municipal golf course’s ability to price its
services fairly and equitably to ultimately
survive. Trading golf inventory for mar-
keting is creating longtime problems for
LaPonzina said he wrote the article out
of frustration. The third-party system is
not growing the game, he said. It’s just
training existing golfers to seek — and
become accustomed to — unrealistically
deflated prices. He got emails from all
over the country from operators feeling
just as frustrated, he said.
“People are fed up,” he said.
And ridiculously cheap tee times have
fed the anger.
In Golf Operator magazine, an online
site featuring articles by industry vendors,
a story highlighted discounted prices
offered by third-party tee-time marketer
Last Minute Golfer. The lowest was “$0”.
Other rounds were as cheap as 99 cents.
Screenshots of the deals were included
in the article.
“Below is a sampling of actual advertised tee times in major markets for
October 30, 2013,” wrote the author, Rick
Robshaw, CEO of Club Prophet Systems, a
golf software company. “Appropriate that
this is around Halloween as it certainly is
IS BARTERING TRULY
Golf, obviously, can’t go back to 1985. And
some say, why should it?
Not all golf courses complain about bartering because third-party marketers help
them sell tee times they normally would
GolfNow is owned by the NBC Sports
Group — which includes the Golf
Channel in its portfolio. It says concerns
about bartering are overblown, since it’s
estimated that only 1 or 2 percent of all
rounds sold are bartered. Only about 15
percent of rounds are even booked online.
If so few rounds are bartered, how can
it be impact pricing as critics contend is
“If you step back and look at that, it simply doesn’t make sense,” said Jeff Foster,
senior vice president of new media for the
And what of Last Minute Golfer, the site
mentioned earlier that GolfNow owns,
and where some tee times are going for —
as noted — as little as nothing?
Foster said that if that’s the case, it’s
likely a marketing effort done in conjunction with the course to drive golfers to the
The site is for golfers seeking to land tee
times either that day or the next. However,
the last thing GolfNow wants to do is sell
rounds that are drastically reduced, he
“Our intent is to sell barter times for
as much as we can,” he said, because that
means it helps its bottom line.
But critics point out that even a small
number of discounted tee times can drive
market prices down.
“You get priced by the tee times that
move on the margin,” said one industry
observer. “It may only be 5 percent that
move, but it has a much larger impact —
forcing others to respond. GolfNow is the
pricing leader right now and the direction
they are pushing is down.”
It’s expected that online tee-time book-
ings will increase because the next gen-
eration of golfers has grown up using
computers, tablets, laptops and smart-
phones. Younger golfers also don’t have
the same loyalty habits as older golfers,
industry experts say. They’re more apt to
So the stakes could be quite high for
golf courses and the third-party tee-time
The debate has the attention of the
National Golf Course Owners Association,
which created a task force that is looking
into partnering with a tee-time provider
in hopes of better protecting courses.
“The ideal system that would be offered
through this partnership would be dedicated to economic fairness for golf course
owners and operators — the ultimate
stakeholders in the golf business,” the
NGCOA said in a statement.
The NGCOA met with potential
partners at the Golf Industry Show in
February, including GolfNow. But it is
unclear whether the organization will be
able to broker a deal, given its history with
In 2000, the NGCOA accepted a $2
million payment from Book4golf.com
in return for exclusive rights to serve as
its Internet tee-time reservation system.
The association got pushback from members who felt they should have the right
to select, and Book4golf.com eventually
imploded as a company.
That led to a statement passed in 2011
in which the NGCOA said it “does not
involve itself in the independent business
decisions of its members; but does advo-
cate providing insight and information
that helps them make decisions that are
best for their business.”
But rumors circulated in February that
the association had asked GolfNow for
a $1 million donation, sparking fear the
organization would do what it had done
Some industry observers say those
rumors, whether true or not, make it more
difficult for the NGCOA to finalize a deal.
30 Golf Inc. Summer 2014
“Trading golf inventory
for marketing is creat-
ing longtime problems
for our industry.”
—Johnny LaPonzina, president of
Professional Course Management,