The latest industry grow-the-game initiative has launched: “Make Golf Your Thing.” But how can golf courses participate if they can’t be found on the Internet or don’t have online tee time booking capabilities?
If you were to ask this readership (comprised of mostly NGCOA members) “How many U.S. golf courses do not have online reservations, especially 18-hole regulation courses?” you might expect the perception to be that, hey, it’s 2021 – don’t they all?
Not only would you be wrong, you’d be WAY wrong. Get this: 26% of U.S. 18-hole regulation courses do not have online tee time booking capabilities. And it’s much more sparse for 9-hole, executive, and par-3 facilities.
How do we know? Apparation LLC has compiled the most extensive database of golf course technology ever created for both the U.S. and Canada. In addition, Apparation developed software that powers industry innovations like Quick.golf, Doubles Golf®, SmartPin®, GroupLooper®, and others with a recurring theme of making golf more convenient, more fun, and/or more affordable. Apparation’s founder is Mike Dickoff, a retired Accenture partner. Mike was the long-time CEO of the Navitaire business that shook up the airline industry years ago by introducing the first ticketless airline reservation system and fueled the growth of low-cost airlines worldwide.
Apparation just completed the fifth version of the Tee Sheet Software Wars Survey. They scoured the Internet, inspecting every U.S (and this year Canada) public golf course listed in the IGDB golf course directory (www.theigdb.com) and identifying the vendor used by each course for tee time booking and website software. We asked Mike why Apparation compiles this data:
“The golf industry, in general, is information-poor when it comes to infrastructure and activity data. That’s why we joined the IGDB (Internet Golf Course Database) Consortium several years ago to create an accurate, accessible, cost-effective directory of all golf courses. We needed better information about market share and usage. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anyone who had reliable data. Hence, we developed it ourselves as an extension of the IGDB, and we’re happy to share it with others in exchange for a little collaboration on our other initiatives.”
There are a couple of legitimate reasons why some 18-hole regulation courses don’t have online booking. Some are resort-destination facilities requiring a hotel stay, with tee times reserved during that process. We can think of Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst, Kiawah, and a few others that operate apart from the typical “public” domain. And there are courses in the hinterlands where always-on, broadband Internet access has yet to connect. Hard to believe, right? We’re the United States, yet people visiting the Dead Sea in Israel, the lowest point on Earth, have better connectivity than some of our population.
If you dare look, here (left) are the numbers of U.S. golf facilities without online tee time booking. That’s right. Slightly more than one-quarter of all 18-hole regulation golf courses do not have online tee time booking. A little less than half, 43% of all U.S. golf courses, have no online booking. Sadder yet, it’s far more than that for courses in the other categories – courses most likely to attract people entering the game and playing for the first time.
Make Golf Your Thing? Maybe “Make Finding Golf Your Thing” is more realistic.
Apparation took a deeper dive and counted who powered the tee time booking engines found on course websites (more on websites later). They’re not hard to ascertain either by a “Powered by” branding or by the booking engine URL. The numbers hint at the PoS software sitting behind the booking engine and shine an imperfect light on software market share. Often a booking engine is different than that provided by the PoS software provider. For instance, the GolfNow booking engine might sit atop ForeUP, or Sagacity might sit atop Club Prophet Systems.
The survey data allows us to understand booking engine dominance as measured against the “four chasers” – ForeUP, Club Prophet Systems, Lightspeed, and Teesnap. Counting 11,149 U.S. golf courses of all types, “None” (no online booking) leads with 43%. GolfNow has 28%, and the “four chasers” combine for 21%. The balance of 8% is spread amongst 44 others, a few with industry brand awareness, the rest a mystery to most.
New York is the most resistant to GolfNow’s reach on a state level, followed by Minnesota, Utah, Wisconsin, Iowa, Idaho, Washington, Maine, New Hampshire, and Nebraska.
Michigan and New York lead the states with no online booking courses, followed by Iowa, Texas, Pennsylvania, and the rest of the 45. Only the District of Columbia has all of its golf courses available to book tee times online – and all are on GolfNow.
We can compare the 2021 market share with 2020 and sort out the winners and losers based on vendors providing online booking for 18-hole regulation courses. GolfNow saw an 8.4% decline, gaining 100 but losing 350. Among the four chasers, Teesnap suffered a 20% share drop, gaining 33 but losing 76. Lightspeed saw the most significant gain (but from a smaller base) of 248%, gaining 119 and losing 19. ForeUP had a 16% gain, gaining 240 and losing 31. Last, Club Prophet Systems had a healthy 11% share increase with 57 gains and 17 losses.
The numbers also illustrate technology’s churn – the number of courses changing their web booking and presumably, their PoS along with it. Back in the day, when I sold (or attempted to sell) technology to golf courses, the most common question was, “how many installations do you have?” And the most common response from everyone in the field, including me, was to lie. If we had 25, we’d say we had 50. If we had 50, we’d say we had 100, and so on. Apparation gives the industry some transparency, something we’ve never had before.
And websites? Heck, who needs one, right? In fact, 1,218 U.S golf courses think they don’t. As a result, they have either no website and Internet presence (269) or only have a Facebook page (949). And Apparation reports that many of the Facebook-only courses don’t post regularly, with some neglecting their page going back years. Google searches might find them, but never on the podium – the top three listings. Some are ghosts – more on this later.
GolfNow achieves the No. 1 branded website position (including Golf Channel, EZLinks, and Coursetrends), followed (and not closely) by 1-2-1 Marketing, Teesnap, ForeUP, and Lightspeed. On the other hand, nearly 5,400 courses have websites with no discernible vendor branding or branded with a local vendor or vendor that did not register more than a handful of clients. Sure, you can build yourself a website on GoDaddy or WordPress. Still, golf-centric website vendors have the experience, SEO knowledge, and support to power your website as the centerpiece of your marketing. It’s just not worth the supposed cost savings to go elsewhere.
Do you believe in ghosts? Apparation channeled the “X-Files” and found golf course ghosts out there. Using the IGDB database, Apparation identifies 530 U.S. courses with absolutely no Internet presence, based on a Google search. Digging further, 180 courses are corpses – closed or non-existent based on phone-call research. So that leaves 350, or so that might only be found via word-of-mouth.
We’re not making it easy for people to make golf their thing. If I were the Baron of Booking, I’d demand every golf course, any type, have a website with online tee time booking capabilities. Be found and be played, and don’t be a ghost.