On The Links

The early spring weather provides Ontario golfers hope for a long, warm summer. Some courses have already opened for the 2012 season.

A Joint Venture With Golf Hunter Inc. and The National Post
National Post, Saturday, March 10, 2012
Corporate golf evolves

The great game of golf, addictive and fun as it is, can often be frustrating for everyone involved. For golf course operators, there are too many courses competing for too few players. For companies, that want to use a round of golf as a reward or incentive, there are not enough options. and for players, courses are often too expensive and restrictive.

Sean Manias, owner of Golf Hunter Inc., is looking forward to another rewarding season for the company’s corporate clients and its growing list of courses.

Sean Manias, owner of Golf Hunter Inc., is looking forward to another rewarding season for the company’s corporate clients and its growing list of courses.

Ontario’s Golf Hunter inc. has solved the three-sided problem so that all parties get what they want out of the deal. Course operators that participate in the Golf hunter inc. solution receive new revenue and players, companies get a flexible and efficient incentive and, ultimately, more people get to play the game. “Golf hunter makes it work for everyone involved,” says Sean manias, the company’s founder and owner. “We make it work for the client, we make it work for the courses and in the end, it grows the game of golf.”

Golf Hunter’s success is proof that its “Variable Foursome” formula is a winning one. Now entering its fifth season, the company has grown to 25 participating courses stretching from Huntsville in the heart of cottage country to Oakville in the Greater Toronto area, and it has enjoyed double-digit member- ship growth every year.

How it works is simple: corporate members pick a home course where 75% of games will be played, a selection that determines the price of the membership. certificate holders can also book 25% of play at the other 24 courses taking part in the Golf hunter program, which may be close to their home, office or vacation property.

“It is hassle-free, it is very seamless and the idea is we have course options wherever your business takes you.”

A Golf Hunter corporate membership is a valuable promotional tool that allows companies to reward employees, clients or prospects with golf throughout the year or use the open membership for contests, rebates or loyalty rewards. Given that more than 70% of Canadians play golf during a typical year, it is a reward that virtually anyone will not just appreciate but use.

A Golf Hunter round of golf is also a great incentive because it is simple to use by booking either via phone or online, and it carries no restrictions. “one foursome, any four golfers, every day of the week, at any of our home courses, with no restrictions,” Mr. Manias notes. “no initiation fees, no minimums, no hidden fees.”

Scott Cooper, a sales representative with Peggy Hill & Associates Realty Inc., has found that the ability to give the gift of golf is a powerful client retention and attraction tool. “Not only did i play more golf last year because of my membership, i also impressed a ton of clients both past and new as well, [and i] grew some incredible personal and business relationships. It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” Mr. Cooper says. convenient, easy-to-use online booking allows players to select an any-day, any-time foursome of golf at any of the participating courses.

The versatility and near-universal appeal of the Golf Hunter membership has attracted companies large and small, from big financial firms such as ScotiaMcLeod, TD WaterHouse and Dominion Lending Centres to small businesses such as chiropractors, contractors and restaurants.

“If your financial advisor does his or her job well, and sends you out golfing with your buddies or family three or four times a year as a thank you for your business, you’re not likely changing financial advisors. Loyalty rules. Even a little diner up here in Barrie has bought a membership because they fill their place with breakfast golfers and love to hand free rounds out to their customers,” Mr. Manias says. “We have majestic pools and spas, which joined this year so that on the days they are installing spas they will be sending their customers out to the golf course. They’ll get home from a great day of golf to find their spa ready to enjoy. It’s a great business idea.”

Golf Hunter members have also found the gift of free golf is a powerful tool to reward high-performing employees. “If your employees come in on Monday with higher productivity and job satisfaction because they had a great Saturday golfing with their friends and family, you can’t put a price on that as a business owner or manager,” Mr. Manias says.

Golf Hunter’s success has come with the recognition that the golf industry has changed. “The days of joining a club for $54,000 are over and the days of $285 rounds are over,” he says. “Golf Hunter gives access to golf that some people would not get. if you are the pa- tient of this dentist we have as a member, or dry cleaner owner who is a member, chances are you are playing golf simply because you are using their service.”

The membership has been fine tuned for the needs of a small business owner or top performer at a large company looking to reward customers. “The typical multi-course membership at the high-end courses is far too expensive, far too exclusive and very restrictive. our solution makes more sense for the business owner. less cost, less time away from the office – unless you really want to be out there on the course with your customer
and more access to the game for everyone.”

Golf Hunter has also been successful in signing on new courses such as Tangle Creek, Nobleton Lakes and Pheasant Run because operators realize that it provides them with a steady stream of players to fill their empty tee times.

“What Golf Hunter does is fill those tee times with corporate guests who haven’t ‘paid’ for golf so the numbers show they spend three times the point of sale revenue than a normal guest would spend,” Mr. Manias says. Golf Hunter is proud to say they have never lost a client and the company works constantly to maintain that spotless record.

A big win for course operators is that Golf Hunter gives them a worry-free way to fill those unused tee times without the expense of hiring someone to carry out that sales function. the results show that the approach is working. corporate sales for some participating courses have risen by 75% over a two-year span.

The 38-year-old came up with the idea for the “Variable Foursome” at the heart of the Golf hunter system while lying awake one night after friends had cancelled on a planned foursome the next day. “It was a 1:17 tee-time, i still remember that.” he thought: “If we’re not using that tee-time, can’t other friends or colleagues of mine go instead? as long as the course gets its fee, the name of the player shouldn’t matter. Where is that kind of membership?”

The reality was that no such system existed in 2005, when Mr. Manias was a food and beverage manager at a private club in Nova Scotia. A golf industry veteran at the time who had hosted the lPGA Canadian open in 2005, Mr. Manias started down the path to creating the Variable Foursome and the rest of the Golf Hunter offering. He went back to school to fine-tune his business idea, completing a three-year golf management college degree in just nine months. “I worked my butt off and took a crazy course load, but i finished it.”

Now a five-person operation, Golf Hunter has ambitious expansion plans, aiming to grow to 40 to 45 courses in Ontario from the current 25 by adding courses to the east and west of Toronto and expand the Variable Foursome model to the regions surrounding Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. “The next step is to expand this so that we have a Golf hunter south and north. the next logical step is to expand outside of Ontario.”

The steady addition of golf courses strategically located where people work, live and play has proved to be the secret of Golf Hunter’s phenomenal success.

“Location of the golf courses is key,” Mr. Manias says. “People will say that we don’t have the super high-end golf courses, but we have courses that are as good or better than the majority. and when you are sending clients out to play a free game of golf with their friends and family, they are not concerned that they are not playing Glen abbey.”

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