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GreenCast in UK and Ireland - WHAT DO GOLFERS REALLY WANT?

Player Survey

Detailed new research has revealed precisely what UK golfers - and prospective players - want in a golf club. The results point towards relaxed, family-friendly facilities offering attentive customer service and flexible membership options. And, of course, smooth, true-rolling greens.

Conducted in May 2013, it was one of the most extensive golf surveys ever undertaken in the UK. Syngenta, one the world's leading specialist golf course turf management product suppliers, sought the views of more than 3,500 UK residents about golf.

In total, 1,477 golfers were interviewed by GfK, one of the top four market research companies in the world. What made the survey different, however, was that 2,145 non-golfers and lapsed golfers were also questioned.

The results were fascinating, and shed light on potential solutions for golf clubs to help them retain members and attract new players.

Eric Brown, Global Turf Business Manager of Syngenta, who presented the report, 'Growing Golf in the UK' at the 2013 Golf Business Forum in St Andrews, explained why the research was commissioned: "As a company we wanted to better understand the UK golf course industry, from a social, business and environmental perspective. That includes listening to customers - including golfers, lapsed golfers and prospective customers - and having a clear idea of their wants and needs.

Eric Brown

"While some of the findings may not come as a surprise - we know golfers always want good course conditions - a number of key themes emerged that are important and relevant to clubs. Specifically, customers talked about their desire for relaxed, family-friendly facilities. They also wanted greater flexibility both in terms of membership options and less formal dress codes, and the freedom to do things such as use a smartphone in the clubhouse.

Eric pointed out that the research also highlighted the huge opportunities around female and junior participation and the importance of access to affordable coaching for new players.

"Ultimately, the objective of the research wasn't to highlight golf's shortcomings, but to offer potential solutions to help golf clubs and courses better understand their customers and deliver enjoyable, memorable golf experiences on a day-to-day basis," he added.

What the research revealed?

1. Friendliness

Survey result:25% of golfers said they recalled no experience of being treated like a valued customer. When asked what is important to golfers off-course, the top answers were 1) Price of membership/play; 2) Friendliness of members; 3) Comfortable with course and surroundings; 4) Club is welcoming regardless of gender; 5) Friendliness of staff

Analysis: "While friendliness could be dismissed as a somewhat fluffy notion, it's clear that members and regular golfers are looking for the same level of customer service they might expect in a café, health club or hotel," says Eric. "This is their leisure time, they want to enjoy the experience and be made to feel a valued customer."

2. Flexibility

Survey result:Up to 50% of golfers sometimes feel intimidated by club rules, regulations, members and staff. Golfers rated 'Relaxed rules/few restrictions at the club or course', 'Flexible membership options' and 'Casual dress code' among the factors most important to them.

Analysis:"Clearly, golfers are saying they want to do everyday things such as use their smartphone and dress casually without officious signs telling them they can't," comments Eric. "They also want greater choice in terms of membership schemes - the one-size-fits-all annual membership package may dissuade some customers."

3. Female Participation

Survey result:67% of females prefer to play golf only with friends and family; 75% of female golfers would play less if their friends stopped playing; 48% of female golfers' children play golf; 47% of female non-golfers would be encouraged to try golf if more friends or family played.

Analysis:Eric says, "The research clearly highlights that women prefer to play with friends and family, and this is important for clubs to understand in terms of how they retain existing female players and create opportunities for new players. The findings also suggest an important link between females and juniors, and women nurturing young golfers."

4. Friends & Family

Survey result:48% of non-golfers said they would be encouraged to play if with friends and family; 29% of lapsed golfers cited family responsibilities as the main reason for leaving golf; half of golfers who recommend their club to others do so because they would like to see more friends and family play there.

Analysis:"Playing golf with friends and family is a significant factor for existing golfers and prospective new players," explains Eric. "However, the pressure of family responsibilities can also lead to members leaving the club and golf. So family engagement could be a valuable opportunity for clubs to enhance the 'stickiness' of some groups of members."

5. Course Conditions

Survey result:80% of 'committed golfers' demand the best course conditions. When asked what are the most important on-course factors for golfers, the top five answers were 1) Greens roll smoothly; 2) Course design; 3) Golf course is visually appealing; 4) High probability of finding ball in the rough within a reasonable time; 5) Course blends naturally into its environment.

Analysis:"These responses may not be a surprise, but the course is a critical factor that can't be taken for granted," says Eric. "A club's ability to provide an enjoyable and memorable on-course golfing experience is likely to define a club's reputation. Being able to find a golf ball in the rough also raises important issues around player enjoyment and speed of play."

6. Getting into golf

Survey result:Of the non-golfers who said they would be interested in taking up golf, half are in the younger 15-39 years age group; 35% of non-golfers don't know how to get started in golf; 61% said they would be interested in giving golf a try if they had access to affordable golf lessons.

Analysis:Eric comments: "We asked non-golfers and lapsed golfers about a number of initiatives we know golf courses are already trying. Our research showed that the ability to sample or try golf without an immediate long-term commitment could be an important first step or entry point into the game. However, in addition to providing easy access to golf it is important to remember to provide a friendly, welcoming environment so that those wishing to participate enjoy the whole experience."

Next steps to use the findings

So, what conclusions can golf clubs draw from the research? "There is no one-size-fits-all solution in golf," says Eric Brown. "Every golf club, course and driving range is operating in different local markets with competing interests for their customers' attention.

"What's important is for golf businesses to listen to their customers and understand their situation, wants, needs and the factors that may encourage or dissuade active participation," he advised. "Ultimately, for a golf club or course to be successful it needs to provide a facility and level of service customers want.

Young players - and female golfers - are a key part of unlocking golf's true potential

"Interestingly, this doesn't necessarily require capital expenditure. Our research highlighted the importance of friendliness and the need for customers to feel valued - this is something all golf courses can provide and is a great place to start."

Eric added: "This project is all about listening to and understanding customers, and acting on the feedback. It's a good thing for all businesses to do, including golf clubs, courses and driving ranges."