Game management: 10 things many golf course operators could do better

Like any business, public golf courses -- and private ones, for that matter -- need to treat golfers like customers. I've never agreed that the "customer is always right" because sometimes they are beyond unreasonable. But they are paying the salaries of the people who work there, and that's something that management and every employee, from grounds crew staff to the snack bar, should keep in mind.

Managing a tee sheet, maintaining course conditions and providing customer service -- all while making ends meet -- isn't easy, of course, and most do a pretty good job. Still, golfers are famously demanding of their experience, and there's always room for improvement. Here are 10 areas where many courses could improve their performance:

1. Customer service

"When I booked my tee time, the 'gentleman' on the phone was about as friendly as a box, and when I checked in with the pro shop, same thing. I never understand when unfriendly people work in the golf industry." - Reviewer DHampster

You would think this would be a given -- and the majority of daily-fee facilities certainly do well in this category �- but it's still surprising to see how many golf courses, especially busy municipals, seem to fall short when it comes to treating golfers like customers. Here's a quote from one of our readers who played a municipal in California: "From the starters who don't seem to care, to the six hour rounds --a municipal course at its worst."

2. Food and beverage

"There isn't really a restaurant but you can buy hotdogs and brats. For as nice as the clubhouse looked, you'd expect a little better food." - Reviewer jpulpulaan

While many public facilities do a more than adequate job in terms of their grills and beverage cart service, the ones that are lacking seem to be either overpriced (a hot dog shouldn't cost $8 or more) or suffering from a low-quality product and service. Sometimes it's both. If a facility can't do a good job in this area, it should consider outsourcing to a vendor that specializes in F&B. That's what the city of Houston did with Beck's Prime, a local restaurant chain that not only serves the golfers at Memorial Park, but the public at large, too -- and with with great success.

3. Being forthcoming with golfers on course conditions

"Did not mention that they are aerating the greens and they used the big fairway aeration on the greens...They were unplayable...It would be nice to be informed before paying/playing so that I know what to expect." - Reviewer Edwin34069

Whether it's greens (especially greens) or fairways that have just been aerated, disease, transition or overseeding, courses need to be upfront when it comes to conditioning. The facilities that get it often offer discounts when their courses are below their normal standards.

4. Monitoring pace of play

"Took 3 hours to play 10 holes and no marshal on the course...Couldn't take it so left...They need to get the pace of play under 4 hrs otherwise I won't be back." - Reviewer bt6002

Whether it's poor marshaling (some courses don't have any) or high, difficult rough and underbrush that spurs endless ball hunts, many courses don't do a good enough job monitoring the flow of play on their courses. Golf is difficult, so looking for golf balls is inevitable. But pace of play is critical if you want golfers to enjoy their experience. Unfortunately, at some courses that are priced low, slow play is a given because there's a large customer base that can't afford to play other places.

5. Not allowing fivesomes (or worse)

Reviewer CodyShell catches an eightsome in the act.


"There were multiple fivesomes and a couple groups of six. No marshaling or on course play management. Plan on a painfully long round or play first thing in the morning." - Reviewer Philfaraci

Sticking with the pace-of-play theme, in the almighty pursuit of green fees, there are some facilities that routinely allow fivesomes or more. I've even been a part of those fivesomes, but when that's happened, the members of my group are extremely conscious of pace of play. Still, most courses shouldn't allow it. On more than one occasion, I've seen these large groups back up an entire course. The only exceptions should be early in the morning with regulars who know how to get around a course in a hurry. That's when I've seen fivesomes play in well under four hours.

6. Drinking water availability

"My biggest complaint would be that there are no water coolers on the course for the players. It was 92 degrees out with full sun." - Reviewer Monteblumenfeld

While many facilities are reluctant to put out coolers because of the fear of contamination, water should be provided frequently, either every couple of holes or so on the course on in the coolers on the cart. They shouldn't be expected to buy bottles of water that cost $3 or more to stay hydrated. This is really a safety issue.

7. Regripping, basic club repair work

I'm amazed at how few facilities offer this basic service anymore. Putting a new grip on a golf club takes just a few minutes, and it's a service that a golfer will remember and appreciate. When I was in Kauai earlier this year, I wanted to switch out the grip on my driver to a Golf Pride multi-compound because it was raining, and the staff at Wailua Municipal Golf Club, one of the best munis in the country, had a new grip on my club in just a few minutes. Thirty minutes later, I could use the driver with the new grip.

8. Better security of golf clubs in bag drop area

If a facility has a bag drop, then golfers should expect some level of security. It's understandable at extremely busy municipals that staff members can't possibly tell whose clubs belong to whom, so pretty much anyone can walk off with a bag there. But I know several instances where friends have had a nice set of golf clubs stolen at high-end daily fees at bag drop while they were checking in. I never leave my clubs at bag drop if it's unattended.

9. Better signage and directions

"Could use better signage for first timers from green to next tee as some tees were in unexpected locations." - Reviewer Willyc7088

In my travels I'm often playing courses that I've never seen before. Every once in a while I find it difficult to find the first or 10th tee or the practice facilities because there's a lack of signs. Or even better on these course that wind through developments, it's often difficult to find the next tee. At one course recently, I went from the 10th green to the 16th tee because that was the next tee I saw. Fortunately, a regular saw us and directed us the 11th hole, which was some 100 yards away on the other side of the street.

10. Better instructional programs

Like we said, golf is difficult, so why not try to help golfers as much as possible. I've seen savvy golf instructors who walk the range during busy times, offering golfers free tips if they want a little help. The beauty of this is that it often drums up business for lessons down the road. More courses should offer inexpensive group clinics (another opportunity to recruit players for regular lessons) and certainly offer inexpensive half-hour lessons in addition to 45-minute and hour lessons. Incredibly, the vast majority of recreational players have never taken a lesson. Shouldn't the industry be doing everything it can to encourage players to get better? After all, difficulty is often cited as one of the primary factors in golf's lack of growth.

Golf facilities with exceptional customer service

You don't have to be a luxury golf resort to provide exceptional customer service. Of the golf courses I've played in the past couple of years, here are 10 that rated five stars in staff friendliness and stood out in customer service:

Is there anything you'd like to see improved at your home club? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @GolfAdvisor.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
6 Comments
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Commented on

Don't forget about Bridgewater GC in York, PA. lol
Nice article with great advise

Commented on

Golf courses need to keep their customers posted (signs or web announcements) when the course will be closed for a tournament. There is nothing worse than looking forward to a Saturday morning round, only to arrive and find that the course is closed for a big tourney!

Commented on

Stop making the putting greens on public courses so fast and so difficult that it is almost impossible for amateurs to sink a putt and usually wind up three putting.  Remember, we are not professionals.  Bathrooms on the course could be quite scary.  More often than not, they are dirty and buggy. Men should not be allowed to enter a woman's bathroom, regardless of what Obama decrees.

Commented on

I recommend that PGA Pros support Marshalls when the Marshalls find a group that refuses to keep pace or are abusive to the Marshalls.  In these cases the PGA Pro should drive out to the group and tell them that they are no longer welcome on the course that day.  PGA Pros seem more concerned about their $$$ than Pace of Play.  I've had too many rounds turn into a nine hole day after a 3 hour first nine.

I would also recommend that Starters instruct golfer to properly dispose of their Cigarette Butts.

Commented on

Making 9 holes so expensive that you play 18 and dont go back.  With all the emphasis last year on play 9, why do courses make 9 more expensive than half of 18.  Same course, same cart (if you use one), same effort, same maintenance!!!!

Commented on

1. There's nothing worse than arriving at a course and the staff making you feel like the last thing they want to do is help you.2. More courses need to offer healthy eating options as well. So many times I see just hot dogs, burgers, chips, and candy bars for sale. No sandwiches or wraps, fruit, or other healthy choices are offered.3. Almost as bad as a bait and switch tactic when you arrive at the 1st green to find they've just been plugged with no notification from the pro shop.4. So few people practice 'ready golf,' and even fewer courses employ rangers. A course in my area recently recognized they had a huge POP problem and took steps to fix it. They cut their rough by 1/2", hired rangers to act as forecaddies at problem areas, and are bringing food out to the course to cut down on turn time.5. Common sense.6. It's nice when a course does, but I don't necessarily think it's the course's responsibility to keep me hydrated. 7. I don't have a problem with a course not doing this. People are so fickle about their equipment. I wonder how many courses have competent club builder/repair people on staff. I imagine the pro at most places is the only one that could do it, and they have far too much on their plate already.8.   Common sense.9. Nothing is more infuriating or embarrassing than driving all over the course looking for the next tee box.10. Great idea.

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Game management: 10 things many golf course operators could do better
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