By Harvey Silverman, Silverback Golf Marketing
That famous quote from New York Yankee great Yogi Berra was the first thing that crossed my mind when the press release about Supreme Golf’s partnership with the PGA of America flashed across my computer screen. Why? Because I wrote an extensive article in 2012 about PGA’s attempted, and subsequently aborted, partnership with GOLFNOW. You can read the Supreme Golf/PGA press release here. You can read my 2012 article here.
The new partnership presents a plethora of possibilities. Let’s start with a little history.
Supreme Golf owns Golfbook, which entered the third-party tee time business in 2012 with an anti-barter, commission-based system. It met criteria developed by the NGCOA for third-party tee time business and was the only third-party entity to sign NGCOA’s “best practices” treatise. Any course could list on Golfbook, but golf courses that abided by the NGCOA’s best practice suggestions and did not barter tee times were rewarded paying a lower commission rate than courses that continued to barter.
Golfbook’s client list grew to over 1,000 courses, but it couldn’t compete with GOLFNOW’s giant Golf Channel megaphone. Golfbook found a media partner in 2017 with a massive presence in not only golf, but just about all sports – CBS Sports Digital.
Golf course operators yawned, and Golfbook learned that sports fans going to CBS digital sites to consume sports weren’t going there to find and reserve tee times.
Golfbook sold to Supreme Golf in late 2018. Along with it came the CBS Sports Digital partnership. Now, the new PGA agreement adds another partner to the enterprise, all three wanting a return on their investment and involvement.
Additionally, Supreme Golf made a substantial equity investment in foreUP Golf Software in Oct. 2019.
Eight years ago, the four objectives of the PGA’s original foray into the tee time market were:
- Create a PGA-branded tee time solution
- Gain ownership and control of consumer data
- Create new revenue opportunities
- Provide opportunities for facilities to control price points
If the PGA pulled out their 2012 playbook, then the new PGA-Supreme Golf partnership satisfies items 1, 3, and 4. Teetimes.pga.com is the site name mentioned in the press release. New revenue opportunities for the PGA exist, and facilities will be able to control price points with barter out of the picture. But, what about the consumer data? “Ownership and control,” but no mention of “sharing.” I asked the PGA, “What happens to the data?” and received this response:
“Customer data is collected during the transaction and will be available to the course via the tee sheet integration. If the tee sheet does not support the data flow, Supreme will provide accounting of data monthly to the course. This opportunity will be developed to be compliant with applicable regulations and to align with best practices on data handling.”
The quote omits the keyword “sharing.” If I were a subscribing course owner, I’d want to know if and how my customer data might be used by Supreme Golf, PGA, CBS Sports Digital, and maybe others.
In the 2012 plan, the payoff for the PGA and its sections included a 35% revenue share on rounds booked on the PGA website projected to earn $1 million over the three-year agreement term. PGA sections would receive 75% of the 35% revenue share when rounds were booked on their sites. What likely killed the deal was the $1,500 “bounty” offered to the PGA by GOLFNOW for “course acquisition.”
Now golf courses once again have two third-party payment options – barter or commission. NGCOA’s “Beware of Barter” project endorsed a hospitality industry-like commission structure over barter. We wrote, “Commission is the best business model by far. Negotiate in your favor. Fully understand what’s profitable for you.”
Multiple sources confirm the planned commission structure for the new PGA tee time site. Golf courses employing a PGA professional will pay a 10% commission. Those without will pay 15%. It’s an obvious strategy by the PGA to encourage more member employment at public golf facilities.
Could there be another revenue option taken from another industry that’s far less costly for golf courses and golfers? We searched for some input from people with experience in similar situations outside the golf industry. One of the people we polled was Mike Dickoff, currently the CEO of golf SAAS provider Apparation LLC and former CEO of Navitaire, which helped to fuel the low-cost airline revolution in over 30 countries worldwide with innovative reservations software. Mike provided this intriguing response:
“Third-party distribution is a tricky problem because you have to go beyond “win-win” to “win-win-win”… the solution needs to work economically for golf course operators, golfers, and the third-party technology/service provider. The golf industry could get there, but it will likely take a no-frills, super low-cost solution, which costs the golfer/golf course combined significantly less than $1 per booked golfer. It’s doable, but it doesn’t appear that the current solution providers are heading in that direction.”
The PGA relays at teetimes.pga.com that, “Golf courses will be comforted by the fact that the price they show on their tee sheet is the price listed on the new PGA Tee Times marketplace, and all tee sheets are welcome!”
Although welcomed and, per the PGA, there are no restrictions to integration, currently more than one golf point-of-sale providers have a “No Entry” sign on their APIs for GOLFNOW and Supreme Golf, making it impossible for either to access course tee sheets. The biggest of the two, Club Prophet Systems, feels strongly that third-party tee time providers should not be golf course software providers too. While Supreme Golf does not have its own PoS system, it is an equity investor in foreUP Golf Software. Club Prophet Systems considers it a threat to their business when a GOLFNOW rep or now a Supreme rep selling foreUP (or vice versa) throws the pitch, “We’d love to have you on our marketplace. Not only will we bring you oodles of golf rounds, but we also have some world-class software to help run your business better than what you have now.” Club Prophet Systems confirmed this policy remains in place for the foreseeable future.
A second is Teesnap, which from its outset, has not allowed access to its API. Its pitch was that Allegiant Airlines would deliver its customers to client golf courses, eliminating the need to be connected to third-party providers. A third primary provider aligns their thinking closer to Club Prophet’s and will take up the connection issue with each requesting client. Finally, a knowledgeable source reports that GOLFNOW will act similarly – opening its API on a course-by-course basis and not “en total” as with its current Supreme Golf arrangement.
According to similarweb.com, a website traffic-tracking site, Supreme Golf’s total site visits in September of this year were about 126,000. GOLFNOW’s were 2,310,000, nearly 18 times as many. PGA’s were 689,000. CBS Sports had 92,570,000 visits (largely driven by football). On the one hand, Supreme’s partnership with CBS Sports Digital doesn’t appear to have generated much web traffic. Linking to PGA’s web visitors will help, but it might take even more to challenge GOLFNOW.
Supreme Golf operates both its branded site along with GolfBook.com. Both display available tee times found on GOLFNOW, including the deeply-discounted “Hot Deal” times (under its original ownership, Golfbook did not show the cheap Hot Deal times). The Golfbook technology is capable of turning off the GOLFNOW “Hot Deal” times. PGA told me:
“PGA Tee Times will not sell barter inventory on this commission-based marketplace, but we will not prohibit a course that has a barter program with a third-party Tee Time service from listing its commission-based inventory on PGA Tee times. We are another option and won’t prohibit a golf course from marketing their tee times with other third parties.”
This much is true and will always be true – golf course owners and operators are best served with marketing that directs golfers to their own websites to book tee times.
More questions are remaining than will be patrons at this month’s Masters. Here are three to start with: Will the new PGA tee time site become another disintermediating force between the golf course and its customers? How quickly will the new PGA tee time site be able to scale and compete for golfer eyeballs with GOLFNOW’s virtual warehouse full of cheap rates and lots of choices? And what happens with the customer data?
Who ultimately benefits – the third parties (and their partners), golf courses, or golfers – is the overarching question.
According to Jay Karen, CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association, “The PGA of America has a solid consumer presence and the desire to stimulate the golf economy for the right reasons. Those ingredients set them apart in the OTTA space, in my book. And the move away from promoting bartered rounds is a healthy move.” Karen added, “ I also commend Jonathan Wride at Supreme Golf, as the only OTTA chief executive to inquire with NGCOA leadership every year on how to ensure they are doing right by owners and operators. We hope this new partnership will support the generation of demand for more golf, above and beyond what PGA and NGCOA member facilities are doing themselves.”
Harvey Silverman is the proprietor of his marketing consultancy, Silverback Golf Marketing, and the co-founder of Quick.golf, golf’s only pay-by-hole app. Harvey authored NGCOA’s “Beware of Barter” guide and has spoken at their Golf Business Conferences and Golf Business TechCon.