Interview with Matt Ward
Alex Elmore leverages Indigo Golf Partners’ scale, significant commitments to technology, data-driven marketing and exceptional management teams at course and corporate levels. Prior to being named President of Indigo Golf Partners, he held regional golf operations positions before ascending to Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer.
THE ELMORE STORY
It started with cheap, plastic clubs and balls at age three. From there, it progressed to chipping real balls from postage-stamp yard to yard in Richmond, Va. with my stepmom’s clubs at eight. While dinging neighbors’ cars and putting 120-footers down a long hallway, my love of the game took root.
Mom and I moved to Philadelphia in fifth grade and my little league coach gifted me McGregor VIPs blades, my first professional-caliber sticks. I loved “Jack” and played his Golden Bear balls. With private clubs clearly unaffordable, I regularly hit balls at Haverford College’s open space where my passion grew. Mom dropped me off at public courses and I’d spend a couple nickels riding the Norristown train to 69th Street, then walking a good distance to Cobbs Creek Golf Course.
Then came the gamechanger –my first real job caddying at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore during high school summers and William & Mary college breaks. Until then, I never knew places like that even existed.
I was bitten by the golf bug and my career choice was made. I took a minimum-wage apprentice job at Duck Woods Country Club in North Carolina and worked hard to become a Class A golf professional at Two Rivers Country Club in Virginia.
Devising a gutsy “Total Quality Management” program well beyond my years, I interviewed with Indigo Golf Partners — (formerly Billy Casper Golf in 1996) became a regional operations gypsy, then left for experience in mainstream America and “Big Pharma” in 2000. Deeply missing being around and working in golf daily, my return to Indigo Golf Partners in 2008 was inevitable. It was the best decision I ever made as we’ve assembled what’s undoubtedly, “The Greatest Team in Golf,” a phrase I often use to rally our troops.
I often think of how it all began – the first set of ole’ McGregor irons, Philly’s many beat-up municipal courses and hundreds of walks down Merion’s storied fairways. Memory lane aside, for Indigo Golf, the best is yet to come!
Given the scope and intensity of the pandemic how would you assess the performance of your properties in 2020?
During these COVID-19 times, the golf industry is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Indigo Golf Partners added 21 properties to its portfolio and renewed 15 partnerships in 2020. This evidences the benefits of outsourcing management for substantially increased revenue and profitability that come with smart planning, crisp execution and economies of scale. The vast majority of our courses has set records for rounds and revenue and it’s very rewarding to see them consistently outperform reported local, regional and national results. Even more encouraging is the substantial amount of business pre-booked for 2021. Moving forward, we expect Indigo Golf Partners’ consistent outperformance of the market to continue; this is testament to the dedication of our operations, agronomic and marketing team members. Success doesn’t happen by accident.
What are the future challenges your various properties will face as the pandemic is surging now and with vaccines not really having a meaningful impact until sometime deep into 2021?
Our attitude is one of opportunity over challenge. We believe recent dynamics in our personal and professional lives will contribute to sustained demand for playing golf. The human need to preserve and maintain good health is central to the behaviors of people and aligns perfectly with the environment golf offers. We can’t predict the severity or duration of the pandemic, so it is imperative operators like Indigo Golf Partners are equipped to “scenario plan” for near- and long-changes.
The company recently announced a name change to Indigo Golf Partners from Billy Casper Golf. Why the switch now?
If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. Prior to the pandemic, our thinking was being shaped to modernize with the times. Born from those internal strategy sessions was – after 31 successful years as Billy Casper Golf – a new, contemporary brand aligned with golf’s evolving landscape and our company’s leadership in golf course ownership and operations. The word “Indigo” represents a blue hue mirroring our blue-sky thinking that inspires creative and practical ideas which know no limits. With a rapid pace of cultural, health and economic change all around us, now is the time for our entrepreneurial company to further evolve. After all, our vision is to leave the golf industry better than we found to benefit current and future generations.
Companies throughout the broader golf industry are looking for meaningful ways to attract a younger crowd. What approaches have you been following as a company and what success have you had to date?
This isn’t your grandfather’s day and age when weekends meant five hours at the country club. Nowadays, we are a family-oriented nation and must appeal to multiple generations to thrive. Simply point to TopGolf. Similarly, it’s common for Indigo Golf Partners-managed courses to not be relegated only to golf, but use massive acreage for moon bounces, paint nights, concerts, night golf and other compelling activities.
All prompt family fun time. This type of profiling and creativity validates Indigo Golf’s belief of #GolfForEveryone. It’s a theme that’s carried out daily by our 7,000-plus employees at our more than 160 golf courses, country clubs and resorts in 29 states.
What’s the most distinguishable element in terms of how your properties interact with golfers versus that of your competitors?
When you think of some of America’s most guest-centric hospitality companies, we’ve been told Indigo Golf Partners is among them. At the course, product perfection, special touches and unexpected delights result in golfers acting with unmatched loyalty. Theoretically, it sounds simple, but it takes real professionals to systematically and properly execute. Off course, our team blends art and science — rooted in data — to efficiently connect with the right buyers at the right time with engaging content that prompts action. The bedrock of this work is to attract new guests at a low cost of acquisition and, from there, promote frequent utilization for greater lifetime value. Simply lowering greens fees isn’t a strategy and presenting a pristine golf course alone doesn’t automatically translate to revenue.
Companies throughout the golf industry routinely tout the importance of customer service. Define the term and the approach you follow.
With increasing demands and service expectations at all-time highs, course staff must be up to task. 33% of guests consider switching to competitors after a single instance of poor service. Moreover, after one negative experience, 50% will never do business with that company again. That’s why Indigo Golf Partners closely follows our pioneering ACE the Guest / Member Experience training modules; they promote how to emit a sense of belonging at each interaction along guests’ journeys. Our Superintendent Business Institute teaches best practices because we all know golfers prioritize course conditions when determining to play one course over another.
One of the major issues impacting companies — whether inside or outside of golf — is hiring the needed personnel to put into motion what a company does. How critical an issue is staffing and what meaningful strategies have your adopted with that in mind?
Staffing is critical in every aspect of the business. Part of what distinguishes Indigo Golf Partners is an across-the-board adherence to our “G.R.I.T.” value system. “G” stands for growth and carefully developing our teams to advance businesses and elevate the industry; ”R” symbolizes responsibility owning a culture of safety, accountability and sustainability; “I” typifies innovation and leading with entrepreneurial spirit fueled by data, creativity and collaboration; and ”T” means our team aces the experience together.
The time spent playing and how slow play is driving prospective players away is a serious issue. How are you dealing with this topic to keep the game from being gridlocked?
At several courses, we implement intelligence technologies and pace-of-play management solutions which turn pace into an asset. Small “tags” are clipped onto golf bags, installed on carts and offered on handheld devices which transmit geo-location data telling golfers and pro shops where pace is being met, exceeded or downright slow. This results in even greater golfer satisfaction, tee time inventory and revenue. It’s a shining example of Indigo Golf Partners’ honoring the tradition of the game while addressing an important component of golf experiences.
The biggest challenges facing Indigo Golf Partners — short and long term is what — and how are you going about solution for both?
Again, Indigo Golf Partners views challenge as the intersection of opportunity and change. In the short term, the pandemic has expanded the game to hordes of new players and Indigo Golf Partners continuously creates ways to keep them engaged and active. Just one of our many solutions is a commitment to connect with golfers in high-tech, high-touch fashions. The more user-friendly and culturally proactive the golf industry becomes, the better its prosperity well into the 21st century. Indigo Golf Partners’ responsibility is to lead the way.
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