I’m paraphrasing a line from one of baseball’s great movies, “Field of Dreams.” Watching the MLB version last week reminded me of the voice in the cornfield heard by Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, “If you build it, he will come.”
This quote became a business mantra: one can make an investment and build something, and people will use it and eventually pay for it. However, it’s contrary to fundamental marketing theories that a need must be identified before producing something to address it. Steve Jobs and Apple kind of turned that on its head with its first iPod. But while “Field of Dreams” is a metaphor for pursuing one’s dreams, no matter how bizarre, the emergence of not one, but two golf data companies attempting to capture the elusive benchmarking of public courses is a bit of both. Only time will tell how many public golf course operators will subscribe to the “need,” or if this is a bizarre dream shared by some pretty smart guys.
Several years ago, the NGCOA helped introduce ORCA to the golf industry and was especially effective in bringing MCOs (multi-course operators) onto the platform. ORCA was a first-to-market benchmarking service focused on rounds, revenue, and channel distribution. It has since become Sagacity’s benchmark service and recently announced a partnership with the PGA of America called “PGA Operations Benchmark.” It is a free service that “offer(s) the clearest picture of overall facility performance and empower operators to make informed decisions that are backed up by independent data.” Along with it comes MSR points for PGA members who subscribe and report.
Pellucid/Edgehill’s GMRC (Golf Market Research Center) provides “insights (that) drive better-informed monthly business decisions on what programs are working, what elements are most influencing performance and, in the future based on participation within each market, how the facility is performing vs. the market or market/peer group (Public Premium, Value or Price) average.” The annual subscription fee is $500, with a 10% discount for NGCOA members through its SmartBuy program.
Sagacity reported to me in January nearly 800 golf facilities in its portfolio count, with multiple reporting courses in eight large markets, including Phoenix, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Orange County, San Francisco, Sacramento, Myrtle Beach, and Washington DC. Pellucid/Edgehill’s count has quickly grown past the low three-digit mark and has a representative count in two major markets.
Beyond that, it’s not for me to compare the more finite details of each offer. However, one thing stands out. I’m a firm believer that weather, the single-most-important variable that affects every golf course, is an absolutely critical factor in evaluating golf course performance. GMRC calculates course capacity with 8/9 minute intervals on a sophisticated weather-adjusted basis with every golf course assigned to the closest of over 1600 Official U.S. weather reporting stations, including temperature, wind, daylight, precipitation, and more. On the other hand, Operations Benchmark, according to its website, calculates course capacity on 8/9 minute intervals beginning 25 minutes after sunrise and ending 4.5 hours before sunset and does not use weather to change capacity. I’ve stated my opinion that weather should be included in calculating course capacity, and you can decide what’s best for your course.
One nightmare spoils the dream of corralling thousands of public golf courses to participate by providing critical data points.
Unfortunately, apathy is widespread on two fronts. Witness PerformanceTrak, extinguished after a steep decline in facilities reporting their numbers, making market-based analysis sketchy, at best. Or PGA Tee Times, stuck in low gear and not gaining traction with the members. And then there are the Golf Management System providers, the gatekeepers of the data.
Sharing data requires an implicit trust, one which some golf course operators refuse to believe. There might be doubts about data security, or it might be the fear that numbers will end up in the hands of local, state, or national authorities looking to recover their piece of the pie. Or, it might just be abject obstinance.
Additionally, some operators express a “nice to know” attitude about knowing where their facility sits within the market, but their priority, by leaps and bounds, is their budget. Meeting, beating, or losing to the budget is how every owner and operator’s performance is measured. But what if they knew more about their market position? Might comparative data make them rethink their business plan (if they even have one) and break out from “it’s all about the budget?” Some feel comfortable cocooned in a vacuum, but factors at play will make success in the golf business tougher to achieve in years to come.
Add to this the 43% of golf facilities operating without online booking engines (according to Apparation Golf’s 2021 survey), many of those without PoS systems too. They certainly cannot care about sharing data if they don’t care enough to have it to themselves. And it represents a massive amount of critical data hidden from view.
Both GMRC and Operations Benchmark require manual data entries, either entered into a secure online portal (GMRC) or compiled in reports emailed to Operations Benchmark. Ideally, data transfers would happen automatically on a predetermined schedule or with a simple click of a button. Unfortunately, either one requires cooperation and API programming from golf’s management system providers.
In most cases, those system providers are the dam holding back the watershed of data. For years, the prevailing attitude heard about other requests is “when enough of our clients ask for it, we’ll put it on our development list.” It’s another way of saying, “Don’t hold your breath.” But, unfortunately, it’s also a way of displaying apathy to efforts by others to give their clients a better chance of success.
The STAR report, the hospitality industry’s trusted source of benchmarked data, automates data transfer with over 30 Property Management Systems. You can see more about STAR here and start to wonder to yourself, “why don’t we have that?” Or, take the apathetic attitude of, “Who cares?”
This writer and industry veteran believes benchmarking is a service of indispensable knowledge long overdue in the golf industry. I’d like to see the expense side of the equation included, like STAR. But we have to start somewhere, and two companies have spent the time and money to build benchmarking platforms with significant intelligence and analysis.
The PGA, with its new slate of officers in place, has made its choice. The NGCOA takes a more egalitarian approach. NGCOA’s Jay Karen told me, “What I like about performance benchmarking is that it changes the conversation in our industry from rate comparisons and who’s discounting and bartering to how am I stacking up in rounds, revenue, occupancy, etc.? The posture towards data moves from a downward direction to an upward one. The COVID demand bump notwithstanding, we need our dialogue to be around more than what green fees are in my market.”
Karen concluded, “NGCOA is offering marketing and communications support to both parties and letting the market decide. We simply believe that good data underpins intelligent analysis and decision making and thus offer support to both platforms.”
In other words, the market will decide who wins. It usually does, but building it doesn’t always mean the market will arrive ten on a mule. And a little birdie tells me there could be a third player looking to dominate the public golf sphere, the advent of which would turn all this on its ear. Stay tuned.