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Marketing Lowdown: Golf is Big Business

In recent years, golf courses have sprung up like weeds as Baby Boomers exchange their basketball and racquetball shoes for lower-impact footwear. Equipment sales have kept pace as golfers demand better technology to help improve their scores.

But the good times haven't been rolling so well of late. Statistics show golfing was off nearly five percent from 2007 to 2008. And according to Todd Montaba, president of the Golf Course Owners Association of Wisconsin, course owners are expecting anywhere from a 10-15 percent decline in 2009. "High-end golf courses may be off even more," adds Montaba. "Courses that have season passes will do better than courses dependent solely on walk-in business."

While owners prepare for the worst, the reasons to go golfing remain. Businesses recognize the benefits of conducting business on the golf course, as do charities. As a result, the popularity of organized golf outings has not diminished. "We're pretty much seeing the same number of outings," says Montaba. "Just fewer people signing up per outing."

Corporations view outings as an opportunity to spend more time with potential customers. Executives recognize the benefits of relationship building, and use the company golf outing as a means to promote those relationships with other executives. An outing serves as an ideal venue for thanking vendors, customers, and employees. And they offer that invaluable "face time" with potential clients in a relaxed environment.

Indeed, golf provides executives with a unique selling opportunity. Maintains John Counsell, a sports marketing consultant in Fort Meyers Beach, Fla.: "It's just a great setting for conducting business. You have a captive audience for at least four hours on the course, and maybe another two hours before and after."

Golfing provides the time for networking with important contacts. "It gives you time to get to know a person," says Counsell, "and time to sell a client on yourself and your business."

In addition to time spent with a client, the game offers an ideal opportunity to understand the personality behind the business contact. "There is a sense of courtesy and golf etiquette that really gives you an opportunity to know if you want to do business with this person," adds Counsell. "A dog-and-pony sales presentation doesn't allow you to get to know a person very well."

"It's like a little game of life," says Al Benson former President of Pro Golf, a Wauwatosa golf equipment retailer. "How somebody responds to pressure and frustration…winning and losing…how the person deals with mistakes."

Golf is a lot like business. For starters, it's competitive and you're responsible for your own success. And just ike a business relationship, it is often based upon trust. There's a great deal of integrity involved in the game. How many sports do you know where you call a penalty on yourself?

Non-profit organizations have also recognized the benefits inherent in golf. According to the U.S. Industrial Outlook, golfing has the highest percentage of affluent players among all participation sports. Charities tap into this affluent market to benefit their causes.

It's a win-win situation for players and sponsors alike. Quality sponsors attract golfers to charity outings. And those sponsors reach a captive audience that fits their customer profile. Organizations involved in local charity outings gain substantial community relations benefits in the minds of the players.

Sponsors reach a captive, affluent audience in a comfortable setting. A magazine ad or radio commercial might not be seen or heard. But while you're waiting to tee off, you can't help but read the sponsor's message.

While golfers have to watch their spending during this recession, they nonetheless continue to golf. More often, they are choosing less expensive venues. But there is more at stake than simply love of the sport: Golf is also a great way to relieve stress, a great getaway from life. And it remains a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Besides, would you rather be in a stuffy conference room or on the 14th green?

Robert Grede is the author of Naked Marketing—The Bare Essentials and president of The Grede Company, a marketing and strategic planning consultancy. Subscribe to his weekly e-mail, "101 Marketing Tips," by sending an e-mail request torg@thegredecompany.com with "add me" in the subject line.