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The Golf Market: Driving For Dollars

By Joe Haley

Thanks to the likes of a Tiger and a Shark, the golf market is booming and a lucrative arena for business. Here's what you need to know to maximize the multitude of opportunities and go for the green.

As a comedian might say, true story: A regional sales manager for a pharmaceutical firm is handed a matchbook-style tee and ball-marker set. Nothing out of the ordinary; the cover had a full-color imprint and the tees and marker bore a company logo. I was actually a little surprised at how impressed he was with it. He called it "Classy; just the sort of thing we should be giving away."

Even though the company he works for does about $2 billion a year in sales he saw the potential of the tee pack; it's useful and the logos helped with name and brand recognition. That combo caused his reaction.

So what sort of golf products should your company be using? First let's look at the demographics and see who your target is.

Playing Partners
Golf, as a sport and a lifestyle, is popular. That's a fact. For instance, golf shirts are now considered a standard part of most wardrobes, not just golfers'. Tiger Woods is one of America's favorite athletes, so much so he earns more than $60 million a year in endorsements alone. Golf even has its own 24-hour cable TV channel.

So who are these golf-shirt-wearing, Tiger-Woods-loving, Golf TV-watching fanatics? According to a 2003 National Golf Foundation (NGF) report, there are 36.7 million golfers ranging from rank amateurs to seasoned pros in the country. Those numbers are up from the previous year. In fact, another organization, the National Sporting Goods Association, confirms it: It found that participation in golf was up by 6% from 2001 to 2002.

And it's a sport where stereotypes die hard. White middle-aged professional males still make up the majority of golfers. However, the NGF notes, there's been changes over the past few years. Almost certainly helped by Tiger Woods' popularity, more minorities are taking up the sport. Currently 15%, or about 5.5 million, golfers are African American. This hasn't gone unnoticed. The NGF and other organizations are actively enlisting programs to encourage more minorities to play. At a recent GOLF 20/20 meeting, participants examined ways to attract more people to the game while acknowledging it cannot "stubbornly adhere to the traditional ways of approaching challenges." The underlying theme? The old-boys club has to close and reopen with a new focus on new players. This includes an outreach program to blue-collar workers as well; they make up 25% of the golfers out there.

Keep these stats in mind, as they'll likely affect your golf promotions. You may also discover that traditional products are no longer suitable for them because of new faces on the courses.

Age is another important factor in determining golfers' wants and needs. The average age of a golfer is 37. The NGF has discovered that 56% are under 40. More interesting, though, is that over a third are under 30. Women currently make up 22% of players. What all this means is, again, a shift in the styles and attitude of golfers.

Traditional golf shirts typically don't appeal to younger and female golfers. And as the demographic continues to shift, a move to new and different products and services, not just apparel, might be in the works.

The Economies Of Golf
The dollar figures attributed to the sport are staggering. According to the NGF, Americans poured $62.2 billion into golf-related goods and services in 2000, the most recent figures available.

Where's the money going? All over the place; $17.4 billion is pulled in by golf courses, while $2.2 billion goes to resort facilities. But here's the kicker: In 2000, consumers spent $4.1 billion on equipment, $1 billion on apparel (which has grown by 11% each year since 1994) and $9 million on books and magazines.

If golfers are willing to shell out cash for equipment and shirts, they'd likely be ecstatic to receive some of those same products for free, compliments of you. Golf-geared gifts should be a big part of your events and high quality, brand-name products can be purchased through your promotional consultant.

First Tee
Cindy Miller is a promotional consultant who plays on the senior LPGA tour and gives lessons. So, she knows a thing or two about golf. She says companies should be using imprinted golf products for corporate outings and golf leagues. But using products needn't break the bank. Figure out, with the help of your promotional consultant, if you need tee packs, balls, apparel or high end gifts. They'll be able to help you along the way right down to helping you plan the last details.

A lot of companies do business while playing golf. It makes sense; there are no interruptions from faxes, pagers, etc. If your company does you should be using imprinted golf products if you already aren't. And your salespeople or reps who play golf with clients and vendors should always be well-stocked with logoed balls, tees, gloves, etc.

Don't forget about your in-house leagues. Product will certainly be needed for the end-of-year banquet, including awards for the winning teams.

If you run a golf outing realize they're not all alike. If you hold a charity event you understand that you have different goals than if you're running a vendor outing. The type of event will often be a factor in determining what type of product you'll buy. Ed Grace, a promotional consultant, doesn't believe there's a magic number when determining the cost-per-golfer when putting together a gift package. "It depends on the type of tournament, how much they can raise, what they can charge," he explains. "However I think a rule of thumb is, you can't make any money charging the golfers a fee. Whatever you charge the golfer, he has to see higher perceived value. If I spend $250, it better be at a nice course, and I better get a nice prize package. The way the tournaments need to make money is through sponsors. So if they're charging me $250, I better walk away thinking what I got, including food and greens fees, was probably worth $300 or $350."

Not everything needs to be high-end, though. If your outing is for vendors or employees it's likely a goodwill event. Products for these can often be more inexpensive. If it's for your customers, you may want to consider products in the mid-range.

For outings consider hiring a photographer to take pictures of each foursome, then forward the pictures afterward in imprinted frames. That and other things your consultant can help you with include creating signage for the event that guides participants around the course, sending out invitations to guests, setting up the method of play, registering guests on arrival, securing the food and handling any and all other problems that may crop up on the day of the event.

Simply stated, a golf outing just isn't a golf outing without imprinted products. What they are and how they're used is up to you. Invitations can be sent with a ball marker or tee pack accompanied with something redeemable for a golf glove, which can be picked up at registration. Additional products can be given out at registration or handed out at the first tee. If it's a shotgun-start tournament (everyone starts at the same time on a different hole), products can be given out at each tee, especially things that directly relate to play.

Unrelated products can be used during the course of play. Cold drinks can be served in insulated can coolers or snack packs and bottled water or logoed water bottles can be distributed at the halfway house. Higher-end products like bags, clubs, wearables, awards, golf-related desk accessories and plaques are usually used as prizes, often at the banquet/dinner following play. If you prefer not to imprint everything, try wrapping the blank items in logoed paper, placing them in imprinted tote bags or simply including an imprinted card. And, don't forget the other details at the meal. Imprinted napkins, coasters and glassware can help carry the corporate branding all the way to the end.

To better target your product selection, find out who's playing in the event. Are there more hackers and duffers than scratch golfers? If so, they might not be as demanding with the products they get. However, promotional consultant Pam Redicker says, better golfers want better items.

Products fall into one of three categories:
Short-life: These break or players lose them. Think balls, tees, spikes, lower-end ball markers and divot-fixers. Mid-life: These get used a lot and last longer, possibly an entire season in or on a golfer's bag or being worn by the golfer. Think shirts, caps, sweaters, towels, bags, clubs. Long-life: These are golf related, but function further from the course. Think desk accessories, awards and trophies. Be creative and find different ways to distribute products. Prizes can be given for most greens hit in regulation, fewest number of putts, most balls lost, most balls found and so on. The possibilities are truly endless.

And don't forget about sponsorship signage (magnetic signs, decals, banners) for the golf carts. Other products you can get imprinted include golf-cart hubcaps and pin flags. Granted, they only offer you a one-time use, but afterwards can be given to participants as a keepsake. Each player in a foursome, for instance, would get a hubcap to hang on an office or den wall. The 18 flags could go to the 18 best scores, or used as door prizes.

Finally, the answer to a question many ask: Yes, even though golfers tend to lose golf balls – and with them the imprint – balls are still one of, if not the best golf products to use as a tournament or outing giveaway. No golfer will turn down a free sleeve or box of balls; they're appreciated and people remember where they got them.

COPYRIGHT © 2005 ASI. All rights reserved.
Joe Haley is managing editor of Imprint.

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