The Long Drive Agency Story
Blake Davis had yet to pick up a golf club when John Daly ushered in the grip-it-and-rip-it approach to the game in the early 90s.
Consciously or not, however, the soon-to-be-married marketing pro channeled his inner Daly two decades later, winning a long-drive contest on his bachelor party weekend.
While his wedding weekend heroics likely didn’t inspire millions of golfers to tee it-high-and-let-it-fly, that shining moment played a pivotal role in the eventual formation of Long Drive Agency (LDA), the full-service digital marketing firm Davis launched in 2014.
“We wanted to go into the golf space, and my wife and I were trying to come up with names for the company,” recounts Davis, who led the digital marketing efforts for a large media group before establishing his own boutique agency. “She saw the certificate [from the long-drive hole], picked it up, and said, ‘Why don’t you just call it Long Drive Agency?’.”
To be fair, breaking through in the golf industry has been slightly more challenging than winning an on-course competition or naming his company. But now, more than five years in, Davis and his team are helping courses and country clubs of every size build and manage their digital presence, communicate with customers, and generate new leads.
Most course managers have only a rudimentary understanding of marketing and communications. Even those who realize the impact an integrated strategy can have on their business often lack the willingness or the resources to invest in it.
Instead, they ignore both altogether, try to go it alone, or partner with someone who doesn’t fully appreciate the nuances of their market and the individual facility.
“Once we got to know the golf space we learned clubs are more likely to work with their tee sheet provider to do their marketing than they were to outsource it to another vendor or partner,” Davis says. “Selling tee times and marketing a club through every stage of the customer journey are two entirely different disciplines.”
Davis knew there was a better way for golf properties to interact with members and guests, so he set out to provide it.
The journey began in 2014 at Eldorado Country Club, a private facility in McKinney, Texas. Davis, who was a member of Eldorado and had recently formed LDA, was asked to help the club evaluate technology partners and enhance its web presence.
Soon after Davis converted Eldorado’s existing site into a mobile-ready platform, Sugar Land, Texas-based C-Bons International Golf Group Management (CBIGG) acquired the club along with a portfolio of other private and public courses. The new ownership was impressed with LDA’s work and hired the firm to overhaul websites for the company’s entire portfolio of courses.
“We were all over the place,” says Dale Folmar, vice president of operations for CBIGG, which now owns and manages 26 golf properties across the U.S. “Another company was handling our web presence and trying to provide a consistent look, but the sites were antiquated, support was poor, and making changes to content was difficult. Several of the properties weren’t [even] on the same platform.”
Davis was initially tasked with developing websites that were “more in tune to other industries, not like those of an old, traditional golf company,” as Folmar describes it.
In time, LDA began helping with other elements of CBIGG’s digital strategy, essentially becoming a de facto in-house marketing department.
“LDA has filled that void for us company-wide,” Folmar says. “We have the challenge of marketing to public players as well as more than 12,000 private club members, so the messages are often quite different. LDA has advanced along with us, providing various new and exciting tools to better communicate with our customers.”
While working with CBIGG, LDA narrowed its focus to golf, which allowed the agency to “niche down” and concentrate on serving small to midsize management groups, private clubs and high-end public courses. Today, LDA’s client base is split 70/30 among the private/public sectors.
A Different Approach
Unlike many technology-centric companies in the golf space, LDA doesn’t develop back-end software, electronic tee sheets or point-of-sale (POS) systems; instead, the firm partners with clubs to create custom strategies that combine technology with traditional marketing techniques.
Since its founding, LDA has created a host of services to help clubs build their brands, tell their stories, and interact with members and guests in a more consistent and interactive way.
DigitalRange, which was originally developed as part of the solution set for CBIGG, has evolved into an industry-leading tool that enables users at every level of technical sophistication to manage their facility’s website, email, file sharing, forms and social media programs. LDA’s flagship product integrates a full suite of “best-of-breed” digital platforms into one cloud-based interface that’s controlled from a single dashboard.
“One of the biggest improvements since working with LDA has been how easy it is to use Digital Range, especially the website editor component,” says Molly Rawlins, director of communications and marketing for the Northern Texas PGA (NTPGA). “Our communications team is responsible for managing three websites, so it was imperative that it (a technology solution) be simple to use. It’s straightforward and gives us a high-end look.”
LDA’s partnership began with NTPGA began several years ago, when the association was planning to overhaul its corporate website as well as that of its philanthropic arm, the Northern Texas PGA Foundation. That relationship quickly grew into a complete rebrand of the foundation.
“For projects of this magnitude, we needed to do our due diligence to make sure we could execute these projects at a high caliber,” Rawlins notes. “LDA’s industry knowledge and products (Digital Range) really appealed to our needs, and we loved that they were focused on golf. They listened to our current challenges and incorporated our ideas to help build out a plan.”
Similar to NTPGA, Brooke Atkins was spearheading a rebranding effort at La Cumbre Country Club when she engaged LDA. The newly hired communications director was “looking beyond the traditional companies that produce cookie-cutter materials for country clubs and resorts,” and found the agency’s collaborative spirit to be a compelling factor in her decision.
“I wanted a team that handles projects like they work with me, not for me,” Atkins says. “After coming to visit us in Santa Barbara and seeing our club in person, Blake and his team understood what the La Cumbre lifestyle was really about and incorporated that concept into all of our collateral. They take direct ownership of the branding objectives of La Cumbre and its assets like it’s their own club.”
Over time, LDA strengthened its relationship with La Cumbre and now plays an integral role in all of its marketing and communications efforts, including maintenance and ongoing customer support.
Changing with the Times
Technology will continue to reshape the ways clubs communicate with and engage members. To keep pace, managers must be willing to embrace innovation, a fact that will, in many cases, require them to reimagine their club’s overall experience.
“Clubs need to start thinking about themselves as a media company,” Davis says. “Apple and Amazon have trained us to expect and get things more quickly and easily. That applies to [club] members, too.”
To illustrate how those interactions might look moving forward, Davis points to ClubChat, a text message communication platform designed from the ground up by LDA that allows Clubs to communicate with Members in real time, all via text.
The technology, which LDA integrates with a client’s social media platforms, enables users to share information, take orders and reservations, and reach members on-the-go with updates, videos and photos.
ClubChat is the first ever omni-channel communication platform designed specifically for country clubs. It gives them the ability to communicate with members via text, social media messages, email and (in 2021) website live-chat, all in a single cloud-based platform controlled via web or mobile app.
“It’s no secret the majority of clubs struggle with communication and keeping their members informed of everything happening at the club on a weekly basis,” Davis says. “Text messaging is quickly becoming the preferred method of business to consumer communication with its astounding 98% open rate within the first three minutes of receipt.”
Progressive clubs are also turning to novelty offerings like ClubBooth, LDA’s turn-key photo booth solution, to generate additional event revenue. Ideal for weddings, holiday parties and other celebrations, ClubBooth is an easy to implement tool for generating member-produced content and collecting customer data. Launched in late 2019, it’s already been utilized in more than 65 clubs around the U.S.
“The best digital strategy tells the country club’s story across all forms of digital media, from a club’s website to social media channels, email marketing to a mobile app,” Davis says. “It’a combination of all of those that make digital marketing one of the most efficient and successful ways to target golfers [now and in the future].”
Those words, spoken by a 30-something millennial whose marketing agency literally operates at the intersection where technology and tradition converge in the golf industry, should ring true for any club seeking a strategy that will drive positive outcomes for a long time to come. With more than 100 clubs in its portfolio, it’s clear that Long Drive Agency is in for the long haul.