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August 2022

The Risk-Free, Full-Value Raincheck


With Climate Change Should Come A Policy Change

By Harvey Silverman

Raindrops are falling on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothing seems to fit
Those raindrops
are falling on my head, they keep falling
-B.J. Thomas

I don’t play golf in the rain anymore. One reason is that golf season rain is virtually non-existent in Northern California. But we can play 12 months a year, and I played “wet” golf years ago with my father-in-law and his manly men buddies. Get out the Gore-Tex rain suit, tuck your pant legs into your socks, and don’t whimper when a perfectly struck drive plugs in the middle of the perpetually soggy fourth fairway. Take a stroke and drop another ball in a dry spot if you can find one. The cart path? That’s not funny.

Playing golf in Minneapolis, my hometown, was different. Saturday was the day to play with my fellow 20-something, career-pursuing group lest we stay home and either watch TV (four channels) or be saddled with honey-do projects. Golf it was, come hell or (oftentimes) high water. Only in the direst circumstances, like sighting a tornado cloud, did we turn in and ask (hope?) for a raincheck.

More than in past generations, weather plays a dominant factor in whether people will play golf or not. And it is not just weather as it happens at the moment. It is also weather as predicted – which is too often wrong. As my colleague Stuart Lindsay points out, if there were a Weatherman Hall of Fame, it likely would be empty. Further, weather information is ubiquitous in today’s world of technology. In past generations, we’d get a weather forecast on the 6 or 10 o’clock news. Now, we have access to it 24/7. Plans are made or changed on the fly.

I received the following in a golf course email the other day:

“Don’t stay home just because the weather forecast says it might rain. How many times has the forecast been dead wrong, and you sit at home muttering to yourself? (Our) Rain Check policy guarantees you only pay for the holes you play. Rain Checks are prorated on a “per hole played” basis. On that rare occasion when the rainy weather forecast is accurate, and you can’t wait for the shower to pass, you can receive a rain check for the holes you didn’t play. That dollar value is then applied to your next round.

Example: Assuming $53 for a weekend 18-hole round of golf, but rain forces termination of the round after 11 holes of play. A rain check value of $20.61 can be issued for the seven unplayed holes. That amount will be deducted from your next round of golf. Simply come into the pro shop with your cash register receipt and ask for a rain check. So while you may be disappointed in not completing the 18-hole round, you won’t have paid for something you didn’t use.”

Yeah, that’s what I’d want my staff member to do – calculate the percentage of holes remaining (18-11/18=.3888), multiplied by the paid greens fee ($53 x .3888 = $20.61), and enter that into some type of certificate and enter it into the point-of-sale system. Oh, and times four for the group. How efficient.

On the other side of the raincheck ledger is former NGCOA Board member and golf course owner (and former client) Chuck Bennell, who explains how his business went from the archaic and mundane to contemporary and enlightened:

“At Tam O’Shanter (Ohio) in the 1990s, when an 18-hole round cost about $15, ownership learned that some cashiers were selling rainchecks for five dollars a pop to their cronies instead of following the cumbersome ‘prorated rain check based on the number of holes played’ policy.

So we started using a two-part raincheck using “no carbon required” paper, signed by the cashier and countersigned by the golfer.  As an accounting control, it made it clear we were monitoring rain checks by keeping the top copy and matching it with the bottom copy when the golfer brought in a rain check for redemption, with a “redeem by the end of golf season” deadline and date on the form.

Crude, but useful.

We were surprised to discover that fewer than 50% of rain checks issued were ever returned at the end of the season. And the full amount every golfer had paid was already in the bank!  Why worry?
So we stopped prorating rainchecks based on how many holes the golfer said he had played and simply began issuing a full-value, no-questions-asked raincheck based on the golf round purchased that day (nine or 18, walking or riding). 

What began as an accounting control turned into a marketing advantage when we advertised, “Don’t worry about the weather forecast because you can come on out to Tam O’Shanter, and we’ll be happy to give you a no-questions-asked rain check.”

Could there still have been some dishonest customers and employees?  Possibly so, but the incentive to cheat was drastically reduced.”

I’m with Chuck. Unfortunately, most other course operators are not. I introduced to clients the “Risk-Free, Full-Value Raincheck” that combats the effects of wrong weather forecasts while elevating customer service. Rather than sitting home when forecasts call for a 50%, or more, chance of rain, golfers will choose to play knowing that if rain, hail, lightning or a severe weather warning forces them off the course, their small investment in greens fees is covered with the full-value raincheck. And, as Chuck notes, there is always breakage – rainchecks expire at year-end, and many are never redeemed. The money is in the bank and stays there.

The Risk-Free, Full-Value Raincheck policy: “If heavy rain, hail, lightning or a severe thunderstorm warning (not a watch) forces you off the course and you are unable or unwilling to wait until the bad weather clears, we’ll give you a full-value raincheck you can use anytime until the end of the year, regardless of how many holes you played.”

The Risk-Free, Full-Value Raincheck is a Nordstrom-level of service. At Nordstrom, customers can return an item purchased at Nordstrom for a full refund, regardless of when it was purchased. It’s one of the things that sets them apart from the competition and instills great loyalty from its customers.

Companies like Nordstrom and Amazon, as well as Apple, Costco and others, are effectively elevating the perception of what constitutes excellent customer service. Golf courses, not so much.

It is time for golf courses to follow their collective lead. The Risk-free, Full Value Raincheck is a step in that direction.

And, yes, it’s not perfect. But the goal is to strike a balance between giving customers everything they want or ask for and the business implications for those things. For example, with full vouchers, what if someone completed 17 holes before the siren went off?  Do they get a full 18-hole voucher?  That is awfully generous, and it seems that generosity is always a good policy. And some discretion might be applied for the rare times when this might happen. More than likely, golfers will wait out the weather delay hoping to complete their rounds. And if they cheat? We discovered with that at least 98% of golfers honestly reported the number of holes they played. The cheaters will make themselves apparent and can be dealt with accordingly.

Golf courses can choose to maintain ingrained raincheck policies that require staff calculations and accounting nightmares, or they can lean into progressive customer service-centric policies that build customer loyalty and create a differentiation from those in the market tied to the “old ways.” It’s about looking ahead, not staying behind.

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