B A C K G R O U N D E R . . .
Zeb Welborn is the owner of 19th Hole Media and the author of The Social Golf Course: Increasing Rounds with Social Media. Zeb has recently been named a Game Changer by Southland Golf, one of the Top 10 Most Innovative People in Golf Marketing and the Chino Hills Business of the Year. He works hard to grow golf. He is a sponsor of the California Golf Course Owners Association and is the founder of #GolfChat, a Twitter chat on everything golf every Tuesday at 5pm PST.
T H E W E L B O R N S T O R Y . . .
Golf is in my blood. My great grandfather, William Sime, moved to America at the turn of the 20th century with a letter of recommendation from James Braid. My grandfather was a life-long golfer and Men’s Club President, my father, also a life-long golfer wrote for dozens of golf magazines and my cousin, Ryan played in the 1999 U.S. Open.
I started my golf career in 1997 at Los Serranos Country Club in Chino Hills, CA when I began working in the cart barn. I worked there for 7 years moving my way up the ranks to Assistant Golf Professional when I left to pursue a career as a High School History teacher.
MATT WARD: What was the genesis for the start of the company?
ZEB WELBORN: Teaching wasn’t for me and in 2010 I started my own online marketing business. In addition to other local and medium-sized businesses, I reached out to Los Serranos Country Club to see if they needed help marketing their golf course. They hired me on the spot and I’ve been working to market for golf courses ever since.
My book, The Social Golf Course, co-authored by John Hakim from Greenskeeper.org has given me the opportunity to meet many fascinating people in the golf industry. I’ve been fortunate to speak at the Golf Inc Summit, Crittenden Golf Conference, the CGCOA and various other organizations about the importance of social media for golf courses and featured in numerous magazine articles for innovation in golf course marketing.
In 2012, a change in ownership at Los Serranos Country Club resulted in the termination of our contract. My online marketing business, Welborn Media, was to focus on businesses in different industries to avoid competition. Once we were terminated, I was able to sit down and analyze our efforts to see just how effective we had been. It was mind-boggling. 19th Hole Media started when I began reaching out to golf courses using my success at Los Serranos Country Club as an example.
MW: What lessons were learned for those operating golf courses in the post Great Recession world?
ZW: Marketing for golf and virtually every business has changed drastically in the past 10 years. Successful businesses have innovated and moved to digital and mobile platforms to market their businesses effectively. Unfortunately for golf, we’ve been slow to innovate our marketing in the new golf economy. I’m working to help golf courses use the newest tools to market their golf courses to where their customers are looking.
MW: How does 19th Hole Media go beyond what others in the promotions / communications area are doing?
ZW: We go above and beyond what others are doing in our industry in a variety of ways. The Facebook pages we’ve seen managed by other companies don’t integrate the culture of their golf courses into their pages. Basically, they’re posting about what’s going on the PGA Tour, sharing golf trick shot videos, or sharing golf industry news. Golfers follow golf course Facebook pages to see organic content from the course. We take and use golf course photos and videos to highlight the golf course and use questions to engage our audience. We also have developed a system to track our efforts and determine an ROI which I’m not sure any other company offers. Our company is unique in the golf industry and I don’t see anyone doing the types of things we are for golf courses.
MW: The biggest mistake many golf courses do in attempting to promote themselves is what?
ZW: The biggest mistake many golf courses are making to market themselves is failing to analyze their marketing results and make changes accordingly. Many golf courses use old school marketing tactics which are no longer working and many more golf courses use the newest tools, but are highly ineffective in using those platforms. Analyzing results and making changes accordingly will bring results.
MW: Would it not help the golf course industry significantly if no less than 20% of the total golf course inventory were simply to disappear?
ZW: In my book, there is a chapter titled The St. Andrews Model. In it, we discuss the foundations of golf and why golf as a sport thrived and the answer is marketing. People decide where and how they spend their time, money, effort and energy. Good marketing influences the decisions people make. Non-existent marketing won’t. If we say the reason golf is struggling is because there is too much inventory, we’re placing blame on something we can not change. I’d much rather look for solutions than admit failure. We can get more people playing golf if we all work to influence the decisions people make. Today, social media is driving decision-making substantially more than any other platform. Having said that, in my local market before 1990 there were 5 golf courses. Today, there are almost 20. A friend who was a GM in golf’s heyday was telling me that he was using 6 minute tee-times, consistently had a one to two-hour back up and golfers were still beating down their door. It’s definitely harder today, but anything worth building is hard.
MW: A main focal point for companies today is customer service — define the term and how 19th Hole Media distinguishes itself from your competitors?
ZW: Customer service is being available to your customers when they need your help or assistance. Customer service no longer just happens on site, but it happens online, through email and through social media. From a customer service perspective we respond to all comments, questions and messages from our clients Facebook followers in a professional way. In today’s economy, customers expect immediate responses and social media gives us the opportunity to respond immediately to questions, comments or concerns from our customers. If you’re ignoring your social media accounts you’re missing out on a big customer service opportunity.
MW: You can change one thing in golf — what would it be and why?
ZW: I would change the mindset. We wrote The Social Golf Course to get golf courses to think more socially. Golf courses, for the most part, failed to innovate when tee-time wholesalers entered the marketplace and began selling tee times online. Social media is giving golf courses a mulligan — but many fail to see the immense power social media has in influencing the decision-making process. By thinking socially, golf courses can grow their business like never before. A Hole-in-One is the perfect example of a social opportunity. Taking a picture of the golfer with their Hole-in-One and announcing their success on social media, email and website will expand your market exponentially.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
ZW: In Episode 115 of the Defining Success Podcast, a podcast I host, I asked my Dad — Larry Welborn — what advice he had for me. His answer was to swing as hard as you can when you get to the 18th Hole and to never lay up. Not sure if he was just talking about golf, but I took it as advice for life which was to try as hard as I possibly can and to always go for it.
MW: You wake up in the morning — what drives you to keep going forward given the way the golf environment is structured today?
ZW: Honestly, I love what I do, so I don’t need anything to drive me, but I know what we’re doing is having a positive impact on the golf industry. My main driving force is to be a difference-maker and our marketing strategy is a difference-maker for the golf industry.
MW: Golf is facing serious issues regarding overall growth. Millennials, women and minorities are being sought but have showed less of an interest than earlier generations — most notably Baby Boomers. What do you see as the game plan that’s needed?
ZW: It’s marketing effectively in today’s social environment. When you think of social media, think of it like Cheers — where everybody knows your name. By highlighting your golfers publicly — sharing their successes and introducing them to other golfers at your golf course you’re building a strong sense of community and loyalty to your golf course. Other golfers will see how you treat your customers and will want to join in on the social benefits your golf course is delivering. If we make all golfers feel welcome, supported and involved golf will thrive and to do that today, you can’t just do it onsite — you have to do it online too.