Talking strudel with the EGCOA

What does wiener schnitzel have to do with golf? 

OK, nothing really but I managed to eat some pretty great schnitzel when in Vienna, along with apple strudel, and a killer bratwurst from a street vendor. And I was here for the 2018 Golf Business Conference, hosted by the energetic and always positive Lodewijk Klootwijk, CEO of the European Golf Course Owners Association.  

The venue, Vienna’s Haus der Industrie, was a grand palace and our plenary session was watched over by a huge portrait of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Imposing surroundings, and not a familiar place for me. It’s hard to imagine golf here at all, but Austria has 150+ golf courses across its mountainous terrain. I spoke to one operator from Austria whose business covered golf in summer, and skiing in winter. By March the course should be exposed and being prepared for summer, but this year’s late winter saw it covered in snow. At least the skiers kept her smiling. Hard to imagine a course in Australia diversified across golf and skiing, but there you go. 

It really is incredible to see such different conditions, a wildly different environmental context, yet see the same issues arising for golf businesses. Customer experience, marketing, pricing, the rise and role of technology, managing customer feedback and driving sales all featured. Jay Karen (CEO of the USA’s National Golf Course Owners’ Association) presented a keynote on the tech trends impacting golf in the USA, and the idea of excellent customer service through self-service attracted my attention. Why can’t people check-in themselves, and head straight to the first tee?! The technology is coming soon. Toro’s drone technology, using infra-red cameras to identify chlorophyll concentrations on turf, also impressed. 

Lodewijk’s own presentation captured a key point for me: we need to shift the focus from golf, to the golfer. From us, to the customer. Simple concept, yet so often we see us focus on our game, and our own businesses, before we think about our customers. Less about what's wrong with the game and more about what do people want, when they come to play golf?

John King (Golf Marketing University) ran an excellent workshop on how to design a new golf product: start with who you want to attract, think long and hard about them, their needs and desires, then start thinking about your new product. How often do we instead design a new member package, or prepare a green fee offer, before we think about who we’re trying to attract?! A great fresh perspective. John has an impressive record of reinvigorating membership products with this approach. 

I ran a workshop on dynamic pricing, working with the super-smart folk from Priswing, a true pricing machine (shoutout to Damien and Arnaud, two Frenchmen packing serious data-crunching punch) - - a platform that looks at your tee-sheet history including advance booking times, considers upcoming conditions, and does all the work for you in calculating prices for every tee-time (you can put away that crystal ball). Talk about new tech. It’s not in Australia yet, but this is the kind of tech the hotel industry has had use of for some time now. I also saw a brilliant kiosk designed to sell green fees for courses without operating golf shops. 

So whilst sitting in a grand, old palace presenting to golf operators and owners representing many nationalities, it struck me that the future is here. The tools are now, but the successful business cases are still few and far between. So strap in and enjoy the next few years, make sure you put the customer first…and grab some strudel to enjoy on the way. 

Andrew DaviesComment