How to improve golfers’ feedback of your venue

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 6, 2022 08:50

A neuroscientist has written a paper that states that there are seven pillars of golf venue design that underpin the psychological experience of the user.

Chartered scientist Stephen Smith, the chief neuroscientist at Sport Psychology Ltd, says the work summarises 20 years of research. It states that measures such as a well-lit clubhouse and good road signage to the venue play a much greater role in user satisfaction than most people appreciate.

The seven pillars (in Smith’s words) are:

1. The Remote Pillar

The  journey to the golf experience starts long before a golfer gets anywhere near a venue. The rise of the internet means that any club or venue wishing to deliver a great experience must understand that the way they appear in the first 15 seconds on a smartphone is fundamental to the emotional perception of any golfer. First impressions really do count but these days those first impressions are on a mobile device not face to face.

2. The Contract Pillar

All the remote quotient elements set out a very clear ‘offering’ or ‘psychological contract’ to the visitor in terms of what they can expect. On almost every golf website in the world there are glorious pictures and proud statements about being ‘one of the finest courses in the region’ or ‘the friendliest club around’.

Human beings are primed to evaluate their surroundings to see how good the environment is and the ‘threat’ or levels of inclusiveness in the behaviour of existing inhabitants – are the locals friendly?

If you have promised a course that is one of the finest and / or the welcome will be warm and inviting these warning circuits will immediately realise if that is not the case.

3. The Culture Pillar

Despite what many golf course committees and managing groups think, the impact of the course on conversion from visitor to repeat client or member is actually far less important than they realise.

It is only really important for a venue that wishes to operate at the very exclusive high end of the golf market – which is not the majority of the industry

This is not to say that the course should be an afterthought – golfers leave poorly conditioned and maintained courses but making a decision to join or come back will be made as a combination of the course conditioning and the experience given by all the other elements. Too many venues only focus on the course and forget the other elements of the overall experience.

At the heart of this experience is the culture of the club.

4. The Facilities Pillar

Interestingly this also starts to kick in before the visitor gets to the venue. Even with modern sat nav technology, courses can impact the perception a golfer has by making it easy to get to. Some clear road signage and / or directions mapping on the website mean new golfers are less likely to arrive in a stressed and negative frame of mind.

Once within the course boundaries the venue can actively manage the experience via routing and signage – often a poor afterthought in most venues. Nothing lights up the deep warning circuits in the visitors’ mind than doubt about where they have to go – make it easy for them.

In the venue buildings, lighting is an incredibly powerful element in the emotional impact of the venue. If you have lots of dark, uninviting entrances people naturally stay away from them – evolution has built it into our DNA as dark places carry threat of predators – our human ancestors never lived in caves until we had discovered fire. This let us look into the darkness to see it was safe to enter.

Security is linked to this area as well with visitors subconsciously rating the security of any locker facilities for the safe keeping of their valuables and the cleanliness of toilets and showers to keep them secure from infection. This has been heightened significantly by Covid-19 and is set to stay in the psyche of golfers for at least a generation.

Golf venues automatically think that facilities only relate to putting greens and driving ranges or practice facilities. And yes, these are important but if all the preceding elements are poor you send the golfer out to them in a very negative frame of mind and they start to look for the flaws no matter how good your offering is.

Psychology research is clear that the way people remember an event is driven by the emotional state they were in when they experienced it. Make it a positive emotional state and they will see and remember the good points and be much more accommodating about any negatives if they even notice them at all.

5. The Course Pillar

The course will always be a core element of the experience and it has to be maintained in good overall condition. However, the scientific probability is that the course is not really at elite championship level nor one of the finest in the region. The reality is that most will fall directly into the 68 percent of courses that will be within the average band as perceived by most humans. Too many courses claim to be in the elite bracket and visitors soon recognise that this is not the case – leading to a complete failure on the contract pillar.

The vast majority of venues have limited budgets for course improvements so they need to assess where they spend that budget very carefully and be realistic about what they can achieve. The reality is that if they focus on the overall experience (whilst maintaining the course conditioning) they are likely to see far more returns on their investment. Getting all the factors of the total experience as good as they can be can raise the perception and memory that visitors have of their experience.

Golfers join or return to venues with a great psychological experience and that is down to far more than the course. Many ‘average courses’ have great member loyalty when there is a better course just around the corner because of how the club makes them feel.

The good news for clubs is that they can use psychology to focus their course spend on where it matters most: ‘The Magic 8’. Research has shown for over a decade that people have poor memories and that they only remember about eight elements at a time – this is the same for golf courses – people only remember eight holes on a first visit so you need to identify what they are and just invest in them a little more.

6. More Than Golf Pillar

The way this pillar is evaluated depends entirely on the brand that the club wishes and the type of venue it wants to be. If it wishes to be solely a golf club for traditional male members that will mean that it has to focus its energies on that aspect of the experience.

However, in a modern world, where clubs are competing for limited leisure spend as disposable income decreases, many clubs need to think more widely. Every leisure venue needs to look at its facilities and think about how it can increase engagement with their client communities and increase revenue. That may require some radical thoughts about how to utilise both the clubhouse facilities and the land that the course sits within.

Even if an average local members’ club does not wish to be too open to its local community it still needs to think about if it wishes to and then how it creates a strong social side to membership – especially for the non-golfing family relations of any member.

Resort and destination venues have already recognised this and are looking to offer a range of alternate activities / leisure pursuits as well as golf. They have recognised that the happiness of the non-golfing spouse / partner and family is the emotional key to getting golfers to book into their resort.

7. Conversion Pillar

The experience of the visiting golfer does not end when they leave the course, get into their car and drive away – however that is where the vast majority of venues leave it.

Those that ensure that they collect contact information from the outset and / or ensure that they get contact details from visitors when they arrive are in a much stronger position than most to use that data and follow up.

The simple fact is that, even with those courses that have been savvy enough to ensure customer data is collected, they do very little with it. The courses that deliver a follow up process are more likely to see a higher level of visitor return and / or conversion to membership.

Stephen Smith said: “The design of the human brain is not always a good fit for the intense demands of the 21st century.

“For decades leading commercial organisations have been using these insights to design work equipment and environments to ensure that they light up all the positive circuits hidden in the user’s brain and not the red flag warning circuits. They have been designing for the user experience. This UX industry is now becoming commonplace in many organisations and will become standard in most by 2030.

“However, there are some industries that are always at the tail end of any change or evolution and golf is certainly one of them. At the moment golf is undergoing a revival but will face stiff competition from other leisure pursuits as we move into a post pandemic world.”

To understand exactly where your venue sits on the pillars please complete the short analysis available at


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 6, 2022 08:50
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1 Comment

  1. NIEDBALA February 7, 10:47

    Pillars that are the true fundamentals of intelligent customer management

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