As we round into 2020, the $70 billion golf industry finds itself on solid ground. Participation has normalized around 24 million golfers according to the National Golf Foundation.
More and more Millennials and Gen-Xers are picking up the game, replacing members of the Baby Boomer and Silent Generations who are aging out. Junior golf is as popular as ever, with 2.5 million young golfers hitting the fairways in 2019.
And refreshingly, the motto at golf courses and clubs throughout the U.S. has shifted from “survive and advance” to “innovate and prosper.”
So many are doing their part, and then some, to grow the game by creating unique programming and adding non-traditional amenities. They’re investing time, money and considerable brain power into making golf fiercely competitive with other recreational and entertainment options.
From kids camps on driving ranges to pickleball-golf-tennis “triathlons,” there’s no telling what you might find next time you visit your local course or club.
“The courses that are challenging industry assumptions are the ones that are flourishing,” said Matt Jennings, owner of Cherokee Valley Course and Club in Travelers Rest.
Cherokee Valley is following the Star Trek model of “boldly going where no course or club has gone before.”
Expect the Unexpected
When Jennings looks out on the expansive practice facility at Cherokee Valley, he sees hot air balloons. Well, figuratively at least, for now. He and his staff are exploring hosting a hot air balloon festival this summer.
And a tailgate party in partnership with Greenville-based apparel company Southern Tide … and a beach-themed concert to celebrate the opening of its new restaurant, Core 450 … and the list goes on and on.
“Expect the unexpected, here, we like to say,” Jennings said.
He and his uncle Ted Levine acquired this 18-hole, semi-private/daily fee layout 30 minutes north of Greenville in 2017 from Brown Golf Management. Born into the restaurant business in Fresno, California, Jennings has always had a different spin on running a golf course.
Case in point, shortly after buying Cherokee Valley he secret-shopped the Sierra Nevada Brewery 30 minutes north outside Asheville for operational ideas.
Jennings said the approachable nature of the employees and the emphasis on creating an unforgettable experience for patrons was totally transferable to the golf business.
“We wanted people to know from the start that we are not your typical golf club,” said Jennings. “We are a family club and tight-knit community. Our mission is to serve and entertain and that guides everything we do.”
Cherokee Valley is proof positive innovation doesn’t have to be technological or cost prohibitive. In fact, it often requires minimal upfront investment and can quickly yield a return on investment.
That Aha Moment
Driving home from the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando a few years ago, Jennings had an idea for an “adopt a tee box” program at his then club, Oak Harbor Golf Club in Oak Harbor, Ohio. Members volunteered to maintain the landscape surrounding tee boxes.
At Cherokee Valley, Jennings figured, why not expand the program tee to green throughout the entire golf course? “Adopt a Hole” became an immediate hit as members volunteered in droves to take part.
“We bestow a ‘Green Thumb’ award recognizing the best maintained hole and most creative landscaping,” Jennings said. “Last year’s winner spent $2,000 of their own money, which just blows me away.”
All in the Family
The Cherokee Valley team also takes its positioning as a family club very seriously. Rather than just trot out the obligatory “wee tees” or junior golf clinic, they approach programming from both a golf and non-golf perspective.
“We hosted a community putt-putt that was a huge hit,” Jennings said. “We used nine greens on the golf course with designated tees on the greens and pars for each. We had young family foursomes and serious golfers turning it into a putting content. It was a blast.”
Golf notwithstanding, Cherokee Valley’s signature innovation in 2020 will be the opening of Core 450. Led by executive chef Todd Warden, it will feature a contemporary, engaging and casual theme with a diverse menu ranging from small plates and pizza to five course meals.
“I dreamed of Core 450 before I even bought Cherokee Valley,” Jennings said. “I’d seen the value a premier dining venue can add to a family experience. It fits our mission of providing a place where everyone can come together to experience a real sense of community.”
To learn more about memberships, golf packages and other innovative programs and amenities contact associate director of operations Lauren Landreth at firstname.lastname@example.org or (864) 895-6758 x2.
Portions of this article, authored by Greenville-based golf writer Shane Sharp, appeared in the January-February issue of Golf Inc. Magazine.