Who’s Your Money On In The Tee Sheet Wars?

(Note:  This is a much longer than normal post, because this is a complicated topic and I did a ton of research.  In 5-10 minutes of reading, you can pick up information that would take you many hours to gather on your own.  If you’re considering a change in tee sheet software or just want to stay current with what’s happening in the market, this will be time well spent.)

 

Just for grins last year, yours truly conducted the most complete survey of tee sheet software market share ever done.

I visited the website of every public golf course in the US and Canada (14,000+).  On each website, I looked for the Book a Tee Time button and if they had one I pushed it and noted the software system that the course used (yes, I have a serious case of OCD).

If we just focus on the ~7,500 US public, 18+ hole, regulation length courses, I found that the market for Internet Tee Time Booking Systems is remarkably symmetrical:

34% use GolfNow products (Fore!, Active, etc.)
16% use EZLinks products (EZLInks, IBS, etc.)
17% use Other Vendor products (Club Prophet, ForeUP, etc.)
33% offer no Internet tee times (that’s right, 1/3 of regulation courses still don’t offer Internet tee times!  Hey folks, wake up.  It’s 2017!)

Why should you care?  Tee sheet and tee time booking software is an essential asset in your efforts to connect with golfers interested in playing at your course.  Choosing wisely can allow you to make it more convenient for your customers to book tee times and allow you to run your operation more efficiently.

To gain some grassroots insights, I took a deeper dive into the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) Metro market (roughly defined as a circle centered between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul with a 50 mile radius).  As of spring 2017, there are 122 public 18+ hole regulation length courses in MSP.  For Internet tee time booking:

39% use GolfNow products (34% nationally)
10% use EZLinks products (16% nationally)
43% use Other Vendor products (17% nationally)
8% do not offer Internet tee times (33% nationally)

Why study MSP?  Because it’s been a trendsetter in tee time booking systems.  The first sizable Internet tee time booking system was MSP-based TeeMaster, which launched in the mid 1990s.  MSP is also home to ForeTees, which pioneered the use of Internet tee time bookings in private country clubs at Dellwood and is still considered the gold standard for private club tee time booking.  The changes currently taking place in the MSP market are probably a harbinger of things to come in the rest of the country over the next few years.  Notice that only 8% of MSP courses in our study category don’t offer online tee times compared to the national average of 33%… MSP course operators are clearly ahead of most of the rest of the country in their adoption of software tools.

Within the last 3 years, 50% of the 122 courses have made at least one Internet tee time booking vendor change… and we see the trend accelerating with rumblings that many courses that have stood pat to date are now considering their options.

In summary, the market share winners recently have been Club Prophet, ForeUP and Teesnap… while the market share losers have been GolfNow, TeeMaster and EZLinks.

Club Prophet picked up big group wins at Wilson Golf Group, Minneapolis Parks and City of St. Paul plus other top tier courses such as The Wilds and Northfield Golf Club.

ForeUP has been a steady gainer each of the last several years, with high profile wins at White Eagle, Ridges at Sand Creek, Pebble Creek and Dakota Pines.  Most of ForeUP’s customers have defected from GolfNow’s Fore! platform.

Teesnap picked up its first 4 customers in MSP for the 2017 season, landing New Richmond, St. Croix National, Mississippi Dunes and Shadowbrooke, all of which converted off of GolfNow platforms.  Teesnap is the newest product on the market, entering its 3rd year of operation.

The migration by many customers away from GolfNow products has been fueled at least in part by the fact that many of GolfNow’s customers were “acquired” via the purchase of Fore!, Active Golf and Chelsea… and many of those customers were not enamored of the GolfNow barter business model.

TeeMaster has seen a steady decline in its customer base due to their lack of modernization.  The TeeMaster site has never been updated to be mobile-friendly and looks much as it did 10 years ago.

EZLinks has seen a smaller decline in its numbers but some notable defections recently included City of St. Paul and Northfield Golf Club.  Like GolfNow, EZLinks has been active in the acquisition market and its acquisitions of IBS and CourseTrends has seemingly caused some restlessness among some of the acquired customers.


 

For the gory details as to which system every one of the 122 MSP courses that we studied is using this year, select a page from the list below.

Just a few notes on these details:

  1. 99% of this information was collected from the public websites of the golf courses studies; I made a handful of phone calls to courses whose sites didn’t provide full information.  As of this post, the information is very current… all has been vetted within the last 30 days.  Note that the eagerly anticipated Royal Golf Club will open later this summer, and has not yet launched its online booking system, so I listed it for now as Unidentified.
  2. A few courses use different vendors for Internet Booking than for the underlying tee sheet (e.g., Island View uses EZLinks GolfSwitch for public online booking and ForeTees for member booking and for its tee sheet inventory)
  3. The list contains vendor names, not the product names.  So, for example if a golf courses uses the Fore! tee sheet, the vendor listed is GolfNow.
  4. I’ve thrown in a little bonus information relating to the website template that the golf course uses to manage its branded website.  The big 3 are Golf Channel Solutions (GolfNow), CourseTrends (recently acquired by EZLinks) and 1-2-1 Marketing.
  5. I have similar data (although not as current), for every golf course in the United States and Canada.  If you are interested in seeing data for other markets, contact me at thegolfgadfly@grouplooper.com

 

122 MSP PUBLIC 18+ HOLE REGULATION GOLF COURSES:

By Course Name

By Internet Booking Vendor

By Peak Rate

 


Ok, that’s the current picture… what does the future hold?

We now move from the realm of facts to that of opinions.

A local operator who I highly respect told me a few years ago that he assumed that GolfNow would win the tee sheet wars because they were the only ones with deep enough pockets to sustain and extend their product.  But software wars are not always won by those with the deepest pockets, and what we’re seeing in the tee sheet market is some smaller, scrappy vendors staking out substantial positions.  One of the challenges that both GolfNow and EZLinks have as the current market leaders is that they have grown significantly by acquisition and they each now have to rationalize several different incompatible software platforms that they own (GolfNow acquired Fore!, Active Golf, Crescent, BRS and EZLinks acquired IBS, CourseTrends/Golf18 and GolfSwitch).  Each is wresting with complicated integration issues that saps some of their resources in the short-term.

The good news for course operators is that this is a healthy, vibrant market with several viable options.  Monopolies are never good for customers, and at this point there are no signs that this market is heading in that direction.

Based on what I am hearing in the market from operators in all areas of the MSP Metro, I believe that the trends of the last few years will continue.

Club Prophet, ForeUP and Teesnap will continue to pick up customers and will take most of them out of the hide of GolfNow (47 remaining customers) and TeeMaster (6 remaining customers).

GolfNow market share is going to continue to decline unless they make a substantial change to their business model.  We counted at least 17 courses that have converted off of GolfNow in the past few years and we heard already heard from several other courses that they are intending to move when their contracts expire this fall.

TeeMaster will continue to decline and will cease to exist within 3-4 more years… the loss this year alone of Minneapolis Parks, Valleywood and Fox Hollow and the previous defections of high profile customers such as Edinburgh have seriously sapped TeeMaster’s market strength and I see no signs that they intend to revitalize the product.

EZLinks is a wild card.  They have a broad array of products based on their recent acquisitions of IBS, CourseTrends and GolfSwitch… I’ll be watching to see what they do with all that horsepower.  Nationally, they are the vendor of choice for a high percentage of top tier public courses but that hasn’t been the case to date in MSP.

As for who will win the lion’s share of the new business among Club Prophet, ForeUP and Teesnap, I’ll address that in an upcoming post.  For now I’ll just say that the answer to the question “Which tee sheet is best?” is “It depends”… different courses have different requirements and no software vendor is better than its rivals for all types of courses.

What could cause my predictions to be wrong?

GolfNow could regroup and react to its loss of market share with a more operator-friendly model.

GolfNow or EZLinks could acquire one of the emerging brands; that would cause some turmoil.  Look what happened when GolfNow purchased Fore!, for example.

I don’t have any access to the financial results of these vendors.  If one or more of these vendors is not financially viable, they could disappear (or more likely be snapped up in an acquisition.)

A niche player in the MSP market (e.g., Chronogolf, Tee-on, Quick18) could launch a more aggressive sales and marketing blitz similar to what Teesnap did this year… with over 50 courses likely evaluating alternatives over the next few years that’s a distinct possibility.


 

Of course, those are all just my opinions… and I could be wrong.

What do you think?  Share a comment on this blog or let me know at thegolfgadfly@grouplooper.com.

And if you’re in the market for a new tee sheet system anytime soon, please choose wisely.

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. ProZach says:

    Love this article. Wish there were more comparison stats. We are stuck in deciding to move away from GolfNow and looking at EZ360 and TeeSnap.

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