The Results Are In

Last week I wrote about the fact that I had recently visited the websites of all 11,993 public golf courses in the United States and offered my two cents’ worth on how these sites could become more impactful.

What I didn’t tell you was that the primary reason for my visits was to accumulate some information on the current software buying habits of US public course operators, specifically focusing on Internet Tee Time Booking tools.

Let me channel my inner Joe Friday and give you “just the facts” first… then switch into Dennis Miller mode and give you “just my opinion, and I could be wrong” at the end.

 

Just The Facts, M’aam

“Public courses” are defined as courses that can be played by anyone for a daily fee (as opposed to “private” that can be played only by members and their guests).

Using that definition, there are 11,993 public golf courses in the United States.

7,430 of those are 18+ hole, regulation length courses and the rest comprise executive, par 3, pitch and putt and 9 hole tracks.

We focused specifically on the Internet Tee Time Booking software products used by golf courses… determined by going to the golf course branded website and pushing the “Book A Tee Time” (or equivalent) option and determining what software powers the tee time booking process.  We compared the data we collected in Apr-Jun 2017 with similar data collected in Dec ’15-Feb ’16 to identify shifts in market share.

Let me preface the rest of this section by saying that I am quite certain that this data is not perfect… we no doubt made a few errors.  But I am also quite certain that the data is damned good… it was done using a consistent process over a short period of a few months with a lot of attention paid to the detail.  To the best of my knowledge, this information is not publicly available anywhere else as of this writing.

WHAT WE FOUND:

50% of all public golf courses offer Internet tee time booking on their branded websites.

68% of all 18+ hole, regulation length courses offer Internet tee time booking.

The % of courses that offer Internet tee time booking has not changed appreciably in the last 18 months.  524 courses have begun to offer Internet booking, but 434 have abandoned it.

1,996 courses changed Internet booking vendors in the last 18 months (that includes the 976 courses that went from NONE to something or from something to NONE).

Of the 5,997 courses that offer Internet tee time booking:

GolfNow has 50% market share, but lost 13% of its customers (386) in the last 18 months (down from 58% share to 50% share)

EZLinks has 27% market share, and grew by 3.3%

Teesnap (net gain of 150 or 535%), ForeUP (net gain of 141 or 56%) and Club Prophet (net gain of 114 or 37%) were the fastest growing products.

41 vendors have at least one golf course customer:

100+ golf courses – GolfNow, EZLinks, Club Prophet, ForeUP, Teesnap, Quick18

25-99 golf courses – Vermont, GuestDesk, Total e Golf, Chelsea, Cybergolf, TeeQuest, tee-on, OTTO, Chronogolf

5-24 golf courses – 10 vendors

1-4 golf courses – 16 vendors

6 vendors that had customers in 2015 no longer have any Internet booking customers (RIP CompuTee, GolfGopher, TeeLeader, Coles, Golf Rewards and GolfOneSoftware).

 

Just My Opinion And I Could Be Wrong

While monopolies really suck for customers, duopolies are only slightly better.  If you doubt that, consider our current US political party situation… how’s that working out for us?

With 2 vendors holding 77% market share, the Internet Tee Time Booking market might still be a duopoly, but the signs are encouraging with the 3 vendors adding the most customers in the last 18 months coming from outside the duopoly.

Why is the shift occurring?  A high percentage of current GolfNow customers were “acquired” in the Fore! and Active Golf deals… they were not initially customers of GolfNow by choice and there is dissension in the ranks.  In my discussions with course operators, the number who view GolfNow as a negative force outnumber those who view GolfNow as a positive force by about 4 to 1… and now those disgruntled customers have several viable options.

Will the share shift continue?  IMHO, yes.  The upstarts now have enough critical mass to accelerate their progress and their shiny new technology is appealing to many customers.  The market leaders have not yet shown a willingness to change their models to be more customer-friendly.  A big wildcard in this is that GolfNow and EZLinks both play in both the tee sheet/POS market AND in the 3rd party booking market.  Notice that the 3 fastest growing tee sheet/POS/Booking Engine providers have eschewed participation in the 3rd party Booking market… that is significant.

What could slow or reverse the share shift?  Possible game changers could be 1) financial failure by one or more of the upstarts… it isn’t 100% clear whether these new ventures have achieved break-even yet so there may be more capital needing to be raised, 2) more acquisitions, 3) a true change of heart and focus on product quality by the market leaders or 4) some other unknown unknown… markets of this size can easily be disrupted by unforeseen events.

Who’s my money on?  Since I don’t operate a golf course I don’t have to pick just one and since I’m not a fool I won’t go out on a limb and pick a winner.

If I was running a golf course, who would I use?  It would depend on the type of operation I was trying to run… pure daily fee?  high % of member play?  Destination/resort?  And lots of other factors.  There is no one right answer.

Those last two answers may disappoint you… perhaps you had expected a bolder stance by the Gadfly.  I’ll continue this thread of posts next week with some more concrete input on the pros and cons of your various alternatives.  While I’ve never operated a golf course, I have been deeply involved in software markets and running for profit businesses for almost 40 years and I have obviously given a great deal of thought to this market segment, so hopefully you will find these thoughts to be useful.

The general theme of the upcoming posts will be that the tide has turned in favor of golf course operators and that savvy operators can get great value for money if they’re willing to spend a bit of time evaluating their alternatives.

Stay tuned… more coming soon… ch-ch-ch-ch-changes on the way.

3 Comments

  1. LD says:

    Hi,
    Is this information accurate? GolfBook(parter to CBS Sports) states on their website that they have 1200 courses, so shouldnt they be listed in top 5? And I believe Chronogolf has 300+ courses. I’d love a response back to this. Thank you!

    • Golf Gadfly says:

      LD, thanks for your comment. Re your questions…

      Yes, the data is accurate… at least as of July 2017. We visited every public golf course website in the US, pressed the Book a Tee Time button… and recorded the results. Of course this data is time sensitive… we expect about 800 courses to switch vendors in the next 12 months and we intend to update this data about once a year.

      Re your points of possible discrepancy, let me clarify that this is a count of booking engines used by public golf courses on their own branded websites in the United States only.

      GolfBook does not register on this scale because it is a 3rd party booking system, not a booking engine used by golf courses on their own websites. We will be doing some posts on 3rd party booking systems during October… stay tuned.

      ChronoGolf likely has 300+ customers worldwide, including about 100 in Canada, but they are still quite small (but beginning to grow) in the US.

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