LARGO — The city's struggling golf course will get an influx of new customers this summer, thanks to a Groupon promotion that got 768 takers last month. But the extent of the discount has one Largo city commissioner wondering if the course is "giving away the farm" in its quest to fill its fairways.
Using Groupon — a website that offers daily deals through coupons to targeted audiences — was one of the new marketing strategies city staff presented to the City Commission this year during a discussion of the golf course's future.
The course required a $200,000 infusion from the city's general fund this year to break even, and may require similar funding next year.
The Groupon deal offered one round of golf each for two players with the use of a golf cart (normally $42) and two hot dogs ($2 each, but they're being donated by the course's cafe, which is not run by the city). It was a $46 value for $21. The two-for-one deal was available from June 8 to 10. The hundreds who took the deal have until Oct. 31 to cash in their coupons.
The course and Groupon split the revenue from the deal, so $10.50 for each coupon goes to Groupon and the other $10.50 (minus a credit card processing fee of about 26 cents for some coupons) goes to the course.
All told, the golf course should receive about $8,000 for a product (1,536 rounds of golf) that would normally net $32,256. Commissioner Curtis Holmes is not happy about that markdown.
"Marketing is fine … but I don't consider virtually giving away a product or service as marketing," Holmes wrote last month in an e-mail chiding city staff for "giving away the farm."
Holmes said Tuesday he understands the desire to get more people on the course, but he would have preferred a "buy one, get one" coupon in a local newspaper.
"It was a nice effort, but to me it just wasn't a very good deal for the golf course," Holmes said.
Course managers have only superlatives for Groupon, though, which they say exposed their course to a new demographic — people younger than 50 — that they need to reach if the course is going to become profitable.
"Groupon has been nothing but positive," said Chip Potts, a manager in Largo's Recreation, Parks & Arts Department. "It's filling in empty spots in the parking lot, and empty tee times."
A survey of golf course patrons by city staff this year found 69 percent are 60 to 71 years old. Conversely, 61 percent of the Groupon golfers are younger than 50.
The majority of the Groupon buyers have never used the course before, according to city marketing specialist Jason Wilson, so Potts views the $8,000 as a bonus. The key will be getting those first-time users to come back, which Potts says is a focus of course staff.
Commissioner Woody Brown, a supporter of the Groupon idea when staff brought it to a work session in May, agreed Tuesday with Potts' assessment of its success.
"I knew that we weren't going to make (much) money on people the first time they come," Brown said. "That's not the idea of the program. The idea is to expose new people to your product. And it seemed to do that well."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.