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July 2018

Pinehurst Gives Permission

Vantage Point‭Vantage Point

By Jay Karen, CEO, NGCOA

For the second year in a row, I survived the “buddies golf trip” to the Pinehurst area of North Carolina with 11 other guys looking to have fun and spend money. What could go wrong?

I’m happy to report that nothing did. We had a wonderful time, and I am compelled to share two things from my experience. The 12 of us played three traditional rounds of golf at some of the wonderful public courses in the area. Then we squeezed in some late afternoon play at the new short course at Pinehurst Resort called “The Cradle.” Hopefully you’ve read about this new project at Pinehurst. (golfbusiness.com, April 2018) The day we played, the Wall Street Journal had an extensive piece on how the short-course experience may be a key to the golf trip of the future.

The two takeaways both have to do with The Cradle, and both were validation of matters we’ve been talking about in golf for a long time now. One has to do with hospitality, and the other with the relaxation of the golfer experience.

When I look back on the four distinct golfing experiences we had, only one staff person created a memorable one. It was Ed, the starter at The Cradle. He was jovial, humorous and accommodating. The perfect blend of hospitality. Ed was the only one in three solid days who seemed to understand it was his job to facilitate good cheer – and he delivered. His masterful engagement of our group set the tone for the next couple of hours. It’s a lesson that good hospitality trumps just about any other element of the customer experience in golf – or anywhere else, for that matter. I encourage course operators to find the most laid back, jovial, fun-loving people you can, and put them on the front line of your operation. 

The other takeaway was simply experiencing a fun, relaxed format of golf, provided by one of the most traditional golf destinations in the world. One could stand at the Pinehurst clubhouse, look in one direction to see lawn tennis being played, croquet in another direction and the short course in another. But at The Cradle, where the holes range from around 50 to 125 yards, you could also see a mobile bar set up by the third tee, and you could hear classic rock music amplified from the trees. Go put on your whites to play croquet, but come over here to let your hair down. We had so much fun in the two loops we made around The Cradle, I don’t have enough column inches here to go into great detail.

Why is takeaway number two so important? My hope is that the doubling-down on fun happening at Pinehurst gives permission (so to speak) to the rest of the golf industry to let your hair down, take risks and invest in the fun side of our game. Turn your driving range into an entertainment venue with some of the new technology available. Bring those simulators inside and get people swinging, eating, drinking and playing games. Offer more fun formats for your golf events.

I’ve long said that I never tell a business owner what they must do. Those who prefer to deliver the formal experience can find success in that. But my hope is we will see a serious movement towards the loosening up and diversification of what it means to go out and play golf. Traditional golf and new formats are not mutually exclusive. We can have both, as evidenced by Pinehurst. Kudos to the Dedman family and to general manager, Tom Pashley.

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