Golf Marketing University

Why Golf Marketing is like 1970’s Spaghetti Sauce

“Doctor Moskowitz, help us make the Perfect Spaghetti Sauce”

Few people in American history have contributed more to an increase in ‘happiness’ than Howard Moskowitz yet his name is hardly known outside the food industry.

With a PHD from Harvard in psychophysics, Howard was expert in measuring things and in the 1970’s his consultancy carried out consumer research for the food industry. After successes developing an optimum formula for Pepsi’s Diet Coke & inventing the ‘zesty pickle’ for Vlasic Pickles, Campbell’s soup approached him with a simple plea “Howard, fix us”.

You see at that time, Campbell’s made Prego, a brand of spaghetti sauce, that was struggling to compete against technically inferior competitor Ragu, which was dominating the market.

“There isn’t A perfect SAUCE, only perfect SAUCES”

So Howard and the Campbell’s kitchen created 45 different varieties of spaghetti sauce to find the perfect spaghetti sauce…45 variations of sweetness, garliciness, ‘tomatoiness’, tartness and ‘chunkiness’.

Analysis of the mountains of data from the 1,000’s of people from all over the US who tasted these varieties of sauce, was as clear as it was amazing.

Americans don’t have A favourite SAUCE, they have favourite SAUCES

About ⅓ of those who tasted, showed a strong preference for one of the three broad types of sauce: Plain, Spicy and Extra Chunky.

Now this was a huge revelation because at that time no one was selling a ‘chunky spaghetti sauce’ even though a third of US consumers had a deep-seated preference for it. Why?

The answer was simple. In focus groups when people were asked what they wanted in a sauce, 99% said “an authentic Italian plain sauce” so that is exactly what the food manufacturers had been selling them.

People don’t know What They WANT…but They Know What They LIKE

In a wider context then, Howard fundamentally changed the way we should think about how to keep customers happy.

Assumption #1 had previously been, “the way to find out what people want is to ask them” yet Prego went on to make $600M profit from their extra-chunky sauce that no focus group had ever before come up with.

The inevitable conclusion should be obvious…people don’t know what they want, but they know what they like.

That’s not because we’re deluded; it’s because we don’t always know or can’t always explain what we want deep down.

An example closer to golf…Ask people want they want in a coffee and 99% will say “dark, rich, hearty roast” yet less than 25% of consumers will buy that. 75% or thereabouts will buy a milky, weak coffee. You need proof? Check out your own sales of latte and cappuccino versus espresso.

A Real-World Example in Golf

Here is an example related to the driving range at my own course. Several years ago we were considering installing Powertee, an automated ball delivery system which we hoped might increase usage and turnover of our driving range. We asked our members…and their response was unambiguous…“don’t waste your money”.

Ok we thought, we’ll leave it.

A couple of years later, we decided to invest in Powertee anyway while we carried out a scheduled upgrade to our driving range facility. And the result…range sales TREBLED virtually overnight and they’ve continued to grow year on year. Why?

Mainly because we started to attract a new type of range-only customer who hadn’t visited before, our equivalent of the chunky sauce customer.

So What’s the Chunky Sauce in Your Business? And How Can You Create a Monopoly of Your Own?


The first place to look is Membership…if you’re not currently offering a broad range of memberships at your facility, you’re almost certainly missing a massive opportunity. Full club membership is golf’s plain, authentic Italian sauce. It’s yesterday’s product. Despite appearances, not every potential member wants a weekend game or to play in competitions.

Flexible (points-based) memberships appeal to low use golfers, those trying out club membership for the first time and those who physically or for work reasons can’t get out to play as much as they’d like.

That’s a massive market you could be engaging. Other membership options you could consider are 9-hole memberships, ‘Get Into Golf’ membership or even a Premium Full option.

Green Fees

Green fees…if you’re charging just a single seasonal green fee (which you’re probably tempted to regularly discount) to appeal to price sensitive golfers then you are almost certainly undercharging those who would happily pay more for the right ‘bundle’.

In fact, you may even be putting off more affluent golfers & devaluing your brand. That’s over and above the harm discounted green fees create by upsetting existing members. Try holding a higher green fee and bundle in value – maybe buggies, food, driving range tokens…low cost/high margin, high ‘value’ things.


Coffee offering….invest in a decent coffee machine if you haven’t already. We did just this in 2009 and within 3 months our coffee sales had grown over 1000% for a mere doubling of our costs. That’s a simple and quick way to boost your bottom line.


Events…have you ever tried putting on live music or comedy events? Think beyond Golf. Even if this doesn’t appeal to your existing customers, it may bring in a new, different customer who you can delight and then cross-sell your golf to.

I wish you the best of luck creating your own golfing extra chunky sauce. Make your own monopolies and hundreds of happier customers.
And if you’re ever tempted to ask your existing members what they think they want…just remember the immortal words of Henry Ford after he invented the motorcar…

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”

If you enjoyed this article or have any comments, questions or suggestions please share them below. WHAT ONE ‘CHUNKY SAUCE’ IDEA WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRY AT YOUR CLUB?

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Elliot Hamilton

Elliot doesn't just talk the talk...As Co-Founder of GMU, Elliot isn't just a marketing guru, he's also a 9 year Chief Executive of Hunley Hotel & Golf Club in North Yorkshire. So he really knows how to deliver game-changing marketing and golf operations in the real-world.

From directing strategy to delivering small (but devastatingly effective) campaigns, he's learnt the hard way how to maximize the return on every penny of marketing spend & grow a bottom line.

And with that 'skin in the game' experience, that makes him pretty qualified to share high quality knowledge of a fast-changing marketing environment - no marketing diploma can match that!

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