This story is one in a series of case studies that explores some of the measures golf facilities around the country are taking to improve pace of play.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Poor pace of play has long been a source of golfer dissatisfaction for Troon Golf. But it wasn’t until this past summer that the Arizona-based course-management company introduced a comprehensive program to address the issue at its nearly 100 facilities around the country.
In addition to training its course managers in best practices that improve pace of play, the company has set reasonable pace expectations among golfers, who may have an unreasonable expectation of how long a typical round should take. In an industry that relies so heavily on customer satisfaction, setting and meeting expectations about pace is crucial for creating an experience that fosters enjoyment and loyalty among customers, which ultimately results in an improved bottom line for the company. Troon Values Your Time™ is a multi-faceted program that encompasses the entire golfer experience. It starts when customers book their tee times and extends through the round – and beyond.
The key element is establishing a distinctive Time Par for each course. This allotted time, which is based on actual duration of rounds, is the reasonable standard that all customers are expected to meet. The course reinforces this expectation through tee time confirmations, scorecards, range balls, staff clothing and signs throughout the facility.
“Time Par is at the heart of what we do,” said Ryan Walls, senior vice president of operations, sales and marketing for Troon Golf. “We wanted to start defining the time expectation for our customers and get them out of the mindset that every round should take four hours, because courses are so different.”
For golfers who prefer faster rounds, numerous Troon courses offer premium early-morning tee times – called Pacesetter Times – that have an expected pace that is at least 20 minutes under the Time Par.
While the initiative is company-wide, each Troon Golf facility adds its own touches. At the Golf Club of Estrella in Goodyear, Ariz., the starter explains the overall Time Par (4:30) for the course, as well as the individualized Time Par for each group, based on when they tee off.
“The starter writes the projected pace times for when the group reaches the fifth, ninth and 13th holes on a card that gets placed in the cart,” says Tom Cortabitarte, Estrella’s general manager. “Golfers can see for themselves if they are on pace rather than having a player assistant constantly reminding them and interrupting the round. It shows we are committed to maintaining the pace of play, and if they accept the card, then they are all in as well. It has decreased confrontations on the course and some have even taken the card back to their home clubs for use there.”
The facility also places pace-of-play suggestions on the fifth, 10th and 14th tees. About three times a week during the peak season (January through March), player assistants give golfers a four-question survey card. Customers who fill it out and return the card to the golf shop receive beverage discounts.
Other strategies for reducing duration of rounds include bringing food out to groups at the turn and increasing tee-time intervals, which spreads out play and alleviates on-course bottlenecks.
Other Troon courses have created their own incentives. At Indian Wells (Calif.) Golf Resort, golfers who play the facility’s Celebrity Course within the Time Par of 4:33 can order from a special menu of items priced at $4.33 in the clubhouse restaurant. The result has been a decrease of 11 minutes in the average duration of rounds and an increase in restaurant revenue.
Troon Golf has yet to receive a complaint about its program. In a recent survey, 94 percent of Estrella customers said they would be more likely to play at a facility that clearly communicates and enforces expected pace of play with shared accountability.
“That helps our operators understand that if they get behind this program and uphold it, they are going to win more customers,” said Walls. “That’s a message that our company has made crystal clear. We believe golfers will choose to play one of our facilities because of our pace-of-play program.”
Tom Mackin is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Ariz.