golf ball

A Tale of Two Golf Clubs

... a communication parable

You can’t miss Stonylands Town Golf Club if you take the winding back road out of town. But if you are in any doubt, the signboard says it all: “Stonylands Golf Club. Member of the Federation of National Golf Clubs. Est. 1924. Secretary: J S Peasworthy, BSc.” There follows in smaller letters, “Private Property” and without apparent irony, “No ball games”. The style of the sign is almost identical to the original 1924 version, as you can readily see in the photographs of The Opening displayed in the clubhouse foyer.

Had you been in the Club Committee recently, you could have participated in some lively discussion. The Club wanted a website. Or at least, they realized that they needed new members. The Committee had been doing some thinking. Membership was declining. Income was declining. With most members being over 55, ill-health and death were chipping away at numbers. Replacement applications for membership were just not keeping up. Maybe a website was the answer. Of course, there was the unspoken wish that new members would be People Like Us. People who behave well socially. Fit in easily. Good solid professional types. And preferably those who know plenty about the game already. Novices can be so, well, difficult.

“Text on a screen”

Slowly, the shape of the website was hammered out in discussion, though Secretary Peasworthy tended to dominate. “We already have a brochure, and since this Web thing is just text on a screen, we can use that as a basis for the site,” he said.

Let’s take a tour of the site as it finally emerged ...

On the homepage are two photos: the clubhouse and one showing the greens. Some of the Committee had argued for pictures of members. However, as Secretary Peasworthy said, “After all, the Club IS the Clubhouse and the Greens. Let these Speak for Themselves.” (He tends to capitalize words, both in speech and writing.) Certainly in the clubhouse photo, the parked cars speak for themselves – of success and wealth.

The welcome letter

Despite this, the Secretary thought that a welcome letter from himself should be an essential part of the homepage. This runs to a full 750 words and would benefit mightily from proof-reading and editing down in size. But Secretary Peasworthy, though charming, polite and kind to animals (and members of the Club), is not really amenable to having his writing edited and proof-read. He is in truth a better speaker than writer, and can hold an audience well on the History of Golf for 40 minutes.

Other pages of the site

The Committee was unanimous in wanting the entire rules of golf posted on the site. Or, that is to say, the Federation of National Golf Clubs version of the rules, which vary ever so slightly from those of the Association of National Golfing Clubs. To explain why they belong to the Federation, there is also a detailed retelling of The Split – how the Federation and the Association had come into being many years ago.

There’s a page about the Club’s dress-code too. Sometimes Secretary Peasworthy needs to have a polite word with members who do not comply. “So important to keep up standards. Scruffy dressing implies disrespect for the Game and the Club.” And if you need to read the Committee Minutes, why, there they all are, online.

“Games I have enjoyed”

The Committee was insistent that there should be some people-related content within the site. So we can read a profile of Secretary Peasworthy plus photo taken in his clubhouse office, besuited, with his golfing trophies and BSc diploma behind him on the wall. And each member of the Committee has contributed a page on “Games I Have Enjoyed.” They all interpreted this to mean “Tournaments I have Won”, and with much use of golfing jargon, we are led hole by hole, to the inevitable denouement. Few manage to avoid a somewhat triumphalist streak, and many include rather pejorative references to other lesser sports or non-golfers. Most of the stories sound oddly similar. None are less than 1200 words, and the contribution from Oldest Member, James McFadden, tips the scales at over 3000 words. However, other members of the Club were immediately enthusiastic about these stories. Because they understood and enjoyed them, they said, “These will surely attract new people to the Club.”

Lady members and youth

The Club regards itself as quite forward-looking. Why, there is even a woman on the committee now. After all, they permitted ‘ladies’ to join as full members back in 85. A few members left over that decision, and chose instead to take the hour’s drive to Bleakwoods Club, where a time-traveller from 1932 would fit in immediately.

They do have a youth session once a week. Sadly it tends to be children of the members, especially as they must bring their own golfing equipment.

Disappointment

Nine months since the website went online, and the Committee are rather disappointed. There are indeed five new members. But three joined because they knew other members socially, another moved to town and drove past the Club daily, and one found the Club in the Federation’s yearbook. “This new-fangled Interweb thing doesn’t really work,” was the consensus at the latest Committee meeting. You’ll find their discussion in the latest online Committee Minutes.


Meanwhile, in a completely different valley ...

Just 20 minutes drive and you reach the next valley and the town of Freshfields. The golf club is easy to find – they asked the town council to erect signs at key locations. The entrance board is clear too: “Freshfields Community Golfing Center. Free trial session – book now” (followed by email, website URL and phone number). The graphic design is lively and attractive, and a photo-collage of faces reflects the diversity of golfers using the club.

Planning their site

Freshfields also sensed a need for a website last year. Team Leader Jon brought together the center’s staff, coordinating group and any members who wished to contribute. He also invited representatives from several other golf clubs who had websites, to share lessons they had learned. Dominique, a reporter on the local paper and a keen golfer, was asked to advise on effective communication principles. Over coffee and pizza, they brainstormed ideas and looked at existing golf websites using a data-projector. Jon emphasized, “Really, we are here to promote golf as a game, rather than just ourselves.” Ideas for the site slowly came together. Before it went online, they tested reactions to it – not from their members, but by asking a range of non-golfers. They made a number of changes based on this feedback.

What does a tour of the Freshfields site show?

The homepage is short and attractive. A photo-collage of members’ faces of all ages gives a sense of family and demonstrates that the membership “looks like Freshfields”. Under the Freshfields Community Golfing Center heading and logo is the strapline “I never knew golfing could be such fun!”

Personal stories

The navigation menu takes you to enticingly-titled inner pages. Dominique emphasized the need for personal stories. These include ‘Meet the staff’, with short profiles and photos of each member of the team, from Jon the team leader to Maria the cleaner. It’s somehow fun to know that Jon plays drums in a tribute band, that coach Roberto breeds tortoises, and Maria loves painting in watercolors.

“Why we love golf” covers a range of members’ stories. No jargon though. No hole-by-hole accounts of games. Dominique helped them shape their stories, and did proof-reading and revision. “Use humor as much as you can,” she advised. “Be self-deprecating. Use direct speech where possible. Look how magazines tell a story. And also try to counteract the awful stereotypes that people have about golfers.” Several members felt inadequate in writing skills, so Dominique wrote their stories as interview features. Each story is enhanced with a photo, a personal profile, and a two-minute video clip. Let’s look at several:

All of them are honest about themselves and their reactions. Sometimes, they get frustrated with the game. Sometimes life is too busy to play. Those new to the game can find the rules strange and frustrating. But a common factor in every story is the discovery of friendship and purpose. This is probably helped by one of Jon’s informal club rules: “Every time someone you don’t know comes into the center, invite them to your table and offer them coffee. This club is about them, not you.”

Youth and publicity

Freshfields wants to reach out to youth. Members and staff take volunteer sessions in local schools and youth clubs, and offer regular youth training at the center. These sessions can be requested through the site.

The website also has a range of online games (and game downloads for mobile phones) ranging from Tetris to several golf-oriented games. Many younger people first arrive at the site through these games.

There’s also a free screensaver that members can download – it’s a good conversation starter at work or home. Club members are encouraged to invite friends to the center, and can use ready-made contact cards with the club’s URL.

Jokes and blogs

A page of golfing jokes and cartoons demonstrates that the club doesn’t take itself too seriously. The coaches run a question-and-answer section to help golfers with problems. And there are two blogs. One about golfing news and developments is mainly for members. But the other, about local community issues, demonstrates a commitment to the town, and draws outsiders into the site.

Result!

Freshfields was already growing before the website went live. But the site has dramatically enhanced overall growth, and new visitors to the center have increased by 80%. It’s not that the site is somehow magically doing all the work. It gives site visitors a sense of community and welcome, and introduces them to club staff and members, showing that they are normal people who have found a game that is fulfilling. It draws people to free trial sessions, youth training, and other activities. Then face-to-face relationships with real people take over.

They are now considering the possibility of buying land on the other side of town near the industrial sector and housing projects, for a second golfing center with a special focus on helping marginalized youth and families. The town council is giving active support to the project. “Our website is now integral to all we do,” says Jon.

This parable is not, of course, about golf. Apologies to golfing friends: there never was, to our knowledge, any such split between national golfing federations!

This 2000-word story may be freely reproduced in print without any conditions other than acknowledgement of the source: IntenetEvangelismDay.com/design. Download it in Word and RTF formats if needed, which includes a link to the hi-res version of the photo to use in print if needed. Please modify spelling (US spelling has been used, as it is the most common online) and amend characters’ names to reflect your country’s usage if needed. Please also blog about it, or make it known in other ways.

German flagGerman version [www.jared2.de/2008-02/ein-maerchen-von-zwei-golfvereinen]

Our shorter 328-word story Desperately Seeking Lodgers illustrates the same principles and is also free to reproduce in print.

Tips for building church websites – how to make them user-friendly to outsiders
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