Cigar Boxes and Paper Tee Sheets... What Tools Do You Use in the 21st Century?

 As seen in Golf Business July/August 2021 

jk.jpgBy Jay Karen, NGCOA CEO

DoorDash. Amazon. Blue Apron. You name it. These companies, and more, have built businesses around the simple concept of meeting the customers on their own turf. Complex logistics and management for sure, but a simple concept. Golf course owners don’t really have the option to deliver the golf experience to the front doorsteps of American consumers. But you know what you can do? You can at least deliver the online booking experience to the palms of the hands of golfers.

And yet, fully 26% of public, 18-hole golf courses do not offer online tee time reservations.  That’s according to recent information published by Apparation LLC. The number is shockingly higher for 9-hole and executive courses at 77% and 68% respectively.

I’m reminded of something a course owner told me a few years ago - he’d love to manage his way back to using a cigar box and paper tee sheet as his cash register and booking system. Thinking about that always produces a good chuckle. The assumption under that dream is that there’s just too much technology and systems to manage in today’s golf course operations environment. Can’t we just get back to the good ole, simple days?

I certainly sympathize with wanting to go back to simpler times. I’m Gen X, so I clearly recall what life was like before email and the Internet, and oftentimes (especially when I observe my kids’s lives) wish we could “go back to the cigar box.” One can wonder as he or she pines for the past - does technology create MORE work for us, when it’s supposed to help solve problems and lighten the load?

My answer to that question is - it depends. It depends a lot on which technology you’ve chosen, and if they do a bang-up job or not. But I think more of it depends on you. Are you a reluctant participant or an excited participant when it comes to technology? If you are reluctant, you are sure to find all the flaws and drawbacks before you see the potential or real benefits.  If you are excited, you will find ways to use these tools to grow and thrive.

Any reluctance aside, the fact is online booking is what people want. We now have an entire generation or two of Americans who simply hate to use the phone to, get this, talk to people. But they happily use their phones to make everything else in their lives happen (thank you very much, Steve Jobs). If you don’t have online booking, you are forcing people to engage in a behavior they prefer to avoid. I bet there are millions of people who will pay a little more to book online to avoid the human interaction of a phone call. In fact, I think some course operators who have embraced technology offer the lowest possible rate online, and charge more if you book over the phone. Airlines do this too.

Brick-and-mortar stores are fighting for their existence against companies that can meet customers at their homes or at their fingertips. Consumers prefer using technology over talking with humans when making reservations for just about anything. There is affordable, highly-impressive technology to facilitate online booking in our industry. And here’s the thing - it’s not like online booking and traditional booking need to be mutually exclusive. Old Ralph can still call the pro shop to get his Thursday morning time; and Young Marcia can book her foursome on Friday afternoon on your website. Perhaps instead of pining for the old world, why not live with the best of both worlds?  It’s high time that 26% drops down to single digits.