How do you reach more eyeballs?

In the Internet age, every one of us is bombarded with an ever increasing number of marketing messages, making it harder and harder for individual businesses to get and hold our attention.

How are daily fee golf course operators coping with this marketing maelstrom?

Virtually all of you are operating direct marketing campaigns to reach golfers via your branded website, email blasts and social media and sometimes extending to targeted magazine, newspaper, radio and television ads.

But for most courses, that’s not enough… and they rely on one or more indirect marketing channels to expand their reach.

Of course, there is no one size fits all solution for marketing a daily fee golf course… but paying some attention to how your peers are going about it can certainly be useful as you develop and implement your own marketing strategy.

During the last few months, I waded into this morass and studied the marketing habits of 200 daily fee golf courses in Minnesota (176) and Wisconsin (24).  195 of these facilities have at least 18 holes of regulation length golf.

We studied the 12 largest multi-course marketing programs in the region and found that almost 95% of the courses participate in at least one external marketing program and over 50% participate in 3 or more programs.

Programs within the scope of the study (and the number of courses participating during 2018) include:

3 discount golf card programs
Minnesota Golf Card (109 or 54.5%)
MN PGA Golf Card (108 or 54%)
Wisconsin Classic Golf Tour (20; 10% of the total and 77% of the 26 WI courses)

1 virtual country club program 
Public Country Club (61 or 30.5%)

3 promo/advertising campaigns
My Golf Fix (49 or 24.5%)
iDeal Genie (38 or 19%)
Explore Minnesota Golf (23 or 11.5%)

5 3rd party tee time booking sites 
GolfNow (71 or 35.5%) (57 or 28.5%)
Golf18 Network (55 or 27.5%)
GolfBook (24 or 12%)*
TeeMaster (11 or 5.5%)

*GolfBook now also allows users to book on GolfNow courses

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that my colleagues at Apparation LLC have been involved in the creation of My Golf Fix and iDeal Genie services and have collaborated in various ways with the operators of the Minnesota Golf Card, the Minnesota PGA Golf Card and the Public Country Club.

All of the data for the study was collected from publicly available Internet sites.

Of the 200 facilities included in the study:
13 (6.5%) participate in NONE of these programs
40 (20%) participate in 1 of the 12 programs
68 (34%) participate in 2 or 3 programs
47 (23.5%) participate in 4 or 5 programs
32 (16%) participate in 6-9 programs

I’ve spent considerable time studying this data and offer the following observations… if you want to wade into the gory details yourself, use the links at the bottom of this post.

Observation 1:  Card programs are the most popular type of program:

71% participate in at least one card program
60% participate in at least one 3rd party booking program
40% participate in at least one promo/advertising campaign
30% participate in the relatively new virtual country club program

Observation 2:  Most of the ‘fees’ for participating in these programs are paid in forms other than cash:

MN Golf Card – discounts on rounds played by cardholders
MN PGA Card – discounts on rounds played by cardholders
WI Classic Tour Card – discounts on rounds played by cardholders
PCC – discounts on rounds played by members
My Golf Fix – cash and/or trade
Explore Minnesota Golf – cash fees
iDeal Genie – trade
GolfNow – trade
Golf18 – trade
GolfBook – cash commissions
TeeOff – trade or commissions
TeeMaster – cash and/or trade

Observation 3:  The new kids on the block have grown rapidly.

In its first year of operation, My Golf Fix attracted ~25% of the courses studied.

In its third year of operation, the Public Country Club has grown to ~30% participation (from about 7% in year 1).

Both are operated by long-time Twin Cities golf entrepreneurs… Jeff Grossman of My Golf Fix operated the Card Caddy program for 20+ years and Kevin Unterreiner has operated for 20 years.

Observation 4:  There is a variation in the “class appeal” of the programs.  

The average peak rate (weekend rate for 18 with cart) of the courses participating in each program are:

$88 – Explore Minnesota Golf
$62 – My Golf Fix
$58 – iDeal Genie, TeeMaster
$55 – MN PGA Card
$53 – WI Classic Tour Card, Public Country Club
$52 – MN Golf Card, GolfBook
$50 – GolfNow
$49 – TeeOff
$48 – Golf18

Explore Minnesota Golf is specifically targeted at the “premier” courses in the state.  My Golf Fix, MN PGA Card and TeeMaster’s philosophy of allowing each golf course to define their own promotions and pricing seems to appeal to somewhat higher fee courses.  Note that the 4 programs with the lowest average peak rate are 3rd party tee time booking programs.

Observation 5:  We’re making progress on online tee times, but we’re not all the way there yet.  

50% of the facilities allow golfers to book a tee time on their own website and on at least one 3rd party booking site.

35% of the facilities allow golfers to book an online tee time only on their own website.

5% of the facilities allow golfers to book an online tee time on at least one 3rd party site but do not offer bookings on their own website.

10% of the facilities do not offer online bookings at all.

There is no single website where a golfer can book a tee time on more than 50% of the courses studied.



Of course… I wouldn’t be the Golf Gadfly if I didn’t pose a few potently upsetting questions… strap on your thinking cap for these:

Question #1 – When you make your decisions on which programs to participate in for 2019, will you just ‘rinse and repeat’ your 2018 decisions or will you make a thoughtful decision regarding which of these programs to use?

Come on, be honest… are you on auto pilot?  Don’t be… make some thoughtful decisions.  Consider joining the programs you haven’t participated in before and don’t just automatically renew the ones you’ve been in… make them earn another year.

Question #2 – Why can’t the golf industry do a better job of offering golfers the convenience of one stop shopping?

Airlines can do it… hotels can do it… why not golf courses?

I know, I know… I’ve heard from many golf course operators “I want everyone to come to my website to book their tee times.”  But guess what?  I don’t WANT to have to go to 5 different websites to find a tee time… and if I’m only going to play your course once or twice a year I don’t WANT to have to create another account id and password on your website.

Come on, people, let’s get our heads around this problem and offer golfers some convenience that will HELP them to book tee times more conveniently.  How about a single website where I can book on 80+% of all golf courses?  More convenience = More tee times.

Question #3 – How much are your tee times worth?  Do you take that into account when you do trade deals?

If you trade tee times for services, what value do you place on those tee times?  Don’t fall into the “it’s free… all I have to do is give them a tee time a day” mentality.  A tee time a day for 200 days is 800 rounds of golf… at an average price of $20 per round, that’s $16,000.  If you had the alternative of paying with a tee time a day or paying with $1,500 in cash per year for the same services, which would you choose?


See the details of the 200 course study using the links below:

Sorted by course name

Sorted by # of programs


And as you noodle through this data, give the Gadfly some feedback…

Are there any other programs that you think should have been included in the study?

How do you answer the Gadfly’s questions?

Do you have any analysis you’d like to add to the mix?

Would you be interested in a similar study on the direct marketing habits of area golf courses (websites, emails, social media)?


And… a Golf Gadfly post wouldn’t be complete without a little pop culture reference… is this how your customers react to your marketing pitches?





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