Why I’ll Never Book a Tee Time On Your Website

Many of my posts are directed at golfers in general… this one is for the brave souls who own and operate the golf courses that enable the rest of us to enjoy the greatest game in the world.

During my travels I talk to a lot of golf course general managers/head pros… and frequently the discussion turns to the software systems that operators use to support their operations.

I have a particular interest in the tee sheet systems used to keep track of who is showing up to play when… it’s highly relevant for my business and of course as a nomadic golfer I book a lot of tee times for my own play.

Most tee time reservations are made through one of three methods:

  1. By phone
  2. Online bookings on the golf course website
  3. Online bookings via a 3rd party booking site such as GolfNow, Golf18, etc.

During these discussions, golf course GMs almost invariably say:

“I want everyone to book their tee times on our website”.

And my response is always the same:

“I will never book a tee time on your website.”

That usually generates a few awkward seconds of silence (and often a miffed and/or confused look on the golf course GM’s face), followed by a healthy conversation… here’s a compilation of bits and pieces from those discussions:

Golf Nomad:

I understand why you want to have people book their tee times online on your website… that’s what is most convenient and cost-effective for you.  You don’t have to pick up the phone… and you don’t have to pay a 3rd party booking service.

And… if I was a regular customer at your golf course and was booking lots of tee times, I’d happily go to your website and book my tee times.  My account ID and password would be all set up and it would take just a few seconds.

But… I’m a nomad… I play lots of different courses every year so many of my rounds are being played on courses that I have either never visited before or that I only play once or twice a year… or maybe not even that often.  Every site has a different URL… a different look and feel… and a different user ID and password.  All of a sudden, what is supposed to be convenient… booking a tee time online… is a pain in the you know what.

So I don’t do it… I might get as far as looking up available tee times on your site but I’m not going to create yet another user ID/password that I’m only going to use once a year… instead, I’ll just dial the course and book by phone… or, I’ll move on to another course that makes things more convenient for me.


Golf Course GM:

Oh, come on… how hard is it to set up an account?


Golf Nomad:

After entering my email address and a new password, I usually have to enter a bunch of personal details.  By the time next year rolls around, I’ll have forgotten whether or not I have an account and if I have one I’ll have forgotten what the password is.  I’ll spend 5 minutes just trying to figure all that out.  And, of course, by registering on your site I’ll probably be placed on your email list… unless I find the carefully hidden option to opt out… and my already overburdened inbox just got a little more cluttered… until I unsubscribe.  Thanks very much for making my already complicated life a little more complicated.


Golf Course GM:

I think you’re overstating the inconvenience… you could just use the same password for all the golf course websites.  And you can opt out to the emails if you really don’t want them.


Golf Nomad:

When’s the last time you set up an account on another golf course’s website?


Golf Course GM (after a long pause and with a sheepish grin):

I don’t think I ever have.


Golf Nomad:

That puts you solidly in the majority of your peers.  Go walk a mile in my shoes and then tell me how convenient it is… and remember, I’m not just going to have to do this for one course… it’s going to happen again and again.


Golf Course GM:

Well, that’s ok… for knuckleheads like you, I guess we’ll just have to answer the phone and book your tee time for you.


Golf Nomad:

That’s assuming I don’t decide to take a path of least resistance by booking at another course that makes it easier for me or just abandoning ship completely and skipping the round. This isn’t a zero sum game.  Every single thing we do that makes things even a teeny bit more inconvenient for golfers increases the likelihood that they’ll do something else instead of playing a round of golf.


Golf Course GM:

Well, you’re an exception to the rule.  Most people are booking tee times at courses that they play a lot.


Golf Nomad:

That’s a fair point. But, you might be surprised at the number of away games that are played.

We did some research a few years ago on scores posted by USGA handicap holders at a bunch of public golf courses and we found that 33% to 50% of the rounds that golfers played were played away from their home course and the average golfer played 8-12 different courses per year.  We’re talking about a lot of tee times.


Golf Course GM:

What do you do if it’s nighttime and the course is closed?  You can’t call so you have to book online.


Golf Nomad:

No one ever has to do anything.  I have a lot of options.  I could move on to another course that makes it more convenient for me to book online via a 3rdparty site or I could book on a course that has a call center or I could wait until morning to call for my tee time… or I could just throw in the towel and do something other than play golf tomorrow.

That last option is a real lose-lose… I don’t get to do what I’d really prefer to do and the golf industry loses revenue.


Golf Course GM:

Participating in those 3rd party sites doesn’t work for me… it’s nice that they bring me bookings without my team having to answer the phone but I won’t do trade and I won’t pay high commissions… and most of all I don’t want to put a 3rd party between me and my customers.


Golf Nomad:

Those are sensible concerns. In my humble opinion, the 3rd party sites all have a common flaw… they are spending beaucoup $$$ creating their consumer brands.

While watching PGA tour events this summer, I’ve seen gobs of ads for GolfNow, TeeOff.com, GolfBook and Supreme Golf.  Someone somewhere needs to pay for all of that.  For the most part, that’d be you golf course operators.  Of course, the ultimate irony is that golf course operators are paying for ads to build up the brands of competitors… not a sustainable situation.


Golf Course GM:

Well, since you’re the guy who wants all this convenience… why don’t you pay for it?


Golf Nomad:

I would be happy to pay a convenience fee for an effective booking site that allowed me to book on a high % of the courses where I want to play.  But, that doesn’t exist now… even GolfNow only has a small fraction of all courses listed and many of the courses that I want to play aren’t on 3rd party sites.

Also, I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority on this issue and most golfers will not pay for the convenience… people are too used to services on the internet being free.


Golf Course GM:

We seem to be painted into a corner here.  What’s the solution?

Is there a way for golf course operators and golf courses to both get what they want?

Golfers want a convenient place to book all of their tee times without booking fees.  Golf course operators want tee times booked online and we’re ok with them coming from an independent site if it doesn’t cost anything and if the independent site isn’t trying to ‘steal’ the golf course’s customers.

Who can solve this?  One of the tee sheet software companies?  One of the existing 3rd party booking sites?


Golf Nomad:

No individual tee sheet software vendor can successfully provide this solution.  This only works if the bulk of the tee sheet systems are willing to connect to it and if one of the competitors controls the site it will be impossible to get the others to buy in.

Likewise, none of the 3rd party tee time bookers has the right culture for this.  They are all focused on expanding their own consumer brands… Golf Now/Golf Channel, TeeOff.com/PGA Tour, GolfBook/CBS Sports. Operating silently in the background isn’t in their DNA.


Golf Course GM:

Ok, so who’s going to do it? You’ve made some interesting points, but I’m starting to think this conversation has been a waste of time.


Golf Nomad:

Don’t give up… the win-win better mousetrap solution can happen if the solution provider does three things:

  1. Keeps costs low by not investing in a separate consumer brand; create a service that supports the golf course brands rather than supplanting them
  2. Stays out of the tee sheet business and connects its solution to most or all of the most popular tee sheet systems
  3. Provides additional features that create incremental revenue streams for golf course operators that more than covers the modest costs of the solution


Golf Course GM:

When will that happen? Before or after hell freezes over?


Golf Nomad:

Actually… in spring 2019!

Some innovative golf course operators in Minnesota and Wisconsin are teaming up with Apparation LLC to make it happen… the final touches are being put on the software and some of the savviest operators in the market have already committed to participate.

Check out the IGDB Marketing Co-Op… a win-win for golfers and course operators.


Golf Course GM:

I’ll believe it when I see it.  There is a lot of devil in the details to make something like this work.  For example, you say that the Co-Op isn’t going to invest big $$$ to create a new consumer brand.  So how are people going to know about it?


Golf Nomad:

Oh man, look at the time… I’m teeing off in 5 minutes.

Take a little time and check out the information on the Marketing Co-Op blog. There’s contact information there that you can use to get all of your questions answered.

Hopefully next year I’ll be booking tee times at your course online and I can use the Marketing Co-Op features to attract a few more people to join me for my next visit.

More convenience and fun for me… more revenue and profit for you.





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