Understanding Lapsed Golfers

At a recent Golf Alliance of Washington/Golf Summit event, I was privileged to learn some new information (for me) regarding the Underpinnings of Commitment many of our customers, members, clients and friends in the golf world have. In the presentation, the spokesman, using National Golf Foundation (NGF,) information presented new concepts about the true differences between what we understand as core, occasional and lapsed golfers.

Lapsed Golfers: Why?

From the NGF research, LAPSED GOLFERS were studied in greater detail, perhaps more than ever before. Besides quantifying the numbers of lapsed golfers, researchers aimed to determine who these people were AND why they went from being committed to the game, or giving it a chance in their life, to not playing the game at all. The research was primarily based on interviews of lapsed golfers who “self-segmented” themselves into one of five types.

lapsed-golfersIn the research, questions focused on why lapsed golfers had stopped playing, what their level of commitment to keep playing was while they played and how their level of commitment could have been positively influenced.  In other words, what was missing?  In this research, they found the five unique types of lapsed golfers included (see breakdown by percent of lapsed population in chart at right):

    • “Nuts” – Completely crazy about the game and would love to start playing again; really didn’t want to quit playing, but family, job or similar reasons left them no choice.
    • “Hooked” – Similar to the Golf Nuts, but to a lesser degree.
    • “Casual” – Enjoy playing the game, but primarily for the outdoor, activity and relational benefits. Left the game for similar reasons as the Nuts and the Hooked group.
    • “Fringe” – Generally play only when invited to join a friend, colleague or family member. Not “hooked enough” to invest time or money into the game to get better. See some benefits to golf, but not enough at this point.
    • “Nots” – Have had some exposure to golf, but found the game to hard, to intimidating and/or too long to play; didn’t see enough benefits to continue…still don’t.

Can We Get Them Back?

For a majority of the Nuts, Hooked and Casual group types, a familiar theme for why they stopped playing was “family reasons.” Many expressed that a change in the family situation had gotten in the way of their golf, and although they really wanted to play (in varying degrees) current circumstances didn’t allow them to do so. Here are a couple of approaches for inviting them back:

Private Club: Go back to their membership rolls and identify the lapsed members who were once “young professionals” 5-10 years ago. If these lapsed members now has kids who are in their early teens to college years, they may be able to come back if we invited them to do so. (Utilize Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites, plus current members to try to track them down.)

Public Facility: Look at the rolls of their home clubs from recent years, identifying the younger home club members who have lapsed from their rosters. Work with the Men’s or Ladies’ Club president/captain to identify possible targets to invite back. (Utilize social sites, home club “loyalists” and their personal networks to track these possibles back to the “fold”.)

Keep Them Playing

The most obvious factor in “Commitment Quotient” for golfers to analyze is frequency. The more rounds someone plays, the more committed they are likely to be to keep playing, work on their game and even invest in new equipment, etc. Two new factors were identified by NGF researchers including:

Competence: Related to a golfers’ ability to play the game, but NOT strictly in terms of skill, ability and score. In many ways, competence for the committed golfer is most heavily based on the sense of belonging on the golf course. In other words, a committed golfer might say, “I’m not very good, but I’m good enough to get around, have fun and I am getting better…”

Comfort: In correlation to competence, comfort is related to a golfers’ sense of orientation to the game. Comfort for the committed golfer is most associated with the confidence to “do the right things” on the course, around the clubhouse and not be humiliated. In other words, a committed golfer might say, “I’m not very good, but rarely feel embarrassed about my knowledge of the game, etiquette, rules and my ability to get around and have fun…”

For many of the lapsed golfers who labeled themselves as Nots, the NGF learned the Nots’ felt a lack of competence and comfort in their golf. With these two vital components missing, the logical result was a lack of retention for them as golfers.

The Value of a Comprehensive, Structured Learning Program for Adults

From this information, it is clear that retention of golfers is directly related to their commitment to the game. As golf professionals, we can make an impact on our facility revenue if we teach a comprehensive, structured learning program that will deliver these two components of competence and comfort for our would-be customers. In basic terms, a program like Get Golf Ready, is perfectly suited to deliver these vital components and train participants to be “ideal, committed customers” in golf (primarily at the facility where they learn them.)

In the study shown at right, from Nike Golf helping-lapsed-golfersLearning Centers, notice the three components listed and how they line up directly with the NGF findings. When we deliver Competency and Comfort, new golfer adults are truly ideal customers. Could you and your facility use 50-200 new golfers who play 24.5 rounds their first year? (Please tell me the answer is yes!)

Monte Koch
mkoch@pgahq.com