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Key Takeaways:

  • The USGA initiated a study to understand more about the range of golfer expectations and how various touchpoints before, during, and after a round influence satisfaction.
  • The results indicate there are more than 1,000 touchpoints that golfers can contact throughout their golf experience.
  • Many touchpoints were identified that enhance overall satisfaction such as the ranger’s professionalism, pace-of-play information, and limiting the time to get from tee to green.
  • Other touchpoints can detract from the golf experience such as issues with the availability of water stations, emergency facilities/communications, features for disabled golfers, speed of other players on the course, and corrective actions for golfers falling behind pace.
  • Ultimately, not every touchpoint is created equal and courses need to understand what is important to their customers before focusing improvement efforts on areas that might not affect the overall quality of the customer experience.

Golf courses spend large amounts of time and money trying to deliver what they think golfers want, but do they know for sure which investments are most likely to improve their customers’ experience or bring new customers? Without reliable data, it can be very easy for courses to focus their limited time and capital pursuing goals that may not be what their customers necessarily want. This article examines recent USGA-funded research into the golfer experience to identify the range of expectations and what aspects of the golfer’s experience are essential and those that merely enhance the overall experience.

To support the USGA’s goal of reducing golf’s consumption of key resources by 25% and improving golfer satisfaction by 20% while leading golf toward a more sustainable future, our research looked into developing a comprehensive understanding of the golfer experience through the eyes of our game’s most important asset – recreational golfers. The first phase of research takes a comprehensive view of the golfer experience beyond the course by identifying opportunities before golfers reach the first tee and important post-round touchpoints that can drive revenue and increase loyalty through overall satisfaction. These touchpoints can be classified into one of five stages representing the entire golfer journey, as outlined in Figure 1.

Currently, courses can treat every touchpoint with equal importance – if the satisfaction rating of a specific touchpoint is lower than expected, operators attempt to increase that number regardless of the relationship that touchpoint has to customers’ overall satisfaction. We too often assume that every touchpoint is important even though it might not contribute much to golfer satisfaction. The second phase of research looks beyond this assumption to clearly identify touchpoints that are considered:

  • Excitement factors, or satisfiers touchpoints, create greater satisfaction when rated highly with limited impact on dissatisfaction.
  • Performance factors, or hygiene touchpoints, can impact both satisfaction and dissatisfaction based upon their evaluation and need to be regularly monitored given their directional impacts.
  • Hygiene factors, or dissatisfier touchpoints, directly create dissatisfaction when rated lowly while having limited impact on satisfaction.


For phase one of the research – identifying touchpoints – 18 focus groups were conducted at eight different locations across the United States to ensure a range of golfer expectations and perspectives were included. USGA members, social golf groups and golf club members were surveyed and then selected to ensure a range of commitment levels, gender makeup, ethnicity, age, income, length of time playing and typical number of rounds played in a year. Additionally, participants were screened to understand their family status, membership type, golfing partner selection and the type of course they typically play. These focus groups averaged 1.5 hours in length and had an average of eight participants per session. Participants were asked about their experiences before, during and after a round of golf; in addition to why they golf, frustrations with the game and what the best golf experience might be for them. Using grounded theory to analyze the data allowed for themes, core concepts and trends to be identified through multiple stages of analysis. To help ensure validity of findings, two rounds of validation were conducted. The first included sharing results with focus group participants and gathering additional feedback on topics or items that might have been missed while the second was interviewing a diverse group of golf course operators to gather additional insights and perceptions on how the collected touchpoints could be expanded from an operational viewpoint to ensure all touchpoints were included in the analysis.     

For phase two of the research – understanding touchpoints – a total of 4,965 golfers completed a survey to understand their perceptions of on-course touchpoints. Respondents came from the membership of the USGA along with a national golf course operator’s database to ensure they were regionally distributed across the United States and represented a cross section of golfers. Information was collected about their golfing behaviors both in terms of amount played and course activities, their demographics, perceptions about the game of golf, spending behaviors and reasons for playing. Analysis involved asymmetry analysis to understand overall satisfaction along with other statistical techniques to assess golfers’ demographic, psychographic, behavioral and geographic differences.  

Phase 1 Results – Identifying Touchpoints 

During the engage stage, operators should focus on marketing their brand by providing essential information such as the variety of course activities, pricing structures and cues to demonstrate overall quality and course design. Golfers also expressed an interest in courses demonstrating their flexibility by adapting to the needs of individual players while removing perceived barriers of participation, such as the simple message of course expectations.  Ultimately, courses must effectively use their digital footprint, including their website and other digital platforms, to engage and reinforce that courses are welcoming to different golfer types while providing a clear path for golfers to ask questions and get those questions answered.  

Once the player has selected a course, the arrival stage is the first opportunity for a course to set the stage for the on-course golfer experience. From the quality of physical facilities first seen in the parking lot to service amenities and features that provide desired conveniences before a round, courses should facilitate an effective flow of getting golfers through check-in and onto the course. While staff interactions must provide quality hospitality to all guests, regardless of golfing ability, technology is a key component to providing convenience to guests. While golfers expect information to clearly identify procedures and policies of the course, they also expect a range of fees and rates based upon golfer type and course conditions – e.g., senior rates and course aeration discounts. 

The next and most important stage is golf. It is widely understood that during a round of golf, pace of play and effectively managing the time required to play is of critical importance. But this is only one consideration for the on-course experience. Ensuring that employees are well trained to provide high levels of service is as important as providing the services and features that golfers have come to expect while playing. Course design – including shot variety and the ability to use different strategies – are also important considerations along with quality fairways, roughs and bunkers that allow for playability and fairness in the experience. While golfers did express interest in a variety of on-course features to accommodate varying needs, such as ball washers and clear signage, the desire for multiple tee options and greens with clearly identified hole locations were of specific interest.  

"While golfers did express interest in a variety of on-course features to accommodate varying needs, such as ball washers and clear signage, the desire for multiple tee options and greens with clearly identified hole locations were of specific interest."

Unlike previous stages, the exit from the course is an area of exceptional opportunity for operators. Golfers want clear information concerning post-round services such as cart drop off and bag storage. Players indicated a desire for greater amenities and employee engagement to facilitate their post-round interactions. While some golfers may have limited time to spend post-round at a course, providing facilities that create opportunities for comradery and a social atmosphere entices others to spend additional money. It is also during this stage that feedback collection can be successful if employees are part of the process and incentives are provided to encourage additional play or remain at the course for additional socializing. Much like the arrival stage, signage is important in helping inform golfers as to expectations but also creating a level of comfort when visiting a new course.        

The final stop along the journey is the extend stage, which occurs after leaving the course. As for touchpoints, opportunities abound for creating additional perceived value. Further incentives for return play and invitations for planned activities are opportunities to increase the perceived value post-exit, as are immediate remedies for experiences that did not meet a golfer’s expectation. Similar to the engage stage, technology serves an important role in sharing strategically timed  messages through email, texting and social media channels. Even with the expected use of technology, there is a need  for personal interactions, such as conversations through social media and events that are relevant to golfers but not necessarily always tied to the game. 

Phase 2 Results - Understanding Touchpoints 

But what aspects of the on-course experience positively, or negatively, contribute to overall satisfaction? A total of 77 on-course touchpoints in the categories of course design, FRBs (fairways, roughs and bunkers), tees and greens, pace of play, services and features, employee interaction and general course characteristics were assessed for overall satisfaction. With an average satisfaction of 3.64 out of 5 over seven categories with none reaching the 80% threshold, golfers in this study were most satisfied with course design attributes (3.9) and least satisfied with the pace of play category (3.44). Further examination of individual touchpoints found that golfers were least satisfied with the lack of corrective actions taken against players not keeping pace (2.71) while they are most satisfied with the overall challenge of courses. 

Starting with collected satisfaction data and using asymmetry analysis, golfers indicated that 23 touchpoints were considered satisfiers, 15 were dissatisfiers and 13 were performance factors. Satisfiers generate satisfaction or, more practically, differentiate a course from competitors. Dissatisfiers are those interactions that are minimum expectations – if golfers are dissatisfied with these touchpoints, it will negatively influence overall satisfaction while not leading to increased satisfaction if performing at a high level. Performance factors can influence both satisfaction and dissatisfaction of the golfer based upon their overall satisfaction.  

"The results show that etiquette and friendliness demonstrated by the ranger, time to get from a green to the next tee, and information on pace of play/expectations were important differentiators."

Satisfiers include items that have asymmetry scores above 0.3 and range from the overall challenge of the course to the starter’s ability to ensure timely departure of playing groups (Table 1). Of specific interest are touchpoints with an asymmetry score above 0.6 as these are considered delighters with those approaching 1 of particular interest as these are perfect satisfiers with the greatest potential to positively influence overall satisfaction. The results show that etiquette and friendliness demonstrated by the ranger, time to get from a green to the next tee, and information on pace of play/expectations were important differentiators.   

When examining dissatisfiers, or those items that have an asymmetry score below 0.3, it is important to remember that these variables are not necessarily touchpoints that golfers are least satisfied with but those showing the greatest negative impact to overall satisfaction. Table 2 presents the 15 dissatisfiers, but the touchpoints with asymmetry scores below 0.6 are considered frustraters with those approaching -1 of particular interest as these are perfect frustraters. To ensure golfers’ core needs are met, courses should focus on providing ample water stations, emergency shelters and communications, features to support disabled golfers and supporting pace of play by both ensuring speed of other players on the course and that corrective actions are taken to ensure pace expectations are being met given their status as perfect frustraters.

Satisfiers and dissatisfiers are considered unidirectional – e.g., satisfiers only increase satisfaction if they are evaluated highly and don’t necessarily contribute to lower satisfaction if they receive a low rating. Hybrid touchpoints, on the other hand, can impact overall satisfaction both positively and negatively based upon their assessed score. Of the 13 hybrid factors presented in Table 3, it is important to look beyond the +/- value and instead focus on the entire group of hybrid classifiers. These are items that courses should be paying close attention to because they can shift the golfer’s experience in either direction.


While these results provide insights to help operators meet and exceed customer expectations, creating advantages through customer understanding is an ongoing process in an ever-changing marketplace. From a phase one perspective, we identified expansive opportunities across more than 1,000 touchpoints, with the most substantial ones existing once golfers leave the final green. Specifically, by removing the “we have your money now” feeling, courses can encourage deeper usage and increased loyalty through simple, personal interactions. With that said, it is important to recognize that golfer expectations, desires and motivations impact the potential importance of a particular touchpoint at each facility. Only by comparing golfer needs can courses truly understand what their current and potential customers expect during their round of golf.  

From a phase two perspective, golfers indicated an overall satisfaction rating of 3.64 out of 5 in their total golf experience, with a total of 39 individual touchpoints being rated lower than this benchmark. Of the 77 touchpoints, 26 were found to be statistically insignificant in their influence on overall satisfaction with 13 serving as fundamental golfer expectations (hybrid category). A total of 23 motivation touchpoints that enhance overall satisfaction were identified and included items like the ranger’s professionalism, pace-of-play information and limiting the time to get from tee to green (satisfiers and delighters). There were also 15 touchpoints that are critical for courses to get right to ensure they meet the needs of their guests (dissatisfiers and frustraters). These include perfect frustraters such as the availability of water stations, emergency facilities/communications, features for disabled golfers, speed of other players on the course and corrective actions for golfers falling behind pace. Ultimately, not every touchpoint is created equal and courses need to truly understand what is important to their customers before focusing improvement efforts on areas that might not affect the overall quality of the customer experience.  

While this research provides a snapshot into the golfer’s psyche, additional research being conducted by the USGA will amplify these results to help courses increase satisfaction by 20% in the coming years. Specifically, future research is meant to develop golfer personas beyond the most typical golfer that can be aligned with course types based upon the experience provided.  Ultimately, these streams of research will enable courses to understand who their customer is beyond traditional segmentation techniques and how to effectively invest time and money to meet and exceed their specific golfers’ needs.  

To fully appreciate the scope of the golfer experience and delve into the report on what golfers indicate as important to them and their enjoyment of the game, please visit:

Dr. Schoonover and Dr. Brey are professors at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.