Greens Fees For Free

In a business where more facilities have closed in the last two years than have been built, golf course owner Todd Ingraham says the secret to success is marketing.

“We’ve always had the attitude of putting money back into the golf course on a continual basis,” he says. “We weren’t out buying sports cars and things like that.”

Built in 1927, Bunker Hill Golf Course in Medina, Ohio, has seen three generations of Ingrahams at the helm, starting with Todd’s grandfather. Ingraham says he took over the course from his father about 10 years ago when the market was starting to sag. Ingraham says he began injecting his own recipe for success into the golf course when others were trying to trim the fat from their budgets to survive.

“I work on the business instead of be in the business,” explains Ingraham. He added while his father liked to take a hands-on approach and spend his days behind the counter, he prefers to spend his career behind the scenes preparing the budget and crafting marketing plans.

“The success people see us having has to do with our marketing efforts,” he notes. “People always advertise in the usual places—newspapers, the Yellow Pages, T.V., radio—but how do you know if it’s working?”

Marketing Matters

One of his most powerful tools, he says, is e-mail and the ability to reach a mass market with one click. His database currently holds 14,000 e-mail addresses and potential customers.

“You can’t resell a tee time like a T-shirt,” Ingraham notes.

For this reason, Ingraham has carefully tracked his peak times and maintains his “rack rates” to coincide with those times. During slower periods, the rates are reduced and an e-mail is sent out to alert customers to potential savings. Ingraham said two e-mails touting “specials” typically are sent out during any given week—one for Monday through Friday specials and another just before the weekend.

In addition to weekly specials, Ingraham said he has used promotions to kick off the season. In April, he invites customers to a free round of golf by filling out their information—including e-mail—online. Their information is added to the growing database and happy guests enjoy a round of golf on the house. Meanwhile, Ingraham said, the golf course reaps the benefits.

“Two years ago, we still made more money in April and we redeemed 1,500 free greens fees,” he says. In addition to greens fees from paying customers, the golf course collected money from cart fees, food and beverages and the pro-shop.

Appearance Is Everything

No matter how effective the marketing campaign, however, guests will not accept sub-standard facilities for recreational activities.

“They want a quality product too,” Ingraham points out. “A lower price will only go so far.”

Additional amenities—such as banquet and meeting facilities and golf simulators—have been added over the years to attract both new and old clients.

“It’s upped the image of the business overall,” he says.

Aside from being recognized locally as one of the premier golf courses in the area, the facility has received a four-star rating from Golf Digest—an honor that commands financial support to maintain the establishment.

“There is a misconception that owning a golf course is a cash cow and that is just not the case,” Ingraham says.

By the time the facilities are maintained and incidentals such fertilizer, fungicide, equipment, property taxes and payroll are paid, the most a golf course owner can offer is words of wisdom to others:

“The most important thing is marketing, and then keeping the course in excellent shape while still maintaining a budget.”