Imagine you are watching a commercial – one that takes place on a golf course. A golfer is having an issue unrelated to his game. What kind of issue might that be? I’m guessing the mental image you came up with was a guy who really needed to pee. Golfers tend to be older, play for hours at a time, and drink beer. When Flomax (a drug that treats frequent urinary symptoms) chose a setting for their ad, they chose a golf course. As it turns out, that ad became the most recalled drug ad of its TV season.
Restrooms are a universal need. Golfers may not discuss their digestive lives, but it’s a safe assumption they use a toilet on a regular basis. When discussing this topic with golf course superintendents, many of them will immediately mention their worries over losing female golfers due to poor restroom accommodations. They have good reason to think so, as this issue is hardly under the radar for female golfers.
Donna Orender, an author and women’s advocate, discussed the importance of providing quality restrooms if they want to appeal to women who make up a fifth of golfers in the U.S. If women consider restrooms in their spending decisions for retail stores and restaurants, they will certainly consider them if a restroom visit requires a trip to the clubhouse and an interrupted golf game.
It’s not just women, either. My company conducted a survey of 63 male golfers at a local driving range and found that 84 percent of the respondents felt that their opinion of a golf course was affected by the quality of the restrooms. Even more telling was that a majority of them said they would be willing to pay $5 or more to play on a course with “clean and spacious restrooms instead of porta-johns.”
This should not be a surprise given what other studies found regarding public restrooms. According to The National Association for Continence, 38 percent of men said they always use a seat cover in a public restroom (49 percent of women) showing that cleanliness is certainly a concern regardless of gender.
The same study found that only 20 percent of people are very comfortable using bathrooms or restrooms besides the ones in their own home. You combine all of this with the study’s findings that 40 percent of adults ages 30 to 70 have one or multiple problems with bladder control, and you begin to see the picture of why clean, hospitable, and available restrooms are important.
Though some golfers tough it out and return for future business despite poor restroom accommodations, there will always be a percentage of the customer base that will insist on quality restroom service and golf elsewhere. Though it’s difficult to discern the exact extent, it seems likely that a lack of quality restroom options is – in effect – an invisible tax that holds profits back. Improving the restroom experience isn’t just about making the course nicer; over the long haul it helps the bottom line, as well.
So what types of options are out there for on-course restrooms? As someone in the restroom business, I can tell you that there are many different restroom types, but they all fall into two basic categories – those with water (flush restrooms) and those without.
Let me start out with the more basic of the two, the waterless restrooms. They do not have the best reputation with people due to the smell and direct view of human waste. However, they are not without their uses in certain situations. Even a porta-potty is better than having nothing.
That said, it would be a mistake to think that porta-potties are the only budget-conscious option. Vault restrooms, while still waterless, are often very durable and install in a day. They also look nice. Next to porta-potties they are the easiest to maintain with only one recommended pumping a year.
A compost toilet is essentially a vault toilet that requires more maintenance, except that they have the potential to be environmentally beneficial by producing fertilizer (although this aspect is usually ignored or not met). There are also models available that have inviting interiors and exteriors, unlike vault restrooms which typically have a more industrial look.
From the user’s perspective, flush restrooms will always be ideal. They are familiar, they do not smell bad, and they have a sink for handwashing, which is an activity even most men partake in. The biggest reason flush restrooms are not available every four or five holes on every golf course in America is cost.
The irony is that the building itself is usually the most affordable part. A golf course might be able to build a low-cost restroom structure, but would still need utility connections. Excavating and installing the required water/sewer lines to the building site could cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.
For most golf courses a $150,000 price tag is not a practical expense.
Fortunately, there is a recently developed way to deliver flush restrooms on the course – without the need for utilities. Similar to RV’s and buses, these systems require little water and use holding tanks. However, they have the look and spacious environment of a public restroom. There are companies that can provide these “just add water” flush restroom trailers as rentals.
Other companies offer structures that can be placed in the ground permanently and appear to customers as a completely normal flush restroom. Either way, golf courses now have a way to affordably provide the highest quality restrooms to their golfers.
Just like the clubhouse or the fairways, restrooms represent the course and contribute to a golfer’s experience and impression. Sanitary technology has advanced to where courses wanting to improve in this area have a wealth of options available that fit a variety of budgets. Not providing any restrooms is also an option, but unless courses want to continue providing material for Flomax ads, I suggest they make a different decision.
Kyle Earlywine’s background in business, restroom advocacy, and almost a lifetime of using toilets have given him a relatable and practical knowledge of everything restroom related. He started his career in restroom innovation in 2010 when he joined Green Flush Technologies, the “reinventors of the flush restroom.” Kyle and his company specialize in providing affordable flush restroom solutions for areas not served by utilities.