Knowledge Library

Sapphire National Golf Club Partners With GOLFNOW

Jul 22, 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. (July 20, 2020) – GOLFNOW today announced a new partnership with Sapphire National Golf Club in North Carolina, providing the club with GOLFNOW’s industry leading technology and services, as well as access to the world’s largest tee-time marketplace. The partnership builds on an agreement the club previously established with EZLinks Golf, now a GOLFNOW company.

Located in North Carolina’s Sapphire Valley and Cashiers Plateau Resort area, Sapphire National Golf Club will continue to benefit from the industry’s leading EZLinks-branded technology and now – as a new member of the GOLFNOW online marketplace – also will be introduced millions of golfers who regularly use GOLFNOW to search for and book tee times.

“We are very excited about being a part of the GOLFNOW platform and looking forward to having an online space where all our customers can book and pay for their golf,” said Austin Fisher, Head Golf Professional at Sapphire National Golf Club.

As part of its upgraded technology and keeping to state-mandated safety protocols, the club also will begin utilizing GOLFNOW’s touchless, pre-paid technology, which allows golfers to book and pay for tee times remotely and in advance. The club also will benefit from enhanced exposure through GOLFNOW’s Premium Marketing Program.

Sapphire National Golf Club is a Ron Garl design that offers optimal playing conditions among picturesque mountain views. As the only public-access golf course in the Highlands, Cashiers and Sapphire region, Sapphire National’s memorable features include a dramatic par 4 nestled beside a majestic waterfall and the postcard, par-3 15th hole, which is highlighted by an island green. 


Gamble Sands And The Westin Kierland Golf Club Partner With Golfnow, Joining World’s Largest Tee Time Distribution Platform

Jul 22, 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. (July 15, 2020) – GOLFNOW recently  announced new partnerships with The Westin Kierland Golf Club and Gamble Sands, both preeminent destinations within the Troon Golf and OB Sports portfolio, respectively, and nationally recognized as two of the top golf resorts in America.

As new members of the GOLFNOW distribution platform, Gamble Sands and The Westin Kierland Golf Club now will benefit from inclusion within the world’s largest distribution marketplace. The partnership introduces both clubs to the millions of golfers who regularly use GOLFNOW, and now have the opportunity to search for and book tee times at the famed links-style layout in the Pacific Northwest, as well as one of the leading resort courses in Scottsdale, Arizona. Both resorts also are featured within the pages of GOLF Advisor, the leading online destination for the traveling golfer.

“Gamble Sands and The Westin Kierland are already realizing solid delivery of rounds and revenue generated as a result of distribution activation”,” said Kris Strauss, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Troon. “GOLF Channel and GOLFNOW have long been valued partners and it’s great to see continued growth not only in the number of Troon Golf and OB Sports locations utilizing GOLFNOW’s distribution but also clubs and destinations collaborating on vacation packages, lead generation and more. All of which support additional round growth efficiently and effectively.”

As the centerpiece of Brewster, Wash., the 18-hole, 7,169-yard Sands course was designed by renowned golf course architect David McLay Kidd and features 115 acres of panoramic golf, nestled between the Cascade Mountains and Columbia River. Recently added lodging presents a great option for traveling golfers, with packages available through GOLF Advisor Travel. The resort also features a putting course and has announced plans to open a 14-hole short course, named Quicksands, in 2021.

"Our partnership with GOLFNOW has been great from the start,” said Brian Benitz, Director of Operations, Gamble Sands. “Once we went live on the platform, we saw our first booking within hours.

"We’re also loving the exposure provided by GOLF Advisor. Not only is it the best review site in the golf business, but it’s also showcasing Gamble Sands to an entirely new audience of links-golf fans we’d love to host on their next golf trip,” stated Brady Hatfield, General Manager of Gamble Sands

Located in the golf mecca of Scottsdale, Ariz., The Westin Kierland Golf Club features 27 holes of fun-to-play golf inside one of the state’s largest and all-encompassing resort properties. Honored as one of the "Top 10 Public Courses in Phoenix/Scottsdale" by GOLF Advisor and ranked by Golfweek Magazine one of “The Best Courses You Can Play,” Westin Kierland Golf Club boasts a Scott Miller design surrounded by sweeping mountain vistas, shimmering lakes and wispy desert grasses. Fitness, fun and speed of play have been top of mind at The Westin Kierland Golf Club since it first unveiled Segway Golf in 2002. Adding to its unique fleet of golf vehicles were the golf bike, GolfBoard, four-seater golf carts, TurfRiders, and now the newest innovation – Ellwees.


Prepare for ‘Special Demand’ and boost your bottom line

Jul 21, 2020

In any other year, the Can-Am Days Festival held each year in Myrtle Beach, S.C., would have been a boon for golf courses all over the Grand Strand. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 Canadian visitors return for the festivities each year – and many with golf clubs in tow.

“This is a big opportunity week for us and we plan for it,” said Kevin Lawson, General Manager of Beachwood Golf Club in North Myrtle Beach, whose course welcomes the winter influx of snowbirds to South Carolina every year. “Normally, the extra business from our Canadian visitors throughout the season can represent up to 4,000 rounds and $250,000 in revenue.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced unexpected changes to everyone’s event calendar, planning for these “special demand” occasions – and there can be many during any given year for any golf course – can provide an untapped opportunity and, quite possibly, a tremendous boost to your bottom line with just a little extra effort.

“Many of our partner courses give special demand a lot of thought during the year,” said Brian Skena, Manager of Business Services for GOLFNOW Plus. “If we can get everybody to become a little more forward thinking about the potential dates on their calendars that could shift demand at their golf course – when they have the opportunity to promote, price and book accordingly – then nobody would be caught off guard and there wouldn’t be any missed opportunities.”

Skena says special-demand occasions run the gamut, from the nationally shared holidays like Father’s Day, Independence Day and Labor Day weekends to local festivals or events like Myrtle Beach’s Cam-Am Days – even small-town events like the Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Mich., Jazz Festival in Elkhart, Ind., and the Seafood Festival in Apalachicola, Fla.

If these are high-demand times, they should take care of themselves, right?  Not necessarily, says Skena. “A course might sell a lot of rounds by doing nothing, but a revenue expert might say that you missed a huge opportunity by not planning and executing sooner to leverage the opportunity to its fullest,” he said.

Courses using the GOLFNOW Plus service have revenue specialists on hand to help them anticipate demand with strategic ideas that work, saving course staff valuable time and resources.

It may sound odd, but Skena says low-demand days can open doors, too, as long as you plan ahead.

“For example, a home game in a major college football city can create a ghost town on any given Saturday, with everyone seemingly at the game or watching it on TV,” he said. “But a creative local golf course operator could promote a special package that includes a round of golf, a tailgating brunch and game-watching party in the clubhouse with other club patrons.

“The key is to have a plan – don’t be reactive,” Skena said.

Recurring events let courses look at historical data to see how they performed previously during these periods, which could help drive future decisions. Just ask operators at courses from Atlanta to Savannah, Ga., who say they can make or break their year in the weeks surrounding the Masters.

Golf’s major championships also can be hugely impactful to courses surrounding the major-championship venue. A sound strategy helped the 36-hole Bayonet Black Horse golf complex in Seaside, Calif., leverage last year’s U.S. Open at nearby Pebble Beach Golf Links. 

Pat Jones, the facility’s director of golf, worked far in advance of the U.S. Open with Charles Fralix III, his GOLFNOW rep, on business strategy. The idea was to make the Bayonet and Black Horse inventory as attractive yet high-yielding as possible on the GOLFNOW platform. Jones asked that all tee times for the two courses be sold in a package with cart, lunch, beverages and a souvenir logo hat included – there’s your attraction angle – easily justifying a basic $225-per-player fee.

All of the packages were set up to get prepaid by the booking golfer. Where the sheet remained in its normal matrix, a dynamic-pricing tool was turned on, to set the fees according to demand. On two separate days there were times that sold for a peak price of $275.

“All the public-access courses in this area know and prepare when there’s something big coming up on the calendar,” says Jones. “Whether it was us, or Poppy Hills or Carmel Valley Ranch or whichever facility, we all had strategies to maximize revenue.” 

One key adjustment along the way involved prepayment. “At first, we weren’t requiring up-front payment, but we tested it and found that nobody minded. We heard that same thing talking to other courses, so we flipped the switch to prepayment,” says Jones.

The approach that emerged from Jones’s brainstorm sessions with Fralix proved successful, to say the least.


City of Longmont, Colorado, golf courses driving rounds and revenue with GOLFNOW prepaid technology

Jul 14, 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. (July 14, 2020) – With the help of GOLFNOW pre-paid technology, rounds and revenue for the three municipal golf courses operated by the City of Longmont, Colo., have rebounded to surpass 2019 figures after being shuttered for more than a month due to government stay-at-home mandates related to the current health pandemic.

Faced with a new set of strict safety policies upon opening on April 23, including a new requirement that golfers book and pay for tee times in advance, the City was able to utilize GOLFNOW pre-paid technology to meet an increasing demand for tee times while experiencing little to no disruption to their golf course operations.

As a long-time partner with GOLFNOW, the Golf Services division for the City of Longmont, including its three golf courses, benefits from the industry’s leading point-of-sale and tee-time booking-engine, as well as inclusion within the world’s largest distribution marketplace. The courses also utilize GOLFNOW’s Premium Marketing Program, Answers telephone service, as well as professional guidance with inventory and revenue management through the GOLFNOW Plus service. The partnership introduces millions of golfers who regularly use GOLFNOW to search for and book tee times to the City of Longmont’s three picturesque layouts nestled in the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, just 40 miles northwest of Denver.

“The experience (with prepaid) has been really amazing,” said Keith Martin, PGA Professional at Twin Peaks Golf Course. “After over a month of taking tee times over the phone, as well as credit card payments, the online pre-paid option has cut our phone answering significantly. Everyone is much happier that we can focus on the customer in front of us, which is now made easier as close to half of those players have already paid their fees.”

Jeff Friesner, Recreation & Golf Services Manager for the City of Longmont, confirmed that use of the new GOLFNOW pre-paid technology by all three courses has been beneficial. “Revenue performance has improved, especially following an already successful GOLFNOW dynamic pricing program we adopted in 2017, which continues to maximize our rates based on demand and a host of other factors,” Friesner said.

Data gathered from both GOLFNOW and its own booking channels, reveals the City of Longmont’s combined online revenue for its three courses is up 14 percent year over year so far in June, with average rate up 26 percent for the same period.

The historic 9-hole Sunset Golf Course opened in 1922 and is a great, affordable option for beginners and families; the wide-open Twin Peaks is more of a traditional, player-friendly design; and the Robert Trent Jones II-designed Ute Creek is a traditional links-style, championship layout that can challenge even the most avid of golfers. All three course are among the more scenic in the area with great views of Long’s Peak.

About GOLFNOW

GOLFNOW is an innovative technology company that creates seamless ways for golfers and golf courses to better connect. GOLFNOW operates the largest online tee-time marketplace in the world, offering 3.5 million registered golfers a variety of ways to stay connected to their favorite courses and the ability to easily book tee times online and via mobile devices any time of day. GOLFPASS members receive special playing perks through GOLFNOW, including tee time credit and rewards. GOLFNOW, part of the NBC Sports Group with offices in Orlando, Fla., and Belfast, Northern Ireland, also provides technology, support and marketing services to more than 9,000 golf courses in 24 countries around the world.


Ideas to turn new golfers into repeat customers

Jun 23, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has created a surprising boon for the golf industry. While regulars are back at their local tracks, operators also are seeing a lot of new faces teeing it up on their courses and doing their best to figure out how to turn these first-timers into repeat customers.

Many facilities are reporting tee sheets booked from morning until evening, even during traditional slow times like weekdays. With little competition from cancelled youth sports, closed restaurants and other shelter-in-place initiatives, golf has been deemed one of the safer activities for people to enjoy. Could this be a great opportunity for the game to build on the current momentum for future growth?

Jim Jones, director of golf/superintendent at Fairview Golf Course in Lebanon, Pa., said online bookings were up 300 percent in May. “It is like a renaissance,” he said. “After 2001 and 2002, you never thought you would see 250 and 275 golfers (in a day). It is a little different. It is kind of crazy looking at a tee sheet (these days).”

Perhaps most exciting of all to Jones, many of the golfers are new faces. Jones admits he was leery of joining the GOLFNOW platform 18 months ago, but the move has paid off for Fairview and the other courses owned/operated by the Distinct Golf Group, including Hidden Valley, Wedgewood, Willow Hollow and Bunker Hill.

“We are seeing so many new players,” he said of Fairview. “Our starters are saying we are teeing off people we haven’t seen before. We are pretty established (in the community). The GOLFNOW platform has placed us in front of new customers.”

More families are playing together, too, an encouraging sign. “Late in the day, younger kids are trying out the game,” he said. “We are seeing kids who might need to hit range ahead of time, but it is their chance to enjoy the game. The demographic has dropped. We are a younger audience than we were at this time last year without a doubt.”

PGA Director of Golf Chad Donegan tells a similar tale at Landa Park Municipal Golf Course, a city-owned facility in New Braunfels, Texas. Donegan said the course used to average 150 players a day but is now seeing between 190 and 210.

“When we first reopened, we were walking-only the first eight days,” he recalled. “During that time period, we would have adults who would bring kids to walk along. We’ve seen some of them back with kids, whether they played or just joined the parents.”

Turning these new customers into repeat customers is the next challenge for every operator.

Donegan said that starts with a good first impression. “We have a good staff,” he said. “One of the first questions we ask is ‘Have you played the course before?’ If no, we have a spiel about the routing of the course, where the amenities are, where to find the grill, something cold to drink or hot to eat. We point where the warmup area is and make them feel at home. We are taking the extra time to acclimate them to the facility.”

He goes out of his way to talk to faces he doesn’t recognize. “I double check to see if their needs were taken care of,” he said. “I tell them thanks for coming out and playing. I make my way through the clubhouse frequently during the day.”

Fairview has hired an extra staffer as a “director of player experience” during this busy time since there are so many new procedures due to COVID-19. “We tried to have some key staff people who are experienced in customer service,” Jones said. “It can be a touch and go for people who don’t (know the facility). We have spaced out our tee times. We were at 12 minutes (intervals). Now we are at 10 minutes. We give each group a couple extra minutes on the tee. They don’t feel like they are pushed out like cattle. It is more of an experience.”

Both men lean on their GOLFNOW Plus teams to help communicate with customers virtually via social media and e-mail. Landa Park re-opened allowing only pre-paid rounds set up by GOLFNOW. The course remains credit-card-only and may stay cashless going forward. “It is something we have discussed,” he added. “We will have to see how that plays out down the road.”

Donegan doesn’t have the staff resources to post to social media daily. GOLFNOW handles the course’s Facebook page. Conversely, Jones said his staff uses Facebook, and sometimes Twitter, effectively thanks to guidance provided by GOLFNOW Plus Specialist Lauren Champion. He said whenever he has an idea about an e-mail promotion or social media graphic, she delivers on-point in a timely fashion. He cited a recent Father’s Day promotional e-mail that was well received. He considers Lauren a part of the staff at Fairview.

“She and I work well together,” he added. “We got on the same page early. She helped us with the (COVID-19) closure, but she was really good at reopening, getting out the rules and guidelines, trying to keep people in tune with the new rules and the specials in the pro shop.”


Bolster golf course marketing through visuals

Jun 16, 2020

Photos and videos are proven ways to impress and engage with your audience.

You’ve maintained and updated your golf course to make it stand apart, but that’s just job one when it comes to image. Job two is marketing your course in distinctive, eye-catching ways that will increase golfers at your course. Society is more visual now than ever before. People respond strongly to what they’re shown - whether it's a first impression or cumulatively over time.

“A course’s website and its promotional materials can help create an emotional connection that keeps customers engaged and builds their loyalty,” says marketing expert Lindsey Mammen, director of creative solutions, GOLFNOW. “One of the best ways to do that is through photography and video that’s lively and well-executed.”

Mammen drives her point home by citing statistics from digital marketing firm HubSpot, which states that embedding videos in landing pages can increase conversion by over 80 percent. They also say that adding a video to marketing emails can boost click-through rates by 200 to 300 percent. “It’s worth reviewing your visual presentation, and asking whether it’s got this kind of potency,” she said. “Will it attract, inform, excite, and charm the people who see it?”

Building blocks for visual marketing can include the course and clubhouse photos, course videos, and the design production. With the arrival of drone technology, golf courses have gained a useful and relatively affordable visual option—flyover video and still shots. In the past it was unusual to see aerial visuals of public courses, but lately, there’s more of it showing up.

Pictures and videos on websites start with homepage beauty shots and can extend to images that cover the services listed across the website. To gain a more visual advantage, courses might look at improving the imagery they use for those secondary assets. In general, pages for practice facilities, leagues, instruction, junior clinics, or 19th Hole dining seldom get a strong visual showcase. According to Mammen, “relying on text explanations to impress a site visitor who’s curious about those aspects of your business is a lost opportunity.”

 

Stand out from the crowd with professional drone footage and imagery

Outbound marketing, such as email and social media posts, will need to reflect or echo the visual “signature” found on your site. Email marketing fights for your audiences attention and strives to be remembered. The inbox of any customer you’re marketing to gets filled up with messages from a wide array of sources. Remember, the level of sophistication in branding and selling utilized by other marketers is what you're measured against. Engage your audience with your style of snapshots and links to short videos through email and posted across your social channels.
 

Promote your strengths with creativity

Sometimes a different approach to video can be effective, but keep in mind that it should be faithful to the brand you’ve created. Take the out-of-the-box efforts of Palm Beach National Golf & Country Club in West Palm Beach, Florida for example. Mike Dahlstrom, director of sales and hospitality, takes on the character of “Mikey D,” who horses around on-camera to make a point. In his short videos, Dahlstrom hangs out with regulars, paddle-boards across water hazards, and runs beat-the-pro trick shot competitions.

The tagline “P2B” is shown in a GIF animation during the intro and outro of Dahlstrom’s amusing home-movie presentations. That’s done to continually support a brand identification of Palm Beach National as the “place to be” for golfers in the region. Also, a pop-up box with "book now" call-to-action is shown to engaged users as the video clip is rolling. It’s clear that Mikey D has a particular talent for performing, and this course is dedicated to investing in marketing all facets of their business.

Palm Beach National’s approach isn’t for every golf course – and it shouldn’t be. Palm Beach National wins by focusing on visuals and staying consistent with their brand and key messaging - a lesson we can all learn from "Mikey D".

So, if your competition is sending out lively, engaging messages with clear visuals - take notice. Your recipients love the game, but marketing to them is solely based on rules of engagement.

To learn more about our marketing services, CLICK HERE. 

 

 


Engaging with golfers early and often, for success later

May 19, 2020

Right approach can strengthen customer relationships during crisis

No training or prior experience could have prepared course operators for market conditions brought on by the virus pandemic. And yet there’s been a display of innovative problem-solving well worth recognizing, as golf navigates this health crisis en route to better times. Those successes form a strong base to build on as courses work to build their revenues in the second and third quarters.

What golfers will remember about the early part of the season is a combination of contagion-fighting policies and customer-care messaging. Anywhere courses have been open, golfers have responded enthusiastically to the thoughtful decision-making on the part of managers.

Bismarck Tribune, would be frequent and likely quite positive. Prominent stories about such unique moves as installing a four-inch PVC pipe in the hole of each green provided reassurance and helped Doppler’s operation establish credibility.

“Our local media has done a good job informing the community about the steps we’ve taken to keep everyone safe,” says Doppler. “It’s put us in a good light and it’s resulted in golfers knowing what to expect when they get here.” 

Information about “eliminating touch points” was posted on the parks department website and starters on every first tee were trained in how to continue the information campaign. “Range balls in the past were distributed in buckets from the golf shop,” Doppler says, citing one example. “Our solution for that problem was to keep a trash can full of practice balls on the starter’s cart and dump out a basket for each player ourselves. As a staff we’ve been constantly checking to see that golfers seemed to feel safe here, and that’s really been the case.”

The Bismarck golf system got a major boost—as did many other golf operations—from its switchover to online prepayment of green fees, using GOLFNOW technology as a platform. Ways in which that move bodes well for the future, according to Doppler, include the capability to data-gather on individual purchasing patterns. “We’re now able to build a profile of the customer,” he says. “Which golf ball to suggest, or what brand of beer—they can see that their preferred items are available and order off the app, even while they’re out on the course.”

At semi-private Beekman Golf Course in Hopewell Junction, N.Y., the job of engaging effectively with golfers started with lots of staff meetings to gather ideas and get team members in synch with the safety and service program. On-site signage was relied on heavily at the outset, along with messages on the voicemail greeting and lots of staff-to-customer explaining. That included information about precautions taken to ensure that staffers, themselves, were ultra-compliant—down to designated bathrooms in the clubhouse.

“Based on all the safety measures we took, we built up a lot of goodwill,” says Jon Phillips, general manager of the facility. “We were a pretty well-honed operation from the start, at a time when courses across the state line in New Jersey weren’t open, so I would see a lot of New Jersey license plates in the parking lot. In that sense we’ve been able to expand our audience.”

On an industry-wide basis, there are lobbying and public-information campaigns spreading the word about the simplicity of social distancing out on the fairways. GOLF Business Solutions through its GOLFNOW, GOLF Advisor, Clubhouse Solutions and ClubBuy brands also is offering course operators a constant flow of information, services and products that can help them navigate the challenges of operating during the health crisis. That effort, along with frontline stories of golf staffs going all-out to problem-solve under trying conditions, contribute to the important work of golfer engagement now and in the months to come.


Helping Golf Courses Navigate Challenges Presented by COVID-19

May 07, 2020

Golf courses across the U.S. that are remaining open during the current COVID-19 health situation are getting some extra help through technology and services offered by GOLF Business Solutions to keep their staff and golfers safer.

As the world’s largest online tee time marketplace, GOLFNOW holds a unique position in the industry. Its connection to more than 9,000 golf course operations around the globe provides access to real-time market data any day, any time, which helps golf course operators make better-informed decisions about their businesses. This dynamic data is not available to any other organization, which must rely on information from polling and telephone surveys that can become obsolete soon after it’s collected. Additionally, the GOLFNOW sales team has “boots on the ground” in localities around the world and are continually taking the pulse of golf course operators in their respective areas.

GOLF Business Solutions also is offering any golf course posting tee times online with the option to switch its entire online tee-time inventory to pre-paid. This choice will allow golf course operators to adhere to social-distancing protocols – keeping their staff and golfers safer – while giving their golfers a “touchless” option for playing golf; in many cases, allowing them to go right from the parking lot to the first tee. There is no additional cost for this service, only the standard credit-card processing fees any business incurs when facilitating payments this way.

“These golf courses are trying to maintain viable businesses while also working to safeguard the health and safety of their staff and their customers, so they are facing an entirely new set of challenges,” said Jeff Foster, senior vice president, GOLFNOW. “We’ve been able to provide some of our existing technology in new ways in order to give them options and help them navigate these challenges more successfully, as well as give both golf courses and golfers added peace of mind.”

“We are making our operation the safest possible with the payment on file (credit card),” said Tim Doppler, Director of Golf Operations for the City of Bismarck, N.D. “We have set things up so people are required to put a card on file and they are buying range balls over the phone … we are delivering them to the range and everyone is as safe as can be. This has been the only way we can be open.”

Doppler also mentioned that he will continue to sell green fees and season passes in the same pre-paid fashion into the future.

Additionally, as government directives in certain states are requiring the closure of bars and restaurants, GOLFNOW is offering golf courses with dining facilities the ability to keep their kitchens open. Through its burgeoning SmartPlay service, which is available to courses using GOLF Business Solutions’ G1 course management technology, courses can continue to offer food via delivery, both on the golf course and, in some cases, within the community.

Todd Creek Golf Club, a full-service golf course facility located in Thorton, Colo., recently closed all seating at its on-site restaurant and bar as a precaution due to COVID-19. By using the SmartPlay component of G1, the club is able to offer food through a full-service window, as well as delivering it to golfers playing the course. Additionally, Todd Creek is offering residents of the surrounding 55-plus community an option of picking up food items from its clubhouse or having them delivered to their homes from a limited Food Pantry menu.

“SmartPlay has worked wonders for our community pantry that we initiated with the current pandemic,” said Jeremy Casebolt, General Manager, Todd Creek Golf Club. “Giving our community the ability to place their order online for pick up has helped ease the stress during these irregular times.”

 

EXPLORE MORE ON OUR COVID-19 HUB →


Sign of the times: rapid adoption of pre-payment online

Apr 29, 2020

“Necessity for doing business,” say course operators

When COVID-19 recedes and Beekman Golf Course returns to normal, the staff might not have to resume its love-hate relationship with the golf shop phone. This spring’s bizarre circumstances caused the 27-hole course outside Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to require that all bookings be made online and all fees paid at time of booking. General manager Jon Phillips, who’s also a co-owner of the facility, was forced to enact this policy and now dearly hopes he can keep it in force.

“Warm weather got here early and just about every activity besides golf was banned,” says Phillips. “We held a meeting to figure out how we could handle the demand while keeping ourselves safe and the golfers safe. Having every staff member picking up the same phone and having golfers coming into the shop for check-in were clearly unsafe practices. We found a way to avoid both.”

Technology allowed Beekman’s skeletal staff to funnel golfers from the parking lot to the first tee while maintaining social distancing and preventing people from touching objects and surfaces others had also touched. Stir-crazy golfers responded unflinchingly, to protect their own well-being and to keep the course from having to close.

“When you called our phone, the greeting would tell you to book online and pay in advance,” says Phillips. “People learned about the new rule that way or they found out from their friends – there was a lot of word of mouth about it.” There was also a lot of cooperation because Beekman’s regulars and newcomers understood that they were taking all the right steps necessary to make their golf environment safe. For the staff, online booking was gold – keeping it that way has emerged as a new priority.

“I keep thinking about the 1,500 calls we get every week in the summertime,” says Phillips. “If we can stick with our payment policy – now that customers are getting in the habit – we can eliminate the majority of our phone calls each week, which would make running our business 100 times simpler and improve the level of service we provide.”

Once he realized his standard procedures were out the window, Phillips contacted GOLFNOW and requested details about the pre-payment option. Senior Specialist Scott Jewell set to work upgrading the Beekman tee sheet and arranging for prepaid green fee dollars to hit the facility’s bank account.

“Over the past year, GOLFNOW has been continually innovating our payments technology and we were quickly able to pivot to meet the increased demand of providing pre-paid tee times,” said Jeff Foster, senior vice president, GOLFNOW. “Now, more than 500 courses are either offering a prepaid option or have signed up to implement the GOLFNOW technology, a number that continues to grow as more states are opening back up and golf courses start to come back online.”

“I knew GOLFNOW could do this,” Phillips says, “but I was surprised at how rapidly everything happened. Their first step was to flow the cash to us, which they did immediately. Then pretty quickly thereafter they set up our software for tracking deposits and managing the funds internally. During that conversion period I would send Scott 50 or 60 emails a day—it was like he had come to work for us full-time.”

A similar case of innovation in the face of disruption has unfolded this spring for the Country Club of Arkansas and its general manager, Tim Jenkins. Sometime in February, Jenkins found himself on a golf operations online forum devoted to just one topic – the questions and even chaos surrounding coronavirus and its threats to human health and the economy.

“We were able to get out in front of it,” says Jenkins, whose early spring weather in the Little Rock region turned very favorable for golf. He realized that standing in the shop loading 16-digit card numbers and expiration dates into the computer, with the phone ringing constantly, was clearly not viable. “We brainstormed for every idea we could think of until we had an operating format that we felt would ensure safety. Central to that was payment in advance online.”

Jenkins reached out to his GOLFNOW specialist to ask about installing the pre-pay feature and within 48 hours the requirement was built into C.C. of Arkansas’s account. He and his team used their voicemail greeting to explain this new approach and echoed that with plenty of signage—including tournament-style placards on the golf carts with each player’s name and their tee time. When golfers showed up, they found the cart key—disinfected— already in the ignition, plus any beverage or merchandise items they had ordered online. Equipped with the Visage communications system, the carts became rolling receivers of coronavirus information and instruction, another vital tool in the course’s pandemic-countering strategy.

“Our golfers were more than okay with pre-payment,” reports Jenkins, who heard thankful responses to the stocked and staged golf carts. “People would walk over and see their name, see their beer, their range balls, and whatever else they asked for, and they’d be tickled,” he says.

During one busy morning Jenkins paused to reflect that, different as the new system was, it actually bore a strong resemblance to what consumers experience elsewhere. “Think about it,” he says. “How often do our customers fly into an airport, walk past the rental car counter and go straight to their vehicle? I’m going to guess that’s how they do it every time. It’s only golf that was still doing things the old way.”

There’s a long list of inventions that emerged from sudden, disruptive events and occurrences. From what course operators have experienced during this pandemic, you’d naturally expect that pre-payment of green fees online might just join that list.


Surveyed course operators say they’re trying to cope

Apr 20, 2020

New numbers show how pandemic impacts public golf

Unprecedented disruption of day-to-day business at America’s golf facilities prompted GOLFNOW to conduct surveys of golf course operators in March and April – the first concluding on March 26 and the second on April 15. A total of nearly 1,300 responses came back, divided between the two questionnaires. It will come as no surprise that difficulties identified in the first survey were described as all the more challenging in the second one.

The most definitive data point covered by this research—whether the reporting facilities had closed for play—increased from 42 percent to 62 percent, in just the couple of weeks between surveys.

For many of those remaining open, manpower has been reduced by layoffs and furloughs. In the March GOLFNOW survey, 24 percent of respondents reported having laid off at least half their workers. In our April follow-up, that percentage had increased to 39 percent. Another 12 percent responding to the April survey said they had furloughed or laid off between one-quarter and one-half of their workforce.

Mild winter weather in large parts of the U.S. have combined with the shutdown of most entertainment options to actually increase early-spring golf activity in some places. That showed up in this research, with 24 percent saying, in March, that rounds played had increased over the same period in 2019. In the April survey, 15 percent said rounds were even or increased.

Changes to payment practices are under consideration at many courses, with some operators describing online prepayment as a necessity for doing business. Short-staffing has been commonplace and the need to maintain safety precautions is vital, two factors that favor the “park and play” approach and discourage in-shop payment.

A pair of questions in the April survey touched on that topic, the first one revealing that, among respondents who remain open for business, 52 percent are not accepting cash. The second question asked generally about forms of payment and provided multiple response options. A combined 17 percent said they had either “changed to online payments only” or “changed to credit card by phone only.” Six out of 10 said they were still at the golf shop counter, collecting payments and checking golfers in.

Continuing with the shutdown is, not surprisingly, a daunting prospect. When asked in April how long their course could go without green fee revenue during golf season before their business “suffers irreparable damage,” 27 percent said less than one month, 50 percent said from one to three months and the remaining 22 percent said they could go three months or longer.

 


On that basis, interest in government relief is something you would expect course operators to demonstrate. Almost two-thirds, 63 percent, said they had visited the SBA.gov website in search of information about CARES Act programs to assist small businesses in distress as a result of COVID-19 disruptions.

Projections and speculation about the country’s transition from the COVID-19 crisis to a gradually more open economy have mentioned golf as an activity more easily restarted than many others. That may be a partial reason for the fairly optimistic outlook that emerges from the April study, which concludes with the question: “What do you expect business levels to be like following the COVID-19 outbreak?”

One in three, exactly 33 percent, said business would be “about normal.” A spirited 8 percent said “much better” than before and 22 percent said “slightly better” than before. Meanwhile 29 percent felt it would be “slightly worse” than before the crisis and 9 percent said “much worse.” Researchers who produced the two studies, along with all their colleagues at GOLFNOW, wish to express gratitude to the course partners who took time to complete their questionnaires.

 

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