Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Golf needs to learn from Skiing

Few sports have better kids programs
Skiing spent almost 20 years with zero growth. In the last 10 years skiing has had a golden period where growth and profits have soared. There have been a number of new resorts that have come on line to meet demand.

Around 10 years ago the ski resort owners, the ones with the most to gain or lose, sat down and looked at why their sport was struggling. They discovered that they were barely getting 10% retention rate with novice skiers. The major complaints were a lack of time (golf can relate to this), how they were treated and in their case the loss of skiers once the kids left the home.

When they looked into how people came to the sport, it was usually through family but almost as often through friends (very similar to golf). They found they had excellent retention with the group they called the thrill seekers, they had modest attraction to the group they labelled the tag alongs, but they had almost no retention on the group they called the socials. That group only came to remain part of the group. They realized that to make skiing more “sticky” they needed to address each group by making it a better experience tailored to them.

Skiing was given the “golden gift” just over a decade ago with snowboarding. Snowboarding brought in a dramatically younger but most importantly ethnically diverse group to the hills. It was the “game changer” for skiing. But skiing was not foolish enough to make assumptions that this was all it needed, like golf was with Tiger Woods. They built terrain parks for the thrill seekers and snowboarders in particular to say we are thinking of you. They improved service and changed the rental system to provide top notch equipment with excellent service to address the socials. Imagine if golf courses provide options for equipment where you could play your preferences at a resort without carrying your bag through the airport, that’s what skiing has accomplished. I rented rather than bringing my skis the last time I went west!

The game changer - snowbaording

But the real key was how they dealt with the beginners (socials and particularly the tag alongs). The mantra forever in the ski resort business was add to more difficult terrain to gain a greater reputation for challenge. The reality was 90% of skiers spent 90% of their time on the beginner and intermediate slopes. Once the ski industry understood that their efforts were misplaced they concentrated on expanding the beginner’s terrain and providing additional diversity in the gliding terrain. Skiing changed for the better and the consumer showed up ready to ski. They had improved the stickiness of the sport by catering more actively to the average skier (the golf industry has to see the clear parallel).

So let’s apply these lessons to golf. The easier the initial experience, the more likely the player is to return to try the game again. The more accessible and enjoyable the experience, the more fun the game is and the higher likelihood that the person stays with the game. So if golf really truly wants to break this cycle of stagnation, the answer is to build the game from the ground up rather than from the peak down. We have no need for championship courses. We need a decade of short, easy and fun courses to grow the game.

Thank you skiing for providing a clear road map to success. The question is whether we will pay attention.

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