Whats on the Menu

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Every late afternoon, millions of conversations go like this:
 
What do you feel like tonight?
 
I dunno. Italian?
 
Could work. But we had it two nights ago. How about Thai?
 
Ooh, yeah. I love that cold beef salad. Great idea. Meet you there at 7.
 
Thinking along those lines, heres what Id like to overhear:
 
What do you feel like for Saturday?
 
I dunno. Sloping fairways and big greens?
 
Could work. But we did that two weeks ago. How about firm and fast?
 
Ooh, yeah. I love that bump-and-run. Great idea. Meet you there at 7 a.m.
 
Wouldnt golf be great if it were like choosing a restaurant? Just as there are many types of cuisine, all with something to recommend them, there are many kinds of golf, all with the elements of fun that brought us to the game in the first place. Golf course owners take note: make like the best local eateries. Pump the menu and follow up with the service.
 
Some of you have met me may conclude that Im writing this column because I like to eat. Guilty. But the main reason is what I see as a kind of broad-brush perception of golf courses in this country. Except for a small core group of course cognoscenti, potential recreational golfers seem to divide golf courses into two large groups: goat-track munis and upscale daily fee near-country-clubs. Thats like taking every one of the millions of restaurants in this country and shoving it into either the neglected truck stop or haute cuisine category. Such pigeonholing doesnt do justice to the special attributes of each place ' menu, atmosphere, friendliness of staff, etc.
 
Many people who would play more if they knew more about the experience seem to think they have to endure poor conditions on one hand, or pay too much on the other. If restaurants allowed their reputations to be manhandled that way, people would eat at home a lot more.
 
So what to do, if you own a course? Well, for one thing, re-do your yellow pages ad. Drop the word championship. Aint gonna happen, unless its the city four-ball. And even if it is, your ability to be host of a championship isnt going to draw people who are nervous about their golf ability or have a limited amount of time, or both.
 
Instead, take a ride around your course. Ask fundamental questions. What makes it fun? Relaxing? Invigorating? What would make people want to come back?
 
Thats the stuff you want to play up. If your conditions are often firm and fast, focus on the rollout on peoples drives. Fairway Acres, where everyone is a long hitter. Let the shorter hitters know that theyll only need their 160 club for 180-yard shots.
 
Are your greens undulating but true? Bring it. Take out an ad on the sports page. Its April, and our greens at Stimp Hills are running at 10 ' and theyre truer than your Mamas love. Dont forget food and beverage. Newcastle on draft at the lounge ' a great place to watch the other groups come in after your round of golf.
 
Is time an issue? Offer 6- and 9-hole rates, and make sure people know about it. And who is your customer anyway? Do you get a lot of parents and kids in the late afternoon? Go family! Restaurants do it all the time. Everyone in town knows where you can take a family of four for a nice meal without getting clipped. Conversely, if your course is a challenge that attracts the local sticks, advertise it as such. You could even go Jekyll & Hydetough guys in the morning, family golf in the p.m.
 
Of course, Ive never run a golf course. But I understand from people who have just how tough a business it can be. Time, expense and difficulty are the three main impediments to growing the game in the long run and filling the tee sheet in the short jog. And narrowing the marketing may make an owner feel as if he or she is shallowing the potential pool of customers. But seen from another angle, broad marketing might be hurting more than helping. If only a half or a third of the people you draw from a general pool actually enjoy the kind of golf course you are, then your return business percentage cant be that high. But if more of the people on todays sheet liked what they played, ate, drank, heard, and noticed ' theyll be back.
 
Hey, if the marinara is good, Ill be back for the red clam sauce. But if I came in expecting cold beef salad?
 
Bon apptit.