Sunshine Tour

Opinion: Taking up the challenge of attracting golfers is par for the course

Tebogo Khaas.
Tebogo Khaas.

Johannesburg - I love golf. Ranked second only to my affection for my offspring, the sport has helped shape my character and build some cherished relationships, writes Tebogo Khaas.

Most of my golfing friends and I were inspired to take up the sport in the late 1990s, thanks to the exploits of a young, black phenomenon named Tiger Woods.

It is unthinkable for anyone not to take up golf if they live in South Africa, given that we boast some of the best courses in the world, along with unparalleled weather conditions.

Relates services

More importantly, golf teaches honesty, patience, humility and camaraderie. Players get to see how their peers or prospective business partners handle adversity and failure. Sadly, Woods did not uphold such ethics in conducting his private affairs, with tough if predictable consequences.

And, lately, with Woods battling injury and being away from the sport for a considerable time, TV ratings and advertising revenue have plummeted. Interest in the sport and the sales of golf merchandise and related services have also suffered.

Golf is an expensive sport, takes a long time to play and is relatively difficult to master compared with most other sports.

A 2012 report by multinational financial services firm HSBC, a big benefactor of the game, pointed out that golf would be shaped by the same trends sweeping the business world: the shift towards Asia, increased participation by women, urbanisation, digital technology and sustainability.

The global economic downswing has had a profound effect on most leisure and sporting activities. Golf is no exception.

The sport has seen a steady decline in the number of players and the rounds played each year.

Attract newcomers

Struggling with high maintenance costs and a dwindling revenue base, it appears that, as in most businesses, golf clubs that respond to their existing and potential customers will endure.

To some extent, golf’s allure has also become its undoing. Its calm, meditative quality does not suit the frenetic pace of modern life.

Playing 18 holes, the game’s standard, takes four and a half hours or more, not counting commuting and the 19th hole.

Some of our local golf clubs are trying to reinvent themselves in the face of competition for the younger generation, raised up on the quick hits of video games and social media.

Johannesburg’s Parkview Golf Club, the home of South African golfing legend Bobby Locke, is responding to the challenge by offering new and innovative packages as it seeks to attract newcomers.

Parkview has done away with the usual joining and annual subscription fees, and offers simple, cheaper packages that include unlimited golf rounds for new members.

Parkview realises that its future rests not only on servicing existing (older) members, but also in attracting new and younger ones.

Moving further north, the Johannesburg Country Club (JCC) boasts tennis courts, a gym and two recently revamped championship courses, along with a premium culinary experience.

It also strives to become the preferred venue for business or amorous rendezvous.

Business models

While Parkview, which no doubt offers one of the most stimulating parkland courses around, seeks to compete on affordability and value for money, the JCC appears to focus on attracting medium- to high-income patrons who are less price sensitive.

Other courses, such as the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, are exploring consolidation or shared service opportunities with similar clubs as they seek to mitigate rising administration and maintenance costs.

And, increasingly, courses are offering a “family-friendly” environment in a bid to attract support from nongolfers.

It appears that the outdated and simplistic approach of “if you build it, they will come” can no longer be applied to the golf industry.

The local industry has had to be innovative and come up with new business models and strategies to ensure its survival.

This long-term approach to keep the game going strong reassures me that golf is here to stay.

. Khaas is an avid golfer and social commentator. Follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas

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