping, and Exercising. Some examples of Series II Activities are Archery, Hunting, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, and Skateboarding.
The report shows that overall recreational participation (Series I + Series II) has increased at just over 1% per year from 2000 to 2010. So overall, people who are participating in recreational activities has gone up over the last decade. Due to primarily population growth over the last decade, the combined Series I & II participant base for grew by almost 87 million participants from 2001 to 2010. Series I participants account for 70 million of that growth, so that is a very significant number of potential new golfers to attract!
The smaller and newer sports that are trending up (like mountain biking and kayaking) are offset by other Series II sports that are declining (like motor boating and hunting). There are some smaller and relatively newer sports that traditionally aren’t considered to part of golf’s “peer group”, like skateboarding, paintball, kayaking, and mountain biking. But I think some of those activities do need to considered as part of golf’s peer group and in competition with golf. They do not have quite the numbers that golf does right now, but if their participant base continues to grow and golf’s continues to decline they will meet somewhere down the line.
Looking at golf’s more traditional peer group, we are definitely losing consumer base much faster. Tennis has grown at an annual rate of 1.4% in the last ten years, downhill skiing has remained relatively flat, bowling has lost .8% per year in participation, and golf has lost over 2% per year in participation. The fact that overall recreational participation has increased at a rate of 1.2% per year since 2000 and golf has declined annually at 2.1% per year shows that golf can’t just chalk this up to a general decline in overall activity. Tennis is the only sport of these 4 examples that has growth, but it’s important to note that in the time leading up to 2001 (at which time tennis had a participant base of almost 11 million), tennis had seen a period of dramatic loss in consumer base that at one point was closer to 20 million. I know golf does not want to experience the same massive decline that tennis saw, so hopefully we can figure out a way to increase participation before we lose another 5 million golfers.
The data can be interpreted in any way you want, but it still shows that more people each year are doing some sort of recreational activity, but less of them each year are going golfing. So how do we turn that around? There is a universal consensus in the industry that the consumers say golf takes too much time to play, is too expensive, and too hard. All of these are very relevant concerns and I completely understand what most of those consumers are saying. We live in an fast paced culture, people have been faced with some real economic challenges recently, and golf is one of the most frustrating (and most rewarding) sports in the world. The problem is what has golf done to address these issues?
There have been numerous initiatives and programs created to try to increase participation and combat these issues. Some courses have created 12 hole rounds to decrease the time it takes to play. Many have shopped out their tee sheets to large discount tee time websites to attract price shoppers. Others have encouraged golfers to play forward tees to make the game a little easier to play. I’ve said in my last post that I don’t believe price is the main barrier here, but some of these other ideas are solid. The tennis industry, after massive decline in participation, started making similar changes and are starting to see some gains.
It seems there have been pockets of success with golf, but nothing cohesive across the industry. There hasn’t been anything that has gone “viral” and shown a dramatic impact. I think there are some really great ideas out there, but they need to be introduced to people on a larger scale. There are ways to do this with the technology that exists today, but it will take an open mind from golf course operators and the willingness to learn new ways to get in front of the 21st century consumer.
There are some golfers out there that feel they need to protect of the game of golf. They want to preserve the tradition and history of the sport by NOT changing anything. The fact is that promoting some of these new ideas on a larger scale will not change how the “traditional” game is played if you don’t want it to. Anyone who wants to can still go play all 18 holes from the tips and nobody will stop you. The US Open or The Masters will not change the format to 12 hole tournaments or let the pros play easier tees. What trying some new things might do though, is introduce more people back to the game and keep them coming back for more. Otherwise the recreational game of golf will die off and there won’t be any tradition to protect.
When I make the decision that I want to go play golf, how do I choose where I’m going to play? I never really thought about this in depth, but I wanted to take a closer look at my behavior here.
My first thought in choosing a course is to play a course I know and like, or choose a course that a friend has recommended that I haven’t played before. When I come up with the few courses on this list, my next step is deciding when I want to play (what day and what time). After that, I’ll rank this short list of courses in my head from first choice to last, and check out what tee times are available. To do that I’ll go online to the course website or even call the course directly to see what tee times are available. If I call the first course and they have a tee time available close to the time range I was looking for, I’ll book the tee time. Those other courses on my list that I was going to call just got cut.
Isn’t there something missing here? Oh yeah, how much are the green fees?
I realized when I analyzed my personal behavior here, the last factor I considered was price. It is does play a factor in choosing, but it carries less weight than a course I like, or the course I want to play, or the tee time available. I have an idea of what I generally expect to pay for a round (mid-week or weekend) in the region I live, and as long as it is close to that expectation, I won’t spend the extra time to price search. And what are the reasons I like a course? Really, it is the overall experience I had at that course. Was the check-in process easy and the pace of play fairly quick? Was the staff friendly? Was the course in good shape? Overall, if I had fun on the course (and this doesn’t have to do with how I played), I’m going to want to experience it again. And the cost factor drops dramatically.
These days, with multiple discount web sites that aggregate multiple course tee times, the last thing I might do is check those sites, but ONLY to see if the course I want to play has a better deal through that site. So, AFTER I’ve chosen the course I want to play, I am just checking for an additional discount at THAT course. There may even be a course I see on the site that was further down on my short list and a few dollars cheaper. But I’ve already chosen the course I want to play and a few dollars is not going to change my decision. So for the course I originally chose to play, because they offered a better rate on the discount tee time website, they just lost a few dollars that I was willing to pay anyway. (Chances are they see little of that money anyway and is mostly going to the discount website.)
My point here is that so many golf courses have all entered this race to the bottom regarding green fees, and they are focusing on the wrong factors. The golf facility industry has had some real challenges in the last few years and in attempts to get more people out to their courses they are all undercutting each other on price. Well, from what I’ve seen and heard from people in the industry, this is not working to revive the golf industry. They are all just undervaluing their courses and getting paid less for the people who would have already played there.
Any golfer knows that we play the game of golf because we love to play, not because of a cheap rate. It is one of the most addicting games ever created. If you have a bad day on the course, you can’t wait to go again and play better. If you have a great day on the course, you can’t wait to go again and play even better.
To get more people out to courses and get the industry back on it’s feet again, golf courses need to do 2 things. One, they need to stop focusing on the price and more on the product they are providing: a great experience at their course. Provide a well maintained course with a welcoming, friendly, and fun atmosphere that encourages people to come back. Two, they need to get the golfers who play their course to tell their friends about it and bring them back!! This will get you more business than a discount website and earn you more money because you haven’t discounted the value. I’ve said before, golf is a social sport and people want to go play with their friends. As a golf course, provide your golfers a great experience that they will share with their friends, and I guarantee you the next time they think about playing again, they’ll think of your course first. And it will have almost nothing to do with the price they paid.
If my behavior here is unique (I don’t think it is), tell me what your behavior is and how you choose a course to play.