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Writing a Marketing Plan to Increase Tournament Sales

Tom Pasha

A famous pitcher, team manager, bon vivant and philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said,

You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there. “ 

Many golf courses are starting off their new year with all the best intentions, but they are starting out without a clear Marketing Plan focused on increasing tournament sales, and it could make for a long year.  With the new  year getting underway, now is the time to look or re-look at your marketing plan.

Why tournament sales?  With individual rounds staying flat or declining in many markets, with more golf courses closing than opening this year, and with many clubs still waiting for the “Tiger Factor” to kick in, tournament golf is the single most important part of your marketing mix.  Tournament golfers spend more money, eat more food, drink more booze (okay, and other beverages) and buy more pro-shop items than the same number of individual golfers.  Yet many golf courses let tournaments find them instead of aggressively pursuing the group market, then they complain that their tournament rounds are down.

The key to increasing tournament sales is to develop, budget and follow an effective tournament golf marketing plan.  If a golf course hosts 50,000 rounds annually, at a $100 average greensfee, there is $5 million in golf sales at stake, and tournament directors need to plan and execute steps to get more than their share.

  • Review your prior year.  See where the peaks and valleys in your business were, see what tournaments your golf course hosted; calculate your total year-end tournament revenue.
  • Preview the upcoming year.  In your tee-sheet system or on a large wall calendar, mark all of the tournament dates that are now booked.  Also chart any member events, days that are closed for maintenance, clinics, qualifiers and other events that are already on the books when your course is full.  Calculate your total tournament rounds and revenue for the upcoming year.
  • Not it’s time to set a goal.  Since everyone wants a raise, set a goal of at least 10% growth year over year.   Next, just compare the year prior actual combined with the 10% growth, to the total revenue figure that is on the books, the difference is the basis of your marketing plan.
  • If you finished 2006 with 45,000 rounds consumed, you would want to set your target at 50,000 for 2007.  If you currently have 40,000 on the books, you are 80% on the way to the goal, and need to find ways to sell 10,000 additional rounds to hit your goal.  That’s where tournament sales come in, because the prime individual tee-times are already taken, and you need to generate tournament sales in times that are still available.

The problem with individual golf is that it gravitates towards dates that are already full, and once a tee-time is booked, like a hotel room or airline seat, it’s gone forever.  Selling tournament golf increases revenue for golf, pro-shop and food and beverage outlets, and offsets some of the discounts that have to be absorbed to keep the course full.

At the Golf Event Managers Association, we focus on the “Big Five”-- the five critical areas in Tournament Marketing: E-Marketing, Direct Sales, Direct Mail, Advertising and Public Relations.  There are books and in fact libraries devoted to these marketing topics, but briefly, the Big Five are as follows:

E-Marketing:      E-Marketing is critical for golfers to find you and for you to find golfers through an effective website and e-mails.  Your website should be easy to find, easy to navigate and contain lots of information on your course or product.  Add an online tee-time system and a tournament request form with seasonal promotion, and you’re on the way. It sounds basic, but check that your website shows your correct address, current tournament booking information and contact name, telephone, fax and e-mail access.  Make it easy and fun to find your course and do business, and you’ll fill more rounds.

E-Mails are more critical than ever, because golfers excel at all forms of electronic communication and respond well to it.  Make sure you collect business cards from golfers at every tournament, have them added to an e-mail database; send an introduction e-mail to those golfers, thanking them for attending the tournament, and asking them to bring a tournament of their own.  Ideally you can use individual golfers to promote tournaments and have your tournament golfers promote individual play.

Direct Sales:     Direct sales is the easiest way to increase sales— simply call past tournament planners and invite them back.  Ask them if they belong to any other related groups who might have a tournament.  Remember to ask the “WAYGIFY” question, the acronym for “Where Are You Going In Future Years.”   Many times, a tournament plans 6-12 months out, but there’s nothing keeping you from booking the best past tournaments into multiple future dates—that closes out your available dates, and increases the revenue on the books.

Direct Sales also includes the way your golf course handles incoming calls.  Ideally, you should have your team trained to greet the caller professionally, get the booking process started and generate confirming paperwork immediately.

Direct Mail:        Direct Mail should be designed to drive golfers and planners to your website to book a tee-time or tournament.  Seasonal specials, holiday cards, anniversary and birthday cards, member newsletters and other mailing pieces are critical for a good tournament program.  Be sure to see that every department at your course, whether it’s membership, the restaurant, the pro-shop and even accounting distributes flyers to promote tournament golf.

Advertising:       While handy for individual tee-times, advertising is a necessary evil of tournament golf sales.  It’s expensive, difficult to track and requires too much time for the results it generates.  The most important item here is to include a mention of tournament sales in every yellow-page ad, billboard, sports-page and restaurant ad.  A good outlet for tournament ads is in the newsletters for large organizations, if they accept advertising.  Examples here might include the social groups like the Knights of Columbus and Shriners, church groups, large employer newsletters and other targeted areas where the advertising rates are very reasonable and you can track results.

Public Relations:            This area is usually overlooked by golf courses, but it is one of the most effective ways to increase tournament golf sales.  The basics include a weekly fact sheet sent to the area media outlets on any interesting tournaments coming in and any interesting club news.  Be sure to invite area media and key community members to every golf tournament, you may want to comp their greensfees as part of your support for the tournament, and make sure they have a good time.  Adding a Wall of Fame in the 19th Hole with autographed photos of past tournaments with a wall-mounted brochure rack is another easy way to get things started.

In writing a Marketing Plan, it’s important to see what tee-times can still be sold, and start a targeted campaign to sell those tee-times.   The Marketing Plan starts by looking at the dates and times that are still available on your 2007 calendar and starting an active campaign to fill those open and available dates first.   Every marketing action should have a preparation, execution and follow-up stage, so you can track how much business each action generates.

To get started, visit the Golf Event Managers Association website, at www.golfeventmanagers.com, for some helpful formats and downloads.  And you know, when you see how successful your course can be, you might remember another quote from that famous philosopher, Yogi,

 “You now, nobody goes there anymore…it’s too crowded.”  

Tom Pasha is the Executive Director of GEMA, the Golf Event Managers Association. GEMA is a national organization of golf event planners, golf facilities and vendors, dedicated to increasing and improving golf tournament business, attendance and professionalism on all levels. Based in Orlando, Florida, GEMA focuses on marketing programs to help event planners maximize membership, attendance and sponsorships and works with golf facilities and merchandisers to increase their contacts and business in the tournament golf market.

Tel: 407-891-2252 | Fax: 407-891-6428 | E-mail: tpasha@contactplan.com | www.contactplan.com

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