By Michael Williams, Contributor, Golf Business
NGCOA recently completed Golf Business TechCon 2023, the latest version of its industry-gathering dedicated to highlighting the technologies and innovations that are currently driving the induction and, perhaps more importantly, the technology that will be instrumental in the future of the industry.
The level of talent and expertise of the speaker lineup was among the very best that I have ever seen at any industry event (big shoutout to NGCOA Director of Education Taylor Wall). But perhaps the most compelling content came from the opening speaker of the event, Paul Roetzer, one of the leading consultants in the world on the subject of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
I admit to only a cursory knowledge of and experience with AI, with most of my attention being drawn to the people who are at the forefront rather than understanding the ever-widening range of applications for the technology in daily life.
Roetzer’s presentation was exciting, informative, enlightening and just a tad bit horrifying. He described how AI was already more present in daily life than most people knew, and that the technology would continue to spread its reach at a rate not seen before in the modern age.
The advance of artificial intelligence will have a tremendous impact on the way everyone does business and golf course operators will not be exempted. In order to get a handle on how to think about managing the coming change, operators can look at how AI can impact each of the components of their business. Here are a few examples:
In agronomy, golf course operators have already seen the benefits of how big data can help manage the use of water and chemical treatments to improve conditions and save resources. Artificial intelligence will bring even more information and expertise to bear, with software that will predict conditions, recommend which products to use and eventually enable robots to apply applications and landscape the course.
On the marketing front, AI will help operators know each of their current customers' needs better than they know themselves. Owners will have tools that analyze past purchases of an individual to determine their preferences, they will also be able to utilize data from golfers all over the world that match the profile of that individual to predict their current and future wants and needs. Imagine having the ability to write a scheduled, custom-crafted message sent to each of your customers. AI can do that.
It has long been known that golfers who play better golf play more golf. But even with cutting-edge equipment and the efforts of generations of teaching professionals instruction has not been able to penetrate a large segment of the golfing community. But AI will enable the best instruction in the world to be available to golfers on their mobile phones. In addition, players can have a virtual caddy that knows not only your swing but the weather, considers the weather conditions, reads the green perfectly and also reminds you to order the turkey wrap and an energy drink rather than a hot dog and a beer.
Perhaps the greatest impact will be on staffing. With so much expertise and automation at their disposal, operators will have options on how and where human staff will be needed and best deployed. With many of the management and back office decisions being automated, the shift will be for more staff connecting with the public to ensure that the experience is an exceptional one, further solidifying golf as a part of the entertainment and hospitality industry.
Golf is a sport and a business that has traditionally adopted change at a snail’s pace. AI is advancing so quickly that articles and speeches about the technology today will be obsolete by the end of the week. Operators would do well to assign someone to understand the impact of AI and devise a plan to integrate it into their current and future operations. Artificial Intelligence is here to stay; operators that fail to understand and implement it may not be.