A GROWING MARKET
Third-party tee-time marketers, meanwhile, are growing. GolfNow, the industry
leader, booked 11 million rounds last year,
up by more than 30 percent from the year
It works with more than 5,000 courses
and has bulked up through acquisitions.
Last summer it acquired BRS Golf, a British
tee-sheet service with 750 courses, and
FORE! Reservations, an American counterpart with more than 2,000 golf courses.
Prior to the latter acquisition, Harry
Ipema, owner of FORE!, had railed against
GolfNow. So, in effect, the market leader
bought out one of its sharpest critics. Ipema
is no longer in the golf business.
Competitors say they are flooded with
requests from FORE! clients who are
looking to change vendors. One industry
observer predicted GolfNow will lose as
much as 30 percent of its customer base,
and the main reason for the departures is
that golf course operators simply don’t like
the GolfNow business model, he said.
Foster said most of the criticism is off
base and exaggerated. When NBC bought
GolfNow in 2008, it discussed whether the
barter model should remain a part of the
“The model wasn’t something we
invented,” Foster said.
However, at the time, many courses were
cash-strapped and lobbied for the bartering option.
GolfNow is evolving. Once just a third-party tee marketer, it’s becoming a major
player when it comes to offering software
platforms, including GolfNow One, a comprehensive golf course management system. The goal, according to Will McIntosh,
senior vice president of business development and strategy, is to free golf courses
of administrative tasks and allow them to
concentrate on making the golfing experience second to none.
It should also help streamline operations.
Today, operators may be dealing with several vendors when it comes to technology
needs. This way, they will only have one.
GolfNow had hoped to release GolfNow
One soon, but, like many new technologies, it has been bogged down with bugs,
according to a source who has used the
product. Still, it has been highly praised
and is expected to push the bar higher for
other technology providers.
GolfNow’s goal is also to help the golfer.
Making tee-time reservations should be an
easy and fast proposition, Foster said. And
GolfNow has the power — thanks to its
“When we put our heads
on our pillows at night,
we do so knowing we’re
doing our part to grow
—Jeff Foster, senior vice president of
new media for the Golf Channel.
size and connection to the Golf Channel —
to spread that message.
“There’s only one national player telling
them you can do this and that’s us,” Foster
Indeed, advertisements for GolfNow
always end with “Go. Play.” GolfNow is all
about encouraging golfers to pick up their
clubs and hit a course, Foster said.
“When we put our heads on our pillows
at night, we do so knowing we’re doing our
part to grow the game,” Foster said.
GolfNow is not the only player in the
EZLinks recently launched a new online
tee service called TeeOff. The new venture
doesn’t limit the course offerings to just
those that use EZLinks software, as was
the case before. So instead of having 1,200
courses offering tee times, the new site has
And third-party tee-time marketers can
make good money. The Colorado PGA
studyed the issue in 2012 and found that
third party tee time providers generated
more than $2 million from the sale of bartered tee times. Vendors averaged $27,500
in revenue per facility in tee times sold.
In response, it created the Colorado PGA
Tee Time Alliance, which offers participating courses a number of tools — from
websites to loyalty rewards programs — to
counter the need for third-party tee-time
Working with third-party tee-time marketers doesn’t have to be the end of the
world, some operators say. Courses need
to be vigilant when it comes to the fairness
of the partnership, though, and aggressively pursue golfers via their own website
Del Ratcliffe, of Ratcliffe Golf Services,
operates a number of municipal courses in
the Charlotte, N.C., area. He uses EZLinks
as his online tee-sheet provider and, in
return, gives up tee times to EZLinks.
“This works for us; however, it requires
a very close working relationship with the
provider, and constant monitoring of the
arrangement to make sure that it is beneficial for both parties,” he said.
His philosophy: Anyone who sells a tee
time for the course is considered a friend
— as long as they sell it on his terms.
He also uses his own website to promote
deals that are even better than the third-party offerings. For one thing, that drives
people to the course website. Golf courses
are also moving away from strict “rack
rate” pricing, he said, and basing prices on
demand, which is called “dynamic pricing.”
Demand and prices can change by the
hour, depending on a number of variables,
such as weather and course conditions.