SUCCESS ENGINEER: JIM LOMBARDO – ERIN HILLS
Key player experience measures for successful golf operations
Managing a golf course and creating a unique and memorable experience for players can be somewhat challenging and golf courses need to work hard to create a seamless experience to keep members and guests returning for a round of golf.
After hosting a successful US Open in 2017, PGA Head Professional, Jim Lombardo, who manages the renowned Erin Hills Golf Course in Wisconsin, is considered both an innovator and a pioneer. By incorporating new technology and software into his operations he has managed to increase revenue and maintain a world-class course that golfers around the world hold in high regard.
Back in 2015, Jim took a chance on Tagmarshal, the leading golf course optimization platform that provides rich and engaging data to club managers to optimize operations and increase their revenue. According to Jim, he can’t live without it. Recently, Jim shared some practical tips on optimising the all-important player experience and the importance of data to a successful golf course operation.
The importance of the “above and beyond expectation” player experience
In recent years there has been a significant downward trend in US golf participation, with the number of players dropping from 25.7 million to 23.8 million, much of which was due to the overall level of satisfaction with a round of golf. According to Hunki Yun, the USGA Director of Partnerships, Outreach and Education, clubs need to do a better job of retaining customers – in a recent survey conducted by the USGA, overall player satisfaction is at a meagre 69%.
According to Yun, the relationship between participation and satisfaction is key. When golfers have a positive experience and their round of golf meets their expectations, their satisfaction levels are high. This improves their participation level. However, casual golfers who play seven or fewer rounds of golf a year are a key risk factor to the game as their satisfaction levels are a lowly 57%.
This raises the question: what can golf courses do to provide a player experience that exceeds the expectations of their members and guests?
What walking in your customer’s shoes can teach you
Create a seamless and unique customer journey, understand what really matters to members and guests and define the experience that a club stands for. When a club knows what is needed in terms of software, technology, hospitality and staff training in order to deliver on their value proposition, they’re more likely to meet these expectations and create longer-lasting customer satisfaction and memorable experiences.
“We take the entire experience and analyse it,” explains Lombardo, “From the time people pick up the phone to make a reservation to the time they arrive, right through to the time they reach the first tee and throughout the time on the course, we define and analyse every touchpoint where there is an experience and make it as best as we can.”
An opportunity is now established for golf clubs to improve on each customer aspect throughout the journey. Defining metrics and ways in which to measure these, in order to continuously improve and strive towards excellence becomes critical.
Golf clubs should be able to identify opportunities for improvement or give themselves a pat on the back for areas where they’re going above and beyond on delivering value.
“The most important thing at Erin Hills is the experience and by aligning our staff to say the right things and handle situations correctly helps us achieve an exceptional customer experience,” says Lombardo. “We hire people who believe what we believe and our belief is experience-driven, ensuring that we focus on all touchpoints, from start to finish.”
Think like a king customer
We’ve all heard the saying that “the customer is king” and thinking like one can help club managers keep their eye on the ball. Constantly looking for ways to innovate and improve to even the smallest details can have a major impact in the long term. Club managers know their courses intimately, but understanding how a first-time visitor experiences it is key.
Field flow and pace of play management can be a major contributing factor to overall player satisfaction, but many clubs lack the resources to address the issue. By introducing innovative golf management software like Tagmarshal, which tracks players and caddies on the course and provides real-time data, clubs can improve efficiency and on-course field flow, reallocate resources and manpower where and when needed, and streamline and monitor the overall pace of play, even during peak periods.
Jim Lombardo maintains that sacrificing a little bit of revenue in order to focus on course conditioning, tee availability, and flow of play to deliver a top-notch player experience can go a long way in retaining valuable customers.
“People come with high expectations, and our focus is to match those expectations, ensuring we develop and retain customers,” continues Lombardo.
“Part of our success is our well-conditioned course. But what would ruin a players day is standing around on the course all day, so flow and pace are extremely important to us and Tagmarshal helps us create an exceptional on-course experience.”
Why ‘hit the ball straight’ really isn’t enough
When players ask on-course staff for tips on how to play a particular hole, being told to hit the ball straight doesn’t help much, especially when guests are playing on a new course. Turning marshals, caddies, starters and assistants into experience managers can do wonders for the customer journey.
It’s important that facilities invest in and empower their staff and set up teams to be aligned with their customer experience. Golfers spend most of their time on the course with caddies, creating an ideal opportunity for trained staff to give tips, advice and add value, especially to those who are playing the course for the first time.
Many private clubs provide scripts for staff on how to deal with player requests. This ensures consistency across the board. Ultimately, though, the more knowledge the caddies have at their fingertips, the more value they can add to the experience.
The importance of data to a successful golf course operation
Today, technology creates opportunities for businesses that have never existed before. While we must be respectful of tradition in golf, there is always room for learning from the data that golf management software can now capture. By collecting information such as guest history and player handicaps – and how it affects the pace of play – enables courses to be more efficient in their operations, thereby increasing revenue and attracting and retaining more visitors.
“The more you know your data, and the more you can record and analyse critical parts of your operations, year on year, the more you’ll understand about your business and the smarter you’ll be as a golf course operator,” says Lombardo.
At clubs utilizing Tagmarshal, marshals can log onto the platform to see what they need to do, or where they need to go with groups of players who may be out of position and holding up play. Having on-the-go data that is easily accessible saves time and effort and provides real-time, pre-emptive course management.
Consistent field flow allows golf clubs to add further tee times which, throughout the month, can result in a substantial increase in revenue. Additionally, tracking caddie results and analysing the pace of play helps clubs identify potential shortfalls in skills and other issues they may need to address with staff.
Playability – turn on the charm
Setting the right tone for the day by getting the morning groups off to a smooth start creates an environment for club employees to excel and deliver an exceptional experience. By managing the customers’ expectations from start to finish through exceptional hospitality, communication, and consistently impressive service, club managers can redirect their efforts to other areas that need attention.
With Tagmarshal’s innovative and industry-leading golf management software platform, club managers can rest assured that players will leave the course well looked after, and perhaps linger a little longer at the 19th hole.
Tagmarshal is a golf course intelligence and pace-of-play management solution that turns pace into an asset. The system uses small “tags” clipped onto golf bags or installed on carts which transmit geolocation data. Industry-leading algorithms identify risk groups with accurate, objective support to alleviate pace challenges before they arise. Public, private and resort courses using Tagmarshal realize substantial returns on investments through improved on-course experiences achieved with less staff as well as increases in daily rounds. Impactful and easy-to-use data analytics, weather data integration and geo-fencing complete the offering.