Operator Stories

Business-Building at Deer Island with Sports Next for Golf

Customer loyalty can’t happen if people aren’t sampling your product in the first place. That’s why wine shops have tasting events and new moms get a basket of infant-care products as they leave the hospital. 

Deer Island Country Club in Tavares, Fla., reliably scores high on the loyalty scale once a first-time player gives it a try. There’s an obvious geographic reason: A single island green can make a golf course world-famous, meanwhile this Joe Lee-designed layout occupies an island all to itself. 

But that geographic advantage has a downside when it comes to product sampling. A 6,852-yard course that came online in 1994, semi-private Deer Island CC is off by itself amid the Harris Chain of Lakes. There are fine custom homes you’ll see from its fairways, but not much else by way of civilization. Walking between shots you’ll mostly gaze upon the waters of Lake Dora and Lake Beauclair.   

“The challenge for us has been getting players out and enjoying a first experience,” says Deer Island’s general manager, Peter Kokinos. “Once they’ve played the course, they’re sold on it.” His operation needed to turbo-charge its marketing and customer-acquisition machinery, so Kokinos and company turned to the proven suite of solutions from NBC Sports Next Golf.  

“We increased our rounds played by 40 percent in the year after we switched and we upped our revenue by 20 percent,” says Kokinos of his strategic reboot. “And there is more new business coming to us behind that first wave.” According to Kokinos, that is very much thanks to the marketing reach of NBC Sports Next and the sophistication of the G1 Course Operations Technology. 

Course partners are free to pick and choose from the menu of NBC Sports Next Golf services as they onboard. Deer Island started with that approach but soon opted for virtually every tool in the toolkit. The program starts with simply being on the Platform. From that initial step, a course like Deer Island can leverage tee time distribution on GolfNow.com, marketing itself to higher-income golfers from the executive ranks and the professions—as new research into the user group has shown. Website management, an option Kokinos also selected, has freed up the GM and his team to interact with golfers and ensure a great experience for them. That goes for returning players as well as first-timers.  

In the Deer Island package there are numerous further upgrades.“We use the G1 management platform,” says Kokinos, “which we’ve found to be tops in the industry. We use the Answers system for phone reservations and support, and we also go with GolfNow for credit card processing. We also take full advantage of the Premium Marketing Platform.”  

The latter tool provides Deer Island with two dedicated Plus Specialists focused on brand management and inventory management. Every other Tuesday morning, there’s a scheduled call between Deer Island management and the NBC Sports Next team covering the facility. That’s the baseline for communications and discussion, but there’s additional back-and-forth on a regular basis, depending on whatever challenges or opportunities arise in the course of a season. 

“I can pick up the phone at any given time and ask Justin his opinion,” Kokinos explains, referring to specialist, who teams with Market Sales Manager Jennifer Funk and additional support staff. Out of that conversation will come some relevant research and reports. Armed with these assets, the Deer Island crew will consider all factors and go forward with a decision. 

Switching to a new operating platform can be a daunting proposition to any course operator, but onboarding with G1 was apparently a hassle-free experience for Deer Island. “The transition to G1 was expedited and smooth,” recalls Kokinos. “It took just over a day for installation and for basic training in how it operates.” Armed with G1-provided iPads, the team soon found itself in motion around the facility, decision-making on the go instead of being tied down by location-based servers.  

The G1 system’s highly popular Check-In and Pay feature proved to be a game-changer from the start. “It gives a customer the ability to check in, pay for their round, pick up a cart key, get their complimentary bottle of water, and head straight to the tee,” Kokinos says. Frictionless arrival at any golf course is appreciated by players, but at a remote facility like this one it’s that much greater an advantage. 

Either way, the support is there, according to Kokinos.  

“You’ve got people who know you, they know your golf course and they know the business overall,” he says. That includes a lead person on social media, overseeing how Deer Island shows up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks.  

Well-timed and well-expressed messaging on social media is key to enshrining a great golf experience in memory and keeping a course high up in the customer’s awareness. That’s true if you’re located at a busy crossroads or—like Deer Island Country Club—in a beautiful spot that’s a ways off the beaten path. 

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