In this era when even having your e-mail address fall into the wrong hands results in an unwanted barrage of solicitations, there is an understandable reluctance to dish out information, especially with a perception that sensitive business information could fall into competitors’ hands.
That’s the challenge faced by the National Golf Course Owners Association and now the Canadian PGA as they partner to collect data from individual golf courses in order to help those very golf courses use the data to analyze and compare their performances against similar facilities.
The challenge is perception, according to NGCOA executive director Jeff Calderwood, who uses the word misconception to actually describe the fear of divulging classified information as part of this data program.
“It’s a misconception, but yes, it’s a fear, so we have to market our way through that. I don’t see any of these numbers. Nobody’s getting these numbers. It’s totally confidential and they have to buy into that. Once they get in and use it, they realize it, but that’s part of our sales process,” said Calderwood.
“Our challenge is we have to get enough participating golf courses to be able to give meaningful, trustworthy numbers that go industry-wide,” said Calderwood, adding that about 300 courses are currently involved in the program.
“We’ll need double that probably before we would want to say, `Hey, here are the rounds played numbers for nine-hole courses all across Canada.” There’s some work to be done, but you have to start it and have to get it going,” he said.
The NGCOA was one of the groups within the National Allied Golf Association to unveil last year the results of its economic impact study, which shed a positive light on the game in respect to employment, taxes paid and other economic matters.
One disturbing point was that participation in Canadian golf had dropped as much as 10 per cent in 2008, a worrisome figure for those within the industry who had no way of tracking on a regular basis what happened after that, especially in 2009 when both the economy and weather were hitting golf hard.
This alarming lack of information made golf unlike any other industry, which prompted to the NGCOA to try and change the situation when it began the program two years ago.
“It’s part of going from somewhat of a cottage industry to a sophisticated industry,” said Calderwood. “We have to get out of this seat-of-the-pants management, which golf’s been pretty good at for decades. A lot of people have done well with golf without having to be as sophisticated as other industries. That’s the past.”
With the proliferation of golf courses in many parts of the country in the past decade or so, golf has become a highly competitive industry from within, but Calderwood adds that it also has to compete with other recreations and industries for the consumer dollar.
Even though they are competitors, he added, golf course operators need to spot trends and analyze numbers through cumulative numbers that don’t divulge information about the participating courses.
Calderwood compares this initiative to one employed in the hotel industry, which keeps track of occupancy and room rates cumulatively.
“We’re basically taking that kind of model and saying the golf industry has to have that sort of information, so that they can make management decisions day-in, day-out. Instead of flying blind by the seat of their pants, they can make management decisions based on some actual data and facts,” he said.
“As this system picks up momentum, it will fill that void and it will be monthly, so you’ll be comparing the month of June to last year’s month of June and you’ll also be comparing annual and various trending and it will be accurate because it’s coming from the point of sale. It’s coming from the computer of the golf course.”
The system will evolve as more golf courses come on board, according to Calderwood.
“It’s not just rounds. Rounds are the entry point. People don’t worry about the confidentiality of rounds played,” he said.
“That’s the starting point, but it’s everything that matters to a golf course operator, so it leads from rounds to revenues and then it’s broken down by revenue per utilized tee time and also revenue per available tee time, so statistical measurement that come out of rounds and revenues,” added Calderwood.
“There’s also benchmarking of expenses and these are things that we’re going to see this system evolve into and get more comprehensive as it goes along,” he added.
“The starting point is definitely rounds and some general revenue numbers and then, it’s broken out by market segment, so any individual golf course that is participating in this can get back a report that compares these statistical numbers of golf courses similar to themselves.
“It does have market segmentation, so a course can compare the average of these courses in their market to their own numbers, but they never get to see any other golf course’s individual numbers. It’s the technology platform that crunches out the averages and gives them back their market segment,” said Calderwood.
The announcement last week that the Canadian PGA was coming on board will be a big help and not just from an operational cost perspective, according to Calderwood.
“For some of this data, they’re on the front lines and working with these numbers on a daily basis, so it’s a good complement to the golf course ownership to have the golf pro engaged in it,” he added.
“In addition to that, the PGA of America in the States is doing this kind of benchmarking, so the Canadian PGA was interested in serving a similar role in Canada,” he added.
“We were already doing it and (Canadian PGA executive director Gary Bernard) and I sat down and said we ought to do this together,” said Calderwood.
Now they need more golf courses to be forthcoming to make it work.