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

CityPress - - Sport - TE­BOGO KHAAS Khaas is an avid golfer and so­cial com­men­ta­tor. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @tebo­gokhaas

Ilove golf. Ranked se­cond only to my af­fec­tion for my offspring, the sport has helped shape my char­ac­ter and build some cher­ished re­la­tion­ships.

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.

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.

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.

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 high­in­come 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.

IN­NO­VA­TIVE Parkview Golf Course is one of one of the most stim­u­lat­ing cour­ses in the coun­try

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