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June 2019

Japanese Summit Looks to the Future


By Scott Kauffman

For decades, Japan has been at the forefront of technological advances, management discipline and operational efficiencies. Tokyo also is the host city for the 2020 Summer Games, featuring the second-ever Olympic golf tournament.

So, it was only fitting that this year’s fifth USGA Golf Innovation Symposium was co-hosted by this innovative, golf-mad nation and the Japanese Golf Association last March in Shinjuku, Tokyo. As it turns out, the main challenge U.S. course owners are facing in growing the game is no different in Japan – where an aging population continues to outpace the number of younger people picking up the sport.

According to Tagmarshal CEO Bodo Sieber, whose course optimization and pace-of-play management system has tracked seven million rounds and growing, one of the main takeaways from this year’s symposium might be a familiar-sounding narrative for most operators: Run “smarter, leaner operations to counter escalating costs and position oneself for a sustainable future-proof” business.

The other key message that came out of the conference was a need to better understand the player experience from both “revenue and growing the game opportunities.” Consequently, the USGA set a challenge for the industry to achieve a 25 percent reduction in the consumption of key resources and a 20 percent increase in golfer satisfaction by 2025.

“We need to improve the player experience to better serve and retain the current player base and importantly attract new and younger players,” says Sieber, whose company was featured at the Tokyo symposium. “Technology obviously has a big role to play in both, on-course as well as in the back office.”

For instance, Tagmarshal has collected nearly one billion data-points through its various mid-tier and upscale golf partners like Whistling Straits, allowing operators to better manage pace of play and field flow time, which, turns out to be one of the two most “important factors crucial to players’ enjoyment,” according to a 2016 USGA study discussed at the summit. Course conditioning, not surprisingly, was the most important factor to golfers (82 percent) with time being second (74 percent).

Interestingly, these two factors are more important to golfers than course design and clubhouse amenities, the study added, which might surprise some course owners placing more marketing efforts into these latter elements of the business. That disconnect in understanding what golfers really value and need as “consumers” is critical to golf’s future as much as anything.

Perhaps that is one reason the U.S. golf industry has a distinctively low 69 percent satisfaction score in the eyes of consumers, according to Rand Jerris, USGA senior managing director, public services. That puts golf course experiences at the low end of 48 industries polled – in the same family as airlines and the post office.
“Full-service restaurants on the other hand are highest ranked at 82 percent,” Jerris added. “This is where we need to get to as an industry to retain existing players and attract new ones.”

Basically, one of the paramount messages shared at this year’s USGA innovation summit isn’t all that innovative after all. Instead, it’s just simply embracing tried and true practices from so many other successful hospitality and retail-oriented businesses where a warm, welcoming environment and personal attention goes a long way.



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