Customer A supported your course through the meh moments of the 1980s, the profitable parts of the 1990s and 2000s, and the bleakness of the Great Recession. The unyielding loyalty then helped replenish financial reserves throughout the subsequent recovery. Through the years, Customer A has learned to expect a specific and repeatable experience.

Customer B dabbled for a decade, grabbing clubs once or twice each year, usually for an annual outing, vowing to play more, yet resorting to the same list of reasons why devoting more time to golf was impractical. Then the restaurants and bars closed, the children had fewer places to be, and the hometown team could only be followed on a screen. Those 100-plus acres of greenspace once representing an annual resolution gone awry became a desirable place to spend a few hours. Through their one year of avid interest, you observe Customer B seeks a different experience than Customer A.

Getting a Customer B to become a Customer A will be the biggest conundrum — and the biggest opportunity — facing many golf facilities this year. The inflow of beginning and returning players in 2020 reached 6.2 million, according to the National Golf Foundation. The total easily surpassed the number of players who left the game, resulting in an increase of 500,000 golfers and bringing the overall number of golfers to 24.8 million. The bulk of those newcomers experienced the game at public courses, which account for three-quarters of the American golf supply.

Signs exist that newcomers might stick with the game. Golf equipment sales topped $1 billion in the third quarter of 2020, according to Golf Datatech. Who drops hundreds of dollars, or more, on items they only plan to use for a few months? OK, we all know “Gadget Girl” or “Gadget Guy.” But most reasonable people seek a return on an investment, even one forced to stay in the garage or trunk throughout winter.

Rounds played increased by double digits compared to 2019 during each of the final seven months of 2020, according to Golf Datatech. The trajectory suggests the people who entered or reentered the game enjoyed their experiences. So, yes, Customer A and Customer B can coexist.

Unlike many other pursuits, customers can experience golf in whatever format they deem fit. Some golfers putt out. Others give their friends 4-footers. Some golfers play from the same tee markers every hole. Others bounce between markers depending on distances and angles. Some golfers want to play 18 holes. Others want to play seven. Some golfers like quiet. Others like to blare Beastie Boys from Bluetooth speakers.

Tactically, a turf team doesn’t need to do much different to connect with Customer A and Customer B. Presentable and playable course conditions are universal, especially within the segments of the market where most newcomers experience the game. Golfers who expect — and, more important, are willing to pay for — super-slick greens and lush rough don’t represent a growth opportunity for the industry. They were already heavily invested in the game before 2020.

Course conditions, as 2020 proved, represent the core product. Any trained eye can determine that the product has never been better thanks to teams led by people reading this magazine. The experience is a different matter. Turning Customer B into Customer A requires a different skillset. It means displaying a willingness to enter their realm. Observe how they experience the game and listen to their needs. Collect scientific and anecdotal data on their tendencies. Find time to play a few holes alongside them.

Incredibly unfortunate circumstances presented generational opportunities for golf facilities. Customer B stopped for a preview and demonstrated interest in the experience. Millions of dabblers are on the brink of becoming a Customer A. Think of what proper conversions mean for facilities and careers.

Customer A kept the industry running. Devoting resources in 2021 to understanding Customer B can ensure growth opportunities aren’t squandered.


Guy Cipriano