News & Opinion

Club boosts play, creates buzz via deals

Thinking Outside the Tee Box: One in an occasional series about innovators who are making golf more attractive.

FREEPORT, Pa. – Travis Lindsay made me buy a golf membership this year. I was recovering from stem-cell injections in my left knee in January and wasn’t sure I was going to play golf before the middle of summer, if at all.

But I bought a Spring Membership, anyway, for all the golf I could play until May 21 at Birdsfoot Golf Club, a daily-fee course about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Why? It was too good of a deal to pass up.

That was exactly what Lindsay wanted. He handles marketing for Birdsfoot, a course that his family built in the middle of nowhere 15 years ago – no offense to nearby Freeport, population 1,780, which is Birdsfoot’s mailing address. Despite a lack of a large local audience from which to draw, Birdsfoot did 33,000 rounds in 2016 and through September was more than 500 rounds ahead of last year’s pace. Credit Lindsay’s innovative marketing ideas for that, plus the fact that Birdsfoot is a course that golfers like. It’s a sprawling, rolling layout in a rural location with well-maintained greens. 

1bfa5e24-bd2b-45a6-be66-da91cf8329e6.jpg
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIRDSFOOT GOLF CLUB
Birdsfoot Golf Club’s par-3 17th hole

PHOTO COURTESY OF BIRDSFOOT GOLF CLUB
Birdsfoot Golf Club’s par-3 17th hole

One of Lindsay’s main methods is to pre-sell discounted rounds during the winter. He estimates Birdsfoot sold the equivalent of 4,000 rounds in January and February, when the course wasn’t open – about 12 percent of the course’s annual play.

“During winter, people like to think about golf and the idea of golfing,” he said. “Once people buy packages in the offseason, they’re committed to playing the course, and they bring other golfers with them. It creates a customer loyalty that’s awesome. And when their package of rounds runs out, a lot of them keep coming back.”

Check out my Spring Membership. For $149, I got golf (cart included) at Birdsfoot for March, April and most of May and practice-range use. My package came with a $50 gift card that could be used for green fees, golf balls, shirts, beer, hot dogs or anything else. So essentially, I paid $99 for the membership. Plus, I got passes for four rounds at Birdsfoot (cart included) that wouldn’t expire. So even if I didn’t play before my temporary membership expired, I had four rounds for $99, a good deal given the regular green fee of $59.

This is how you entice people to play golf. The golf landscape has changed, and Lindsay has made sure that Birdsfoot adapted.

“It’s a very dynamic business now,” Lindsay said. “Some courses want to charge everybody one rate and figure if enough players come in at that rate, they make their expenses. That’s not how it works anymore. They key is, you put packages together where the customer can’t lose.”

Birdsfoot’s success stems from a failed attempt to build an online booking system in 2010. It cost $3,500 to install and generated only $700 worth of tee times. “It flopped,” Lindsay said. “I was like, Oh, geez, now what do we do?” 

He tried pre-selling discounted rounds as an experiment that winter. “We sold 144 rounds the first week of January in 2011,” he said. “Right out of the chute, it was, Wow!”

He was initially nervous that a big pre-sell would hurt in-season sales, but he quickly learned it was just the opposite. “That first year, it was like seeding the tee sheet,” he said. “It grew into a full tee sheet, which gave us dependable play.”

That was just the start of his thinking outside the tee box. His wife, Virginia, suggested raffles. She has a sewing business and has written books on the subject (one is Sewing to Sell: The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Craft Business) and told her husband that fabric giveaways are extremely effective in her world. 

So, Lindsay gave away a driver via an off-season raffle. Customers got one raffle chance for each $20 Birdsfoot gift card (good for green fees or Birdsfoot food or merchandise) that they purchased.

“The response was off the hook,” Lindsay said. 

The raffles grew and became more creative. He raffled off a set of irons. He raffled off packages for multiple rounds of golf and memberships. This year, he raffled a Myrtle Beach golf getaway that was a big hit. It’s all done via email lists.

“The idea is to create excitement, and while that’s happening, customers see our name and it gets them talking about us,” Lindsay said. “It all makes people feel like they’re part of something. Instead of putting money into TV marketing, we’re creating word-of-mouth buzz. We pay for the prizes, but that’s just a marketing expense.”

Lindsay offers some other unique membership options. All of the packages come with four additional rounds that never expire.

The Anniversary Membership, $89. Buyers get unlimited golf Monday through Friday but have to pay a cart fee: $20. For a higher fee, they can get seven-day-a-week access. Lindsay says the average purchaser plays seven rounds.

The Day of the Week Membership, $189. The customer picks the one day each week that he wants to play for the year – say, Wednesday. 

The Once a Month Membership, $200; Twice a Month, $229. 

The King for a Day package allows a foursome to play all day for $200. It comes with a $100 credit that can be used for food or drinks or future rounds. 

Lindsay said he tried a Once a Week Membership, but it didn’t sell. “The golfer has to say, How much can I actually play?” he said. “One thing we found is that people don’t want something that expires. Even the monthly passes, I had to include four free rounds to get people to purchase them.”

The off-season raffles and unusual membership plans are fun for customers and generate sales, but it’s not about that, really. “It’s the sense of excitement,” Lindsay said. “It’s all about getting players to the course. It’s been a game-changer for us.”

If you know someone doing innovative things in golf, contact the writer at gvansick@aol.com

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email:gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle