You Named Your Golf Course What?

Article originally published by John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2011.

To take a spin through the many online registries of golf-course names, as I did this week, is to be humbled by the imaginative power of those who dream up the names. In golf-course America, almost every valley is a Happy Valley. Eagles soar, buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope still play.

golf course names

There are, to be precise, 149 U.S. golf courses with eagle in the name, according to a count of nearly 13,000 golf facilities by the National Golf Foundation. They range from the Soaring Eagles Golf Course in Horseheads, N.Y., to the somewhat less inspiringly named Spread Eagle Golf Course in Spread Eagle, Wis. There is an Eagle Point golf course in Oregon and an Eagle Pointe in Indiana. The difference, primarily of interest to marketers, is approximately the same as between shop and shoppe.

Antelope-named courses predictably show up mainly in the West. Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona, for instance, each have courses known as Antelope Hills. But buffalo (alluded to in 131 course names) and deer (with 149 mentions, tying the eagle) span the country. The word “deer” is a convenient naming device because deer are ubiquitous, to the point of actually being a nuisance in many regions, thanks to a fall-off in natural predators. Yet deer still connote woodland innocence. Thus real-estate developers, the primary source of new golf courses for at least the last 40 years, retain plausible credibility when they transform previously featureless tracts of land into golf nirvanas with names such as Deer Park, Deer Creek, Deer Meadow, Deer Run, Deer Ridge and Deer Trace, not to mention Doe Valley and Fawn Crest. These samples barely scratch the surface of deer-golf nomenclature.

The allure, or illusion, of golf as a country sport, as opposed to an urban or suburban one, dates back to its late-19th-century arrival in America. The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., which built its first course in 1893 and has since hosted three U.S. Opens and a Ryder Cup, didn’t need more than that for its name because it was the first.

About 30% of U.S. golf facilities are still called “country clubs” (even though a quarter of them are open to the public and thus not true clubs). That’s down from 40% in 1990, according to the NGF, as naming conventions have grown less hidebound. Who needs “country club” when you can dub your new course The Wilderness at Fortune Bay (in Minnesota), Ragged Mountain (in New Hampshire) or Spreading Antlers (in Colorado)?

It used to be that golf clubs primarily strove to project images of tranquil refuge and stability. Thus you have scores of courses named Lakeside, Lakeshore, Lakeview and so forth. Also popular are meadows, valleys, springs and brooks, frequently in combination: Meadowbrook, Valley Meadows, Meadow Springs, etc. As for strength and stability, the only conceivable thing more reassuring than the mighty oak—Oak Hill, Oakmont, Royal Oak, Charter Oak, Lonesome Oak, Twisted Oak, etc.—would be some kind of stone oak. Sure enough, we have Stone Oak Country Club in Holland, Ohio.

But in recent years the pendulum has swung to the other side of the clock. To create buzz, developers are using macho names like Horse Thief Country Club in Tehachapi, Calif., Renegade Golf Course in Wyoming, The Bandit in Texas, The Hombre in Florida, the Devil’s Claw in Arizona and Thunder Canyon—one each in Idaho and Nevada. The names of some of the newer “The” courses are basically dares: The Gauntlet (Fredericksburg, Va.), The Fortress (Frankenmuth, Mich.), The Challenge at Manele (Hawaii), The Quest at Houghton Lake (Mich.) and The Nutcracker (Granbury, Texas).

If you were of a mind, you could plot a fine bachelor party based on golf-course names. First, ditch the bride and her friends at Chippendale Golf Course in Kokomo, Ind., and proceed 25 miles west to Bachelor Runn in Flora. From there, visit Rogues’ Roost in Bridgeport, N.Y., or Rogue Valley in Medford, Ore., drop by Rooster Run in Petaluma, Calif., and perhaps the LuLu Country Club in North Hills, Pa., before winding things up at the Studley Wood Golf Club in Oxford, England. The next morning, depending on how you feel, you might trot over to the Isle of Wedmore Golf Club, also in England, or decide to chuck the whole thing and disappear. Suggested destinations: Stoner Creek Country Club in Paris, Ky., or Par T Golf Course in Anchorage, Alaska.

Many such journeys could be planned. Golf-course names, if not the courses themselves, provide a fair gloss on American history. You could start at Plymouth Country Club in Massachusetts, and continue to Patriot Hills Golf Club and Rip Van Winkle Country Club in New York. Then, Peace Pipe Country Club in New Jersey, Pocahontas Golf Course in Iowa, the Links at Davy Crockett in Tennessee, Little Bighorn Golf Club in Indiana, Westward Ho Country Club in South Dakota, Oregon Trail Country Club in Idaho, Conestoga Golf Club in Nevada and, finally, Settlers Bay Golf Course in Wasilla, Alaska (Sarah Palin’s town).

My favorite golf-course names, however, are the most whimsical. I love Clustered Spires in Maryland, True Blue in South Carolina and Ozzie’s Corner Golf Course in Hamlin, N.Y. Sadly, the Three Little Bakers Country Club & Dinner Theater in Delaware recently closed.

I’m also partial to the many names that play on golf’s unknowableness, such as Mystic Dunes (Florida), Mystery Hills (Wisconsin), Magic Valley (Tennessee), Druids Glen (Washington), Superstition Mountain (Arizona) and Spirit Hollow (Iowa).

Sometimes those responsible for naming courses simply try too hard, resulting in alliterative misfires like Tees and Trees, The Timbers at Troy and Krooked Kreek. In other instances they don’t try hard enough, such as the Outdoor Country Club, the Hi-Level Golf Course and the uninviting Naval Inventory Control Point Golf Course, all in Pennsylvania.

Far too many course names sound like they were lifted from children’s books: Candywood, Melody Valley, Happy Hollow, Sunny Meadows, Sugar Isle, Songbird Hills, Kissing Camels, Growling Frog.

Luckily, these are countered by a slate of names that seem to get golf’s personality just about right: Chagrin Valley, Crab Meadow, Bogey Hills, Grindstone Neck, Murder Rock, Nutters Crossing, Ruffled Feathers, Sourwood Forest and The Creek at Hard Labor.

I’m not sure how retirees respond to courses with names like Trails End, Twilight, Teetering Rocks, Tumbledown Trails, Coldwinters and Petrifying Springs. You’d think they’d prefer to play at Endwell Greens or Paradise Pastures.

House Speaker John Boehner was recently caught on an open mic describing his two-under-par round at a remote high-end course in Nebraska called Dismal River. There are a surprising number of similarly dour course names: Stoney Links, Stumpy Lake, Reedy Creek, Useless Bay, Potholes, Charwood, Rainsville, Furnace Creek and The Pit Golf Links, much less Mold Golf Club in Wales. Maybe the owners are just doing the best with what they have. If scenic knolls are all you’ve got, I guess you go with Scenic Knolls (Mitchell, Neb.). At least nobody, so far, has tried to perk things up by using the word “Golfe.”

Article originally published by John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2011.


Creating a Distinctive Brand Experience

Brand Experience (definition): “The cumulative brand impressions garnered from visual, verbal and experiential encounters with the brand. The brand experience encompasses a range of intellectual, sensory and emotional connections.”

brand experience

Last month there were several stories in the news about fake Apple stores in China. Not only did these stores carry counterfeit Apple products, they also mimicked the architectural details, staircases, genius bars, graphics, employee uniforms and ambience of an Apple store. Unlike the myriad of brand knockoffs in China, though, these were easily detected because Apple has so scrupulously choreographed the brand experience within its stores.

All retail, service and hospitality businesses have a brand identity – an image of the business that is inscribed in their customers’ or prospects’ minds. Each identity is shaped by all that it is, says and does. An identity is more than a logo and a name, it includes location, products, staffing, design, service, amenities, architecture, signage, menu, music and more.

All these elements can be allowed to evolve tactically, with no particular plan, resulting in an undistinguished, contradictory and confusing place. Or, all of these elements can be orchestrated to create a coherent brand experience that provides a distinctive, appealing and competitive offering to its audiences. The latter is called a strategic identity, and it’s crucial for creating a distinctive brand experience. When it’s done well, it is memorable and unique. When it’s done poorly, it can be easy to imitate, or worse, confusing to the customer.

For example, Starbucks invested heavily in décor, product and personnel to create a distinctive brand experience within its stores. Customers know that wherever they are, whether travelling or close to home, they will always get their satisfying venti latte, served by friendly people, in a comfortable and familiar environment. The locations aren’t cookie-cutter in their layout, but they have an ambiance that their customers recognize and appreciate. A recently renewed focus on brand experience has been a key to Starbucks’ success.

By positioning a service business appropriately and focusing on delivering a meaningful and unique brand experience, a business can successfully increase visits, encourage loyalty and command a premium.


Google + Motorola

Google's acquisition

Google’s acquisition of Motorola’s Mobile business raises a number of fundamental brand questions and is sure to be a topic of much discussion this week. Some of the critical brand-oriented questions for Google, and for Motorola, are as follows:

What business is Google in?

Most people still think of Google as a Search company largely due to its consistent domination over Yahoo! and Microsoft. Others think of Google as a technology enabled advertising company, since something like 97% of the company’s revenues come through paid search and display ads, and also considering that most of its myriad of free services are advertising supported. But then there is Android, the smart phone OS that has been growing by leaps and bounds. Google now adds the handset vendor to its core competitive set of Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, making their business focus hard to pin down.

If you look at Google’s original mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, it seems like Android, and now Motorola are somehow tangential to that mission. Accessibility and usability, in terms of a presence on every mobile device available, seems to be taking priority over organization, or is it?

How do these brands interrelate?

A big question on everyone’s mind will be what happens to the Motorola brand on smart phones and tablets. Will they all get “Googled?” What about the heritage, history and midwestern work ethic of company based in Libertyville Ill, vs. the kinetic energy and opportunistic drive that emanates from Mountain View? How tightly or loosely will these companies be integrated?

And how about Android’s dramatic rise in customer adoption, based largely on its openness and hardware neutrality? One very good reason to keep the Motorola Brand separate would be to maintain that neutral position for Android. To indicate that this was a clear priority, Larry Page today posted a list of supportive messages from Android hardware partners on his Google+ page.

Was this a brand buy or a patent buy?

Much has been made about the patent wars being fought in the mobile space, and in fact Google has claimed that Apple and Microsoft have been cooperating to keep the Android OS on the defensive by aggressively pursuing patent lawsuits. Google today used that exact example this to explain the reasons behind its Motorola investment. Larry Page himself said the following:

“Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.”

There is no doubt Google will seek to combine their OS-oriented mindset to Motorola’s hardware expertise, much like Apple did with the iPhone. The big difference, of course is that Apple has always been a hardware and software specialist, an expert in integrating the yin and the yang to deliver the premium customer experience that drives the Apple Brand. Can Google do the same with its brand? With both brands? We foresee a number of interesting discussions and questions on this subject for many months to come.


Be The Brand Experience

Brand Experience: Focus on Airline Brands

There is one word that captures the problem with most airlines’ brand experience, which also suggests a solution for improving brand experience. That word is anxiety.

Airlines today create anxiety for their passengers at every stage of the experience.
Airline Brand Experience

Anxiety is created:
– by not knowing which airlines fly to which places.
– by rapidly changing dynamic route and fare models.
– by suspecting you may have overpaid for the flight.
– by learning that your “reward” miles can’t be used.
– by learning you have to stay a weekend day to reduce your fare.
– by feeling business travelers are being taken advantage of unfairly.
– by not understanding the relative comfort of different planes.
– by not knowing the time that may be required to pass through security.
– by the uncertain types of meals, snacks or amenities offered.
– by anticipation of over-filled planes and crammed seating.
– by potential delays in departures and missing connections.
– by not knowing if your luggage is overweight.
– by knowing that your luggage might get lost.
– by not knowing if and where you need to check in for your flight.
– by long, slow check-in lines and the fear of missing your flight.
– by last-minute changes in departure gates.
– by changes in equipment that invalidate your reserved seat.
– by “cattle call” boarding procedures.
– by trying to find space for carry-on luggage.
– by wondering, once boarded, if the plane will actually take off.
– by uncertain timing of in-flight drink and meal service.
– by wondering if the plane will be diverted or circled before landing.
– by having to watch every single bag that is unloaded.
– by the possibility of theft, damage or misdirected luggage.
Brand Experience
Anxiety reduced:
If the airlines would hire creative brand strategists to evaluate the airline experience from a passenger’s point of view, with the sole intent of finding ways to reduce passenger anxiety, they could significantly improve the brand experience, and do so largely at minimal cost.

Airlines today fly the same planes to the same places, at the same speeds, with the same services, for the same prices. Most airlines have pretty much become commodities, competing based on price. Few have truly differentiated brands (or try to be the brand experience). Providing an actually improved brand experience will create a strong competitive advantage.

Philip Durbrow, CEO of Marshall Strategy was rewarded for being Pan Am’s Number One Passenger in miles traveled by being given an all-expense paid first-class, two-week African safari for two – back when air travel was pleasant and efforts were made to treat passengers like humans, not cargo.