Market Focus: Golfers: In the Green, on the Green

Multichannel marketer Edwin Watts Golf establishes rapport with its audience by providing technical details on its product offerings to better assist golfers with their purchasing decisions.

Linda Formichelli

You may not picture golfers as seekers of luxury and quality—in fact, if you’re not a golfer yourself, you probably picture them only as older men wearing plaid pants and berets with pom-poms on top. But if that’s your mental image of golfers, you’re missing out on a great market with dollars to spend.

“Golfers tend to seek out a luxurious type of experience with all of the products and services that they buy,” says Jon Last, vice president of corporate marketing, research and brand development for Golf Digest Publications. “In a lot of the research that we have conducted, the golf market tends to outspend even the most generally affluent people when you are looking in categories like travel, automobiles and real estate and, obviously, within the golf categories as well.”

A Course in Golfers
According to the National Golf Foundation’s 2007 golf participation study, there were 28.7 million golfers age 6 and above in the U.S. in 2006. The primary demographic for golfers is men ages 35 to 64, says Lincoln Cox, vice president of marketing for golf retailer and cataloger Edwin Watts Golf, while senior men and women of all ages also play. In addition, Last says there’s been an influx of younger people taking up the sport.

Golfers swing their clubs all over the U.S. “Between 10 [percent] and 11 percent of the population plays golf at least once a year; but as you get into larger metropolitan areas, those numbers tend to increase because there’s more money—and when there’s more money, more people tend to play golf,” says Robbie Wooten, president of Impact Golf Marketing, which markets golf courses. In some of the larger metropolitan areas of the country, golf participation can soar to 20 percent.

While golfers tend to be affluent, you can find players at every income level. Says Wooten, “You have your very, very price-conscious players and guys who, as long as they’re getting their value for their money and the experience is great, will pay anything. There’s a fairly wide range of golfer types out there.”

Most golfers are men, but there’s a fair share of women golfers as well. However, according to Last, while new women take up golf every year, an almost equal number of women leave the sport, which makes participation numbers among women remain flat. Last theorizes that this is because marketers and other golf industry insiders don’t understand the benefits different segments of women golfers are looking for. For example, only recently have manufacturers started to develop golf products specifically with women in mind.

Golfers may sound like an amorphous mass of a market, with players at every age range, income point and location in the U.S., but in reality they can be segmented into a number of different clusters based on attitudes, behaviors and demographics. According to research by Golf Digest Publications, male golfers are divided into five clusters: “Making It Work” golfers manage to integrate the game into their lives despite their busy schedules; “Executive Course” golfers are very busy and can’t always play golf, but when they do they’re very passionate about it; “Life’s Rewarded” golfers are empty-nesters and frequent players who are interested in the social camaraderie aspect of golf; “Maxed Out” golfers are busy professionals who have not managed to integrate golf into their lives, but would like to increase their playing; and “Family Men” try to balance work, family and leisure, and are more value-conscious in
their purchasing.

Four clusters make up the women’s market, says Last: “Testing the Waters” golfers are intrigued about golf but not totally committed to the game yet; “The Now Generation” is young, image-conscious, affluent and eager to learn golf; “Country Club Elite” golfers are interested in the country club experience; and “Living to Play” golfers view golf as their passion and spend disproportionately on the game and on a wide variety of products and services.

What Putters Purchase
Of course, golfers purchase golf equipment and accessories such as apparel, shoes, training aids, high-tech yardage devices, gloves, golf balls, travel cases, duffel bags and sunglasses, to name just a few. In addition, according to Jennifer Cuttler, senior vice president of Direct Media, which manages several golf files including Golf Digest, golfers are a good market for many products and services that would appeal to an affluent audience, such as wine, food, cigars, fundraising appeals, apparel, and business and financial magazines. Adds Wooten, “Golfers certainly tend to live materialistically; they like their nice cars and their nice homes. Typically, a lot of these guys are buying into nice communities, and they typically enjoy more upscale dining.”

Golfers also are big on travel. The National Golf Foundation reports that “Golfers spend about $26.1 billion a year on golf travel, 75 percent of which goes to the hotel, transportation, and food and beverage industries.” The most popular travel destinations for golfers are Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, California and Arizona.

The good news is that golfers are interested in quality and luxury. The even better news is that golfers are passionate about trying new things. “Every six months, there is a new product out there, and there are golf junkies who just have to try the latest and greatest technology,” says Wooten. This applies to golfing equipment, but extends to other products as well.

Lining Up the Shot
So how can you reach this large and profitable market? Cuttler recommends direct mail and Internet marketing. “There is a lot going on in terms of the Web with multichannel marketing,” she says. “There are a lot of reservation sites out there where you reserve tee times online, so I think the online world has really opened it up as well.”

However, Cuttler advises being careful to properly target your marketing using the right lists; although most golfers are affluent men, you can’t just assume that any list of affluent men will reach golfers. “One of the things that is interesting about marketing to golfers, especially through direct mail, is that you look at the demographics and you think, ‘This will be perfect. Let me mail this business executive file,’” she says. “But unless there is some sort of golf affinity, it is very difficult to make the lists work.”

Marketers need to be aware of the process buyers go through when making a buying decision. “There is a very linear course that people go through in narrowing down their considerations and then making the purchase decision,” says Last. Especially in equipment and travel, he explains, golfers often start to consider an idea they first saw in print media. There also is a viral element to the purchasing decision, so having a presence at the point of contact—such as at golf facilities, through golf professionals and at golf retail stores—helps spread the word of your product and service and gets golfers thinking about purchasing from you.

Teeing Off: What to Say
We probably don’t need to tell you to focus on the market’s needs, but many marketers who target golfers make the mistake of homing in on the features of their products and services instead. “From a benefit standpoint, so much of the marketing in golf has been focused on technology for technology’s sake,” says Last. “Certainly, that is a major driver, and you do want to convey that you are technologically on the cutting edge, but you also want to move beyond that to show that what you are providing is going to meet a need.” Golfers’ needs typically are to have a good time and to improve at golf.

Besides paying attention to how your offering meets golfers’ needs, it’s important to respect the golfer’s knowledge of the game and equipment. “Golfers today are very knowledgeable about the technology that goes into golf equipment, so presentation of the various brands, models within those brands and their technologies is important, particularly in the direct marketing arena,” says Cox. “You want to make sure you do not come across as if you are talking down to the consumer or belittling their capabilities when working with them.”

Once you’ve crafted the right message, one way to get that message across is to use endorsements from respected golfers. However, “It has to be done in a way that is very authentic to the brand that is being marketed,” says Last. In other words, you can’t just slap a professional endorsement on a generic message and a generic product and expect it to move. It has to make sense together or the market will be skeptical.

Golfers are passionate about golf and are willing to spend money to pursue their hobby as well as to keep up their lifestyle of quality products and travel. Says Cox, “No matter if you shoot 100 or below par, every golfer is important to this great game as well as to our business.”

Linda Formichelli is a freelance writer who last wrote for Target Marketingin the October issue, contributing a piece on how to market to accountants. She can be reached at