Bowling Green Golf Club Thriving Despite Industry Trends
Semi private golf club poised for growth
Oak Ridge, N.J.— Oct. 9, 2012—At a time when golf courses are closing nationwide, Bowling Green Golf Club in Morris County is finishing its 45th-anniversary season with an increased customer base and greater demand for tee times. Through September, the semi private course increased its rounds by 24.6 percent in 2012 as compared to 2009, and increased its revenue by 18 percent despite downward pressure in pricing.
The Riggs family, Bowling Green’s proprietors, credit their success to looking at the golf industry through fresh eyes in order to update the product as well as the marketing effort. “Golf is a traditional sport,” said Wil Riggs, a third-generation operator. “For years, the philosophy was ‘build it and they will come.’ The recession forced businesses to re-evaluate, and golf courses were no exception.”
The 2008 recession and the years following presented the Riggs family a challenge: increase the customer base while golf courses were starting to close all over the nation.
Golf by the Numbers
Golf is a $24.8 billion industry in the U.S., with 26 million golfers and 15,882 facilities.[i]But it’s also an industry that’s competing for the entertainment dollar when the supply of courses exceeds demand. In addition, golf is an expensive game that is time-consuming; pair that with a harsh economy and a time-crunched society and it’s easy to understand the challenges.
Last year, the number of rounds played in the U.S. dropped to 463 million from 518 million in 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation.[ii]The number of golfers fell as well, from 30 million in 2005 to 25.7 million. Nineteen courses opened in 2011, while more than 150 closed.
The foundation reports that about 2,000 of the nearly 16,000 golf courses open today are “financially distressed.”[iii] David Hueber, former president and CEO of the National Golf Foundation,estimates that 4,000 to 5,000 golf courses will be in financial danger if they don’t change their model.[iv]
Embracing Change—A 21st-Century Approach to Business
In July 2009, Bowling Green Golf Club followed the downward spiral of many of its competitors, hitting the lowest round count in the history of its existence. That was a wake-up call for Bowling Green as well as the industry, and the Riggs family decided to dig in and succeed.
“Bowling Green has been a local destination since the late 1960s,” said Riggs. “Clearly, it was time to rethink our guest experience and revisit our marketing efforts, bringing them into the 21st century, so to speak.”
They started by streamlining operations, refocusing human resources and reinvigorating golf course conditioning. A multi year project to restore the course to its original Geoff Cornish design has included the renovation of all 56 sand bunkers, ongoing selective tree thinning to maintain fairway corridors and a dogwood planting project to reintroduce the trademark flowering trees in their original numbers.
Recognizing that golf is a time-consuming sport, Bowling Green has maintained its commitment to speed of play and the four-hour round; also in keeping with a new P(lay)G(olf)A(merica) initiative, the club has introduced two new playing yardages of 6,000 and 6,400 yards, bringing the choice of tees to seven. “Tee It Forward” encourages golfers to move up to a shorter tee for the experience of friendlier scoring and faster play. Playing the course yardage which matches your ability makes the game more fun.
In 2011 and 2012, Bowling Green turned up the volume on marketing, recognizing that today’s younger customer (and some not so young!) must be reached via the Internet and social media. They launched a Facebook page, starting a conversation with fans, and included some targeted Facebook advertising. They reached out to new customers via sites such as Groupon, Living Social and Golf Now with deals during non-prime periods. In addition, they employed search engine optimization throughout their website to be more visible in online searches.
The Riggs family also started a blog to keep customers and others up to date on Bowling Green news, golf trends and pop culture. As their blog became more sophisticated, they included images and video. Blog topics this season have encompassed a variety of information from golf instructional tips to advice for charities on planning a golf outing.The Mother’s Day and Father’s Day blog posts were lighthearted tributes to moms and dads who play golf. In July, a blog post offered tips on playing golf with children and promoted Bowling Green’s Family Golf Month event.
Bowling Green marked its 45th anniversary in 2012 over Memorial Day weekend and celebrated by giving away 45 free rounds of golf. In keeping with the new focus on Internet marketing, winners were announced on the website, via email and in the blog. With the help of a new logo and updated image, Riggs sees marketing efforts increasing Bowling Green’s visibility in front of current and potential customers. On the operating side, he plans to continue offering what Bowling Green does best — great golf and friendly service.
“We try things,” said Riggs. “We’ll test them, measure the results and then adjust as necessary. We attribute our success to being nimble and willing to adapt to the market. That’s the future of golf.”
About Bowling Green Golf Club
Bowling Green Golf Club is a family-owned, semiprivate golf course located at 53 Schoolhouse Road, Oak Ridge, New Jersey 07438, 973-697-8688,www.bowlinggreengolf.com. It is frequented by North Jersey golfers from Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Sussex and Essex counties,
as well as guests from Manhattan. The Grill Room at Bowling Green is open year-round. Book a tee time, follow our latest news and announcements by subscribing to our newsletter, like us onFacebook, subscribe to our blog and follow us on Twitter.
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[i] Golf:Now and Then, April 28, 2012.
[ii] Business First, Golf operators get creative in ways to lure players as golf takes a hit from economy, busy lifestyles, May 25, 2012.
[iii] Boom and Bust of Golf Course Real Estate Spotlighted, July 20, 2012.
Link Located here http://www.clubandresortbusiness.com/2012/07/20/boom-and-bust-of-golf-course-real-estate-spotlighted/is no longer active
[iv] Fore Sale, Wall Street Journal, July 24, 2012.