Get­ting a tee Time

Golf Today Northwest - - News - By ED TRAVIS

Acou­ple of days ago I called a lo­cal course for a tee time. Af­ter get­ting a record­ing telling me all about their fab­u­lous restau­rant--“press 1”, fol­lowed by to chat with the group sales depart­ment--“press 2”, etc., etc., etc. FI­NALLY I heard, “To con­nect with the golf shop pro­fes­sional staff please hold the line and we will an­swer shortly.” Well it wasn’t ex­actly “shortly,” but even­tu­ally a voice came on the phone with, “Golf shop. Billy. What can I do for you?” Need­less to say I didn’t get into the tribu­la­tions of try­ing to speak with a hu­man so all I said was I wanted to make a tee time for Mon­day, five days away. The re­sponse was, “Oh…well you can do that on line.” Pa­tiently point­ing out that I was sure he was cor­rect but since I was al­ready talk­ing to him couldn’t he please give me a tee time? (I re­ally did say please even though sev­eral other words were pass­ing through my mind.) The date was made and I sent it on via email to my friends with the in­junc­tion ev­ery­one had to show up since I couldn’t con­tem­plate go­ing through all that again should a change be needed. The point of this story is I didn’t have to go through all that in the first place since it seems like the en­tire world makes tee times over the In­ter­net and so should I. A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of tee times are booked through on­line tee time ser­vices, so-called third­party ven­dors, with another large per­cent­age on in­di­vid­ual course web­sites. Both those num­bers will con­tinue grow ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try ob­servers. The two largest third-party ven­dors, Golfnow and Tee­off.com, have the tech­ni­cal mus­cle to han­dle most any num­ber if tee time trans­ac­tions. Plus their mar­ket­ing savvy can be fo­cused on those cour­ses with which they have agree­ments. Tee­off.com the of­fi­cial tee time site of the PGA Tour was formed when the Tour made an in­vest­ment in Ezlinks Golf. Ac­cord­ing to Gary Co­hen, Ezlinks Golf CEO, “Tee­off.com by PGA TOUR rep­re­sents more than 3,000 cour­ses in the US and sells more than a mil­lion rounds an­nu­ally.” Golfnow is a divi­sion of the Golf Chan­nel, part of the NBC Sports Group, and NBC is owned by me­dia gi­ant Com­cast. Dan Hig­gins, a spokesman for Golfnow, re­sponded to the same in­quiry with, “More than 9,000 golf cour­ses part­ner with Golfnow to use some com­bi­na­tion of its pro­pri­etary tee-sheet and point-of-sale tech­nol­ogy, as well as the largest tee-time dis­tri­bu­tion mar­ket­place in the world. Golfnow fa­cil­i­tated

the book­ing of nearly 16 mil­lion rounds in 2016 and its mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties were re­spon­si­ble for gen­er­at­ing over $400 mil­lion in rev­enue for its course part­ners.” So Golfnow is much larger than Tee­off.com and re­cently both have made their ser­vices even more at­trac­tive with the re­duc­tion or elim­i­na­tion of add-ons called book­ing fees which in­creased the cost of a round. Ezlinks/tee­off.com does not charge any book­ing fee and Golfnow does not charge mem­bers of their $99 VIP pro­gram and they say the cost is quickly re­couped from the sav­ing of roughly $10 per book­ing plus in­creased re­wards points for VIP mem­bers. The cost of a round is a pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tion fac­tor for most golfers so we asked about who sets the greens fee when book­ing is made through both ser­vices. Hig­gins: “Pric­ing rounds al­ways has been at the dis­cre­tion of the golf course op­er­a­tor. We en­cour­age the use of Golfnow’s pro­pri­etary tech­nolo­gies that can help them max­i­mize yield and bet­ter man­age their rev­enue, but that is up to the op­er­a­tors if they choose to do so. If a course com­pen­sates Golfnow via barter, pric­ing for any barter rounds are de­ter­mined by Golfnow, sub­ject to any terms agreed to with the golf course.” Co­hen re­sponded, “Tee­off.com by PGA TOUR

is a vi­brant mar­ket­place where cour­ses can set prices. Many cour­ses fluc­tu­ate pric­ing daily, of­fer­ing spe­cials or in­cen­tives based on de­mand. Other cour­ses price tee times at par­ity across the mar­ket­place. Golf course own­ers are fully in con­trol of their tee time pric­ing so they can of­fer what­ever price they would like to the mil­lions of golfers vis­it­ing Tee­off.com each month.” He con­tin­ued, “Tee­off.com by PGA TOUR also of­fers DEAL Times, spe­cially marked in­ven­tory golfers won’t find any­where else. These hand se­lected times are pre-paid, priced by Tee­off.com and pro­vide golfers with a unique op­por­tu­nity to try new cour­ses at an in­cred­i­ble price.” Seems straight­for­ward enough but from the golf course op­er­a­tor’s stand­point work­ing with an out­side com­pany may not be all that sim­ple. Bartered rounds are es­pe­cially a hot topic with hardly a week go­ing by with­out another ar­ti­cle in the trade press de­scrib­ing prob­lems from over­book­ing to soft­ware glitches or pric­ing er­rors. To be fair though, many of the ar­ti­cle au­thors are golf man­age­ment con­sul­tants and pro­mote the idea course op­er­a­tors don’t need a third-party ven­dor if they have a good mar­ket­ing plan built around an email list hav­ing sev­eral thou­sand ad­dresses. An­swer­ing the ques­tion of how course op­er­a­tors pay for Tee­off. com’s ser­vices Co­hen said, “Tee­off. com’s model is dif­fer­ent than oth­ers in the in­dus­try as most cour­ses par­tic­i­pate on a pay-for-per­for­mance ba­sis. The cost for a course to join Tee­off.com and mar­ket in­ven­tory is free. Tee­off.com only gets paid if we sell a tee time, a sim­i­lar model to the hos­pi­tal­ity (ho­tel / air­line) in­dus­tries. Com­mis­sion on Tee­off.com by PGA TOUR is 15%. Tee­off.com only gets paid if we suc­cess­fully move rounds for our course clients. Our in­ter­ests are fully aligned with the golf course clients.” Hig­gins said about Golfnow’s fee struc­ture, “Golfnow of­fers mul­ti­ple op­tions from which a golf course part­ner can choose as the one that fits their busi­ness the best. These in­clude, but are not lim­ited to, com­mis­sion, cash, barter, etc.” Fi­nally we asked what the fu­ture holds for the third part tee time busi­ness and Hig­gins an­swered, “Golfnow will con­tinue to de­liver tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions that help golfers eas­ily find the right tee time at the right course and en­joy their rounds. For our course part­ners, Golfnow will con­tinue to add value to their busi­nesses by pro­vid­ing en­hanced mar­ket­ing, tech­nol­ogy and con­sul­ta­tive ser­vices so they can fo­cus on pro­vid­ing su­pe­rior

cus­tomer ser­vice to ex­ist­ing and new golfers. Our pri­mary goal is to re­duce the bur­den of tech­nol­ogy and op­er­a­tions, so that to­gether we can grow par­tic­i­pa­tion in the game of golf and help them op­er­ate prof­itable busi­nesses.” An in­ter­est­ing tech­nol­ogy-cen­tered ap­proach and Tee­off.com’s Co­hen stressed the busi­ness in­te­gra­tion of his ser­vice. “On­line book­ing has sim­pli­fied the process of find­ing your next tee time. Con­sumers look to tech­nol­ogy to help them make pur­chases. For tee times, sites like Tee­off. com by PGA TOUR sim­pli­fies the task of book­ing a tee time. We’ll let you know what times are avail­able near you, how many play­ers, when and we will even help you find a great deal. Our en­tire fo­cus is to feed golfers pas­sion for the game and to help con­nect golfers with their next round of golf. Be­cause we pro­vide this in­cred­i­ble ser­vice, a ser­vice con­sumers ex­pect from other in­dus­tries, we an­tic­i­pate that we’ll con­tinue to grow. We also be­lieve that now that we’ve re­moved book­ing fees, a bar­rier to book­ing on­line, that we will ac­cel­er­ate this growth and con­sumers’ pref­er­ence for re­search­ing and book­ing their next round on­line.” Adding some per­spec­tive, there are roughly 24 mil­lion U.S. golfers play­ing some 465 mil­lion rounds an­nu­ally at the ap­prox­i­mately 15,200 golf fa­cil­i­ties with some­thing like 80% of those rounds at pub­lic ac­cess fa­cil­i­ties. Ac­cord­ing to Golfnow’s web­site they have 6,000 cour­ses in 16 coun­tries signed up for their book­ing ser­vice and Hig­gins told me that breaks down with 7,581 in the U.S. us­ing ei­ther their tee time ser­vice or course man­age­ment tech­nol­ogy ser­vice or both. Tee­off.com’s Co­hen said they have 3,000 U.S. course clients mean­ing the to­tal of these two largest third­party ven­dors is still much less than the to­tal num­ber of cour­ses. This leaves a large num­ber of cour­ses to be ser­viced by smaller tee time ven­dors (there are sev­eral re­gion­als) or to go it alone. It also shows plenty of room for growth by Golfnow and Tee­off.com. So the bot­tom line is, if you aren’t us­ing a third-party ven­dor to book your tee times you will be, prob­a­bly in the near fu­ture. It also clear suc­cess­ful lo­cal golf course op­er­a­tors will have to learn how to make use of the tech­ni­cal and mar­ket­ing power of­fered by Golfnow and Tee­off.com by PGA Tour to gain ad­van­tage over their com­pe­ti­tion.

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