When I set out to create Brown Golf, I never anticipated entering the golf technology space. Brown Golf existed from January of 2011 and at the time of the merger with GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness in September of 2022, we operated twenty-five facilities. While operating Brown Golf, a company which had a business model highly predicated on long term leases, I began to question if the industry’s current model for attracting new golfers and rounds was really in the best interest of the club owner and operator or was this model purely benefiting the technology companies? I questioned if listing tee times in third party aggregator platforms like golfnow.com and teeoff.com produced the necessary rounds and revenue that could help my golf courses and justify the costs of these relationships.
In 2016, Brown Golf signed two three-year agreements that ran concurrently. One with a point of sales company, EzLinks for point of sales and marketing services, and one with a distribution platform, golfnow, which listed Brown Golf tee times on their aggregate website golfnow.com. I was uncomfortable with:
- Bartering (trading) tee times for services
- Third parties collecting my customer data
- Third parties marketing their interest to my customer
- Third parties owning my lowest price (rate parity language allowed technology companies to sell my traded tee times for the lowest price in the marketplace)
Despite every red flag of comfort, I continued forward, because this was how the golf business operated. I made a commitment to myself that I would take the next three years and analyze the impact of these agreements. The next time I sign one, if ever, I will be comfortable.
During this timeframe, I began to study a term called competitive displacement. Competitive displacement is the positioning of a third-party vendor to make your customer their customer. I asked myself, if GolfNow and EzLinks have all of my customer data, if they market their interest to my customers, if they operate my websites, and they own my lowest price point in the marketplace, then how can this possibly be good for my business? An overwhelming feeling hit me like a ton of bricks, I was creating the competitive displacement of my customer. I was making them loyal to a third party that owned their data, marketed to them, and owned my lowest price point available. It was time to quantify this impact with data.
2017 was the year that everything changed for me. I decided to get serious about the data of the impact of third parties. GolfNow was by far and away the largest contributor of rounds to our business, and I needed to know what kind of impact I was experiencing. In 2017, Brown Golf sold or traded 111,000 rounds of golf inventory via its GolfNow relationship. These rounds came from golfnow.com, the aggregate site, or GolfNow booking engines that I had on my own websites. The most telling statistic was 44,000 of those rounds were traded bartered tee times. Which means, I didn’t’ receive income from 39.6% of the tee times that were used! Of the 67,000 paid tee times, 90% of those times were sold in premium time windows. Which means of the paying tee times I was confident they were primarily cannibalizing my premium tee times, tee times that I would have sold without a third party. Then, I asked myself a simple question:
Would I give any third party a 39.6% discount to book tee times at my courses? Especially, if the remaining tee times sent only populated into areas of my tee sheet, I know I could fill.
The answer was ……..Absolutely Not!
Additionally, of all 111,000 rounds booked, GolfNow collected my data, marketed their interest to my customer, and owned my lowest price. I realized immediately my business model created the competitive displacement of my customer. All while losing the opportunity to sell valuable tee times I am trading!
Fast forward, to December of 2019, GolfNow bought EzLinks, a transaction that was scrutinized by the Department of Justice (Does the GolfNow Acquisition of EZLinks Deserve Antitrust Scrutiny? – NGCOA), but ultimately allowed to continue forward establishing by far and away the largest aggregate golf course third party distribution platform and point of sales provider to public & semi-private golf courses in America. Both companies, now under one ownership, immediately eliminated cash pricing options for services and focused on only offering barter tee time solutions for their products. Why, they make a lot more money from barter tee times than cash pricing. Brown Golf was ready to pull the plug on GolfNow forever, and we did in February 2020, saying goodbye to GolfNow & EzLinks once and for all. Ultimately, our business improved drastically by simply not redirecting our customers to a third-party and taking back all bartered tee time rounds.
The birth of GolfBack, can be attributed to GolfNow & EzLinks merger, and years of paying for services, who’s cost never reflected the value received. The detrimental impact of barter pricing and the realization that the only brand that matters is the club’s brand sent us down the path of protecting our long-term revenue streams and ultimately our profitability.
The system all started with development of a proprietary booking engine, which allows a club to optimize the collection of data and to optimize its golf course revenue. Quickly, we added an email tool, a crm tool, and customized website allowing us to be in total control of all the touch points around our available tee time inventory and golf course brand. The tools that the industry typically outsourced to third parties, we took control of. The system delivers the following:
- We control the access point (i.e. the golf course website) when customers are looking for tee times through different searches
- We list our inventory in a channel we control (i.e. the booking engine on our golf course website)
- We optimize the price of our inventory when customers are reviewing tee time options.
- When a tee time is booked, we collect customer information via automation.
- As information is collected, we build automated customer profiles in our CRM tool (customer relationship management tool)
- Finally, we build automated marketing campaigns geared toward loyalty, re-engagement, driving profitability, and overall marketing strategies. These campaigns reach down into the CRM tool, and based on a customer specific profile, a campaign is initiated.
The first four tools; booking engine, email, CRM, and website deliver a totally automated marketing and revenue system, that builds your customer database, intelligently markets to your customers, and grows rounds and revenues. All while protecting four core values for the golf course owner & operator:
- Club owns and controls its lowest price
- Club owns and controls its customer data
- Club owns and controls its marketing relationship with customer
- Club retains 100% of online green & cart fee revenue
The future of GolfBack is our automated intelligence platform which will include features such as tee sheet intelligence, content development, marketing playbooks, golf revenue dashboards, online reputation management, and our revenue launcher. All automated, all intelligent, all integrated, and all with a focus of driving rounds and revenues.
GolfBack is currently installed in ninety-six golf courses. GolfBack continues to be a tool built by course owners and operators, rooted in core values that owners and operators can stand behind, with products that challenges industry norms.
CEO – GreatLIFE Golf & GolfBack