Thursday, November 13, 2008

Man Camp

Just returned from a golf trip to Bandon Dunes, Oregon. We played a Ryder Cup style tournament with 16 guys (the motley crew to your left) over 3 days and 72 holes, with a few drinks mixed in. Waking up Monday morning with a golf hangover, I remembered I hadn't had time to prepare for my class that afternoon. This got me thinking about the business model that Mike Keiser has built at the resort and a lecture began to form in my head.

One of the guys on the trip referred to Bandon as Man Camp. If you haven't been, it is difficult to describe the allure. The location is remote (a 3-hour drive from Eugene and over 4 from Portland, with not much in between). Mike Keiser (the founder of Recycled Paper Greetings) had a vision to create a true links experience in the US.

As described by Stepen Goodwin on the book jacket to Dream Golf, The Making of Bandon Dunes, "Bandon Dunes would be a 'pure' golf experience, pitting the golfer against the elements, allowing the land to dictate the course, banning the use of carts, making the golfer feel as one with both nature and the game. To achieve that goal would take a great amount of planning and hard work, the struggle of man against nature in shaping the land into three courses that would become the Bandon Dunes complex. Convention wisdom said it was impossible. And even if he built it, would anyone come to this remote Oregon outpost?" Well, built it he did and they have come. Less than 10 years from the opening of the first course, the $150 million investment has been recovered. And the courses are all ranked in the Top 25 courses open to the public by Golf Digest, with Pacific Dunes (#2), Bandon Dunes (#7) and Bandon Trails (#21).

So what is about the business model that is so successful:

  • Focus on your core target market - The original marketing plan for Bandon Dunes is as simple as they come - "Great golf + great food + great people = marketing plan". They have done a great job of serving the market. Although I've seen a few brave women, the resort is full of middle to upper income middle aged guys who love serious golf. The offering is all about golf and camraderie - get there, stay on site, traditional golf, multiple courses, excellent pub food, and of course, the Bunker Bar (complete with poker, pool, stogies, and a bartender that will stay as long as necessary). No spa..yet, but I hear one may be in the plans. A gift shop with nice jewelry is adjacent to the front desk so you don't forget that important purchase prior to checking out, to help with the permission for the next visit. This is not surprising from a greeting card guy, who realized that $5 is expensive for a Valentine's Day card, but incredibly cheap compared to the price if not purchased...
  • Manage seasonal demand through pricing - Weather on the Oregon coast can range from gorgeous to downright nasty and can change from one of the other in a matter of minutes. While pricing never approaches Pebble Beach, it can be very expensive during peak season and more difficult to justify to the spouse at home. Both trips I've made have been in early November when prices are reduced by 50%. For the true golf fanatics, the second round of the day is half-price all year and the third is free. Also, if the weather gets really bad, they offer a full refund voucher good for your next trip - all about customer retention.
  • Grow organically - It took ten years of planning to get the first course open and nobody had any idea how many golfers would come. Once the first course opened, ground was broken on the second (Pacific Dunes). Several years later, Bandon Trails opened in 1995 and the fourth course (Old Macdonald) is scheduled to open by summer 2010. Certainly there must be a temptation given the success to grow faster or target other segments, but Keiser is committed to staying true to the vision, and making sure everyone can get in 36 holes in a day.I can't wait to go back, which is clearly goal #1 in the list of critical success factors if anyone is still following the business model tangent.

I'll leave you with the 11th hole at Pacific Dunes and a link to Dream Golf if you are interested in more of the Bandon Dunes story: