Who’s Winning the Tee Sheet Wars?

A little over a year ago I provided you with an analysis of the public golf course tee sheet software market that included an accounting of which tee time booking product was in use by every public course in the US.  It was my best-read post of 2017.

Today, I offer an update on this topic of vital interest to anyone involved in managing a public golf course.  If you are a public golf course operator considering changing to a new tee sheet system for 2019 (or even if you’re standing pat), you can pick up some valuable info by spending 5 minutes soaking in this post.

And if you’re an exec or sales rep for one of the tee sheet competitors, here’s one observer’s perspective on the highly competitive game you’re playing by someone who has been working in and around software companies for over 40 years.  Let me preface all of my remarks by saying that I have nothing but respect for companies/teams that have managed to successfully navigate the complexity of operating a software business that supports the mission critical business activities of its customers.  If any of my remarks in this post don’t ring true, feel free to contact me at thegolfgadfly@grouplooper.com or post a comment on this blog… we’ll investigate and correct the record if we’ve made a factual error.

Our 2018 survey focused on the 18+ hole regulation length golf courses in my home territory of Minnesota and Wisconsin… next year we’ll once again do the full national scan. Just as important as the numbers, however, is the qualitative analysis provided below based on my own observations and on comments by course operators who are using these products to support their businesses.

 

Let’s start with some quick facts and a few key questions:

There are 472 regulation length, 18+ hole public golf facilities in MN/WI.

We conducted our survey by going to the branded website of each of these courses and pushing the Book Tee Times button (if they had one), and then recording which software vendor the course uses to provide online booking services to golfers.

 

#1:  Which vendor has the largest market share?

GolfNow retains the top spot with approximately 30% share, primarily due to the use of products that GolfNow has acquired (Fore!, Active Golf).  That share has been gradually eroding, however… I provide some thoughts below on why that’s been happening and whether it’s likely to continue.

 

#2:  Which ‘vendor’ is in the #2 spot and is giving GolfNow a run for its money as the market leader?

You may have been able to tell by the quotes around vendor that this is a trick question… the 2nd most popular choice of the courses surveyed is NONE.

That’s right, 27% of the regulation length, 18+ hole public golf facilities in MN/WI do not offer customers an option of booking a tee time online from their website.  That number is shrinking, but it is changing slowly and is still shockingly high.  I tried to think of another consumer-based industry where over a quarter of the participants don’t offer an ability to purchase their product online… and failed to come up with one.  Perhaps illegal drugs?… but I didn’t venture out onto the Dark Web to verify.

 

#3:  Which vendors will thrive and which will fail to survive the Tee Sheet Wars in the next 5-10 years?

This is a relevant question for you to think about if you are selecting a new tee sheet system.  It’s just as important as evaluating the functions and features of each product.  There will be more shakeout in the industry. There may very well be more acquisition activity.  My belief is that there is room for 4-5 healthy competitors in the US tee sheet software market and there are currently over a dozen vendors fighting for their piece of the pie.  If you are interested in my take on who will fare the best in coming years, you’ll have to keep reading all the way to the end.

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Without further ado, let’s get to the full survey results.  The relative market shares of the various vendors will be different in different regions of the country, but the overall trends that I observed in MN/WI this year are consistent with what our team found last year when surveying the entire US.

Internet Tee Time Booking Market Share – 472 MN/WI Golf Facilities

GolfNow         29.7%             Shrinking

NONE              26.9%            Shrinking

foreUP            10.4%             Growing

EZLinks          10.2%             Flat

Club Prophet     9.1%            Growing

Teesnap             5.1%            Growing

Vermont            1.5%             Shrinking

Chronogolf        1.3%            Growing

Tee-on               1.3%            Shrinking

Quick18             1.1%             Flat

Other                 3.6%

 

You can view the details of the survey here.

If you’re playing the field for 2019, this is a fertile source of reference information.

 

I am not here to provide a detailed analysis of the functions and features of these various solutions or try to tell you which of these software systems is ‘best’… there is no one size fits all answer as to the best fit… for example, a muni golf course with a snack shop in a dense urban area, a top tier metro course with a fine dining restaurant, a course that is a key hub of social activity in a small town in  rural area and a destination golf resort all have vastly different priorities.

But that won’t stop me from offering some pithy analysis on some of the particular strengths and challenges of the major players.  The opinions you read below are mine and mine alone, based on discussions with at least one customer of each of the vendors commented on and on discussions with representatives of some but not all of the vendors.  A lot of what you read below is my analysis and speculation based on having been involved in niche software markets for over 40 years… some fundamentals never change.  And I’ve paid particularly close attention to the golf tee sheet market since 2012… do you know anyone else who has literally visited the website and tee time booking page of every golf course in the US multiple times?

In the interests of full transparency, I do not have an ownership stake or any other financial interest in any of the companies reviewed here…  and have no designs on ever having a financial interest in any company that offers golf course tee sheet software.  I am, however, fully immersed in the Apparation LLC business that provides an emerging set of multi-course booking and marketing tools that could be viewed as competitive with 3rdparty booking sites such as Golfnow.com (owned by GolfNow), Teeoff.com (owned by EZLinks) and Golf18Network.com (also owned by EZLinks), etc.  Only you can determine the extent to which you consider my comments to be independent and unbiased.

 

GolfNow (29.7%) is still the beast in this market with 3x the market share of their closest competitor, but their share has been steadily declining. It’s important to remember how GolfNow arrived in this position … they acquired Fore! and Active Golf when they were #1 and #2, respectively in terms of golf courses served.  Those acquisitions seem to have been driven primarily by a desire to acquire more inventory for the GolfNow.com booking site.   Several years post-acquisition, there is still some significant unfinished business for GolfNow in consolidating and rationalizing all of the various products it has acquired.  The most loyal GolfNow customers that I have talked to are using the old Fore! tee sheet/POS product and believe it still offers the best functionality on the market.  But I have also talked to many courses that have abandoned (or are about to abandon) GolfNow solutions for competitors’ products and their rationale for change seems to be driven by two factors… 1) many of them were uncomfortable with the barter model favored by GolfNow and 2) several said that they had experienced a decline in the quality of customer service being provided since their vendor was acquired. The pace of the decline in GolfNow market share seems to have slowed a bit this past year, and the anecdotal evidence indicates that this is also primarily attributable to two factors… 1) GolfNow has been more willing to negotiate its rates (and in particular the terms of its barter program) and 2) some customers have been frozen by the potential of the new G1 solution that GolfNow is promoting.  To those operators banking on G1, keep in mind that this is the 5thyear in a row that GolfNow has been touting this new solution as the answer to their prayers.  Perhaps G1 will eventually turn out to provide the benefits windfall suggested by GolfNow but to date we have seen lots of sizzle but little steak on the G1 front… buyer beware.

None (26.9%) is the competitor in this market that we should all agree we’d like to see shrink.  As an avid golfer and lover of convenience, I have a hope that someday I’ll be able to book a tee time at any course on the planet online in 30 seconds or less… I can dream, can’t I?  The regulation length, 18 hole courses that still do not offer online tee time booking in this age of the Internet primarily fall into two categories… 1) high end resort destinations that want to sell full trips including accommodations (e.g., Sand Valley, Whistling Straits, Black Wolf Run) and have a high percentage of large group sales and 2) small town or rural courses that are almost exclusively serving a well-defined local market.  Some of the latter courses do not have reliable Internet connections in the golf shop. We expect to see the list of courses that do not offer online tee times to continue to diminish over time, eventually reaching the 5%-10% range.  That means there is still 15%-25% market share available for vendors to fight to acquire… a nice opportunity for growth.

foreUP (10.4%) was the first vendor to offer a cloud-based tee sheet/POS software solution and has steadily gained market share since its introduction around 2012.  foreUP has also been a leader in the move toward more open systems, with a very liberal API policy and alliance relationships with partners such as Gallus and 18Birdies.  While foreUP has been growing steadily, we have noticed some churn in their client base in our region as several courses have converted to other products after a few years using foreUP.  Customers we talked to give foreUP very high marks for the consumer-facing aspects of their product (e.g., ease of use of the tee time booking service), while the administrative side of the product is reported to still have some rough edges that need to be addressed… not a surprise given the relatively young age of the product.  foreUP co-founder and CEO Joel Ragar recently left the company… a change in leadership that no one we talked to saw coming.  It will be interesting to see if there are major changes in foreUP strategy under new leadership… the buzz we have heard is that we are likely to see a more aggressive push for growth.

EZLinks (10.2%) is a long-time mainstay of this market and its current market share is a combination of the organic growth of its initial product plus some “acquired” market share via its acquisitions of IBS and CourseTrends. EZLinks’ market share has been relatively flat to slightly declining over the past few years and like GolfNow they are somewhat confusing to analyze because they not only sell tee sheet/POS software but they also offer consumer-facing 3rdparty booking products TeeOff.com and Golf18Network.com.  Their traditional stronghold has included relationships with most of the large management companies.  Since those companies don’t have a huge presence in MN and WI, EZLinks presence is likewise smaller in this market.  Some of those management companies have recently defected from EZLinks (e.g., Billy Casper), and this will require the company to make some nimble moves to reposition itself and get on a growth track again… the next few years will indicate whether they are up to the task.

Club Prophet (9.1%) is another long-time mainstay of the market but unlike the other more mature competitors, Club Prophet continues to grow at a healthy clip. Proprietors Rick and Tom Robshaw can empathize with the needs of their customers, having come from roots as golf course operators themselves.

Club Prophet has a particularly strong presence in Minnesota, with customers including Minneapolis Parks and St. Paul City courses and a high percentage of the top tier MSP public courses (Troy Burne, StoneRidge, The Wilds, Stonebrooke, Edinburgh, Pioneer Creek, Wilson Golf Group, etc.).  Most of the Club Prophet customers we talked to are quite happy with the deep functionality of the product and CP has announced several recent upgrades that indicate they are gradually enhancing their product to be more attuned to the increasing demand for mobile solutions for both golf course administrators and golfers.

Teesnap (5.1%) is a new age solution that entered the market in 2014. With a deep-pocketed owner (Allegiant Airlines) that also provides access to some very sophisticated resources in terms of payment system and digital marketing assets, Teesnap is well-positioned to become a prominent force in the market and they have grown rapidly.  Most observers now consider Teesnap one of the serious competitors in the market along with GolfNow, EZLinks, foreUP and Club Prophet.  Teesnap is the only competitor other than GolfNow that has local salespeople embedded in most major markets, providing a human touch to their customer relationships that many of their customers find comforting.  Because of its young age, the Teesnap product is still evolving rapidly and there are some gaps that have caused some customers to abandon ship, but most of the comments we have heard from Teesnap customers have been quite positive.  One issue that Teesnap will need to addressing going forward is the extent to which they will enable 3rdparty booking systems to connect… there is no current support for 3rdparty booking connections.

 

We now get to software vendors with less than 5% market share in MN/WI.  Four are worth mentioning because of their prominence on a national basis and/or their growth trajectory.

Vermont (1.5%) is a niche solution focused purely on municipally owned and operated courses.  The Vermont suite of software covers many aspects of city operations, including a wide variety of park programs.  Courses that use the Vermont solution place a high priority on being able to integrate golf course operations into the rest of the city/county business, outweighing the fact that pursely as a golf course system Vermont’s features fall well short of those offered by the competition.  For munis that operate relatively modest golf operations, Vermont can suffice.  We are seeing those with a large portfolio of courses or more top tier operations opt for one of the other more sophisticated solutions.

Chronogolf (1.3%) is an emerging competitor that we believe will soon takes its place on the top tier of industry providers.  Montreal-based Chronogolf already has achieved top tier status in Canada, and has only recently started to focus on the US market. With a unique approach that includes integration of its tee sheet with a 3rdparty point-of-sale system, Chronogolf has gone all in on the notion that modern software needs are best met by integrating best of breed components.  While their current MN/WI market share is small, the vibes from current customers are very positive and with a $2M cash infusion into the business in mid-2018, you can expect Chronogolf to be ratcheting up their growth rate in 2019 and beyond.

Tee-on (1.3%) is another Canadian competitor and has been in the market for many years.  While their position in the Canadian market is relatively secure, we are seeing their presence in the US diminish as the new age competitors pick up more market share. Without some type of investment in an enhanced US presence, we think it is likely that tee-on’s US presence could diminish.  Having said that, we haven’t had an opportunity to learn directly from tee-on management what their plans are and they may have some aces up their sleeve that we are not aware of.

Quick18 (1.1%) is primarily known for their booking engine that can be implemented as an add-on to a core tee sheet/POS, but our understanding is that they also have a tee sheet solution of their own and are marketing the full suite.  This is another vendor that our team needs to learn a bit more about… they have a substantial presence in several large markets (California, Denver, Arizona, Dallas-Fort Worth) and might have the potential to become a more substantial force in the market.

Other (total of 3.6%) solutions include niche solutions like Agilisys (tee sheet/POS that is part of an enterprise software for resorts), Total e Golf (Canada-based), Teequest (solid presence in their home market of Kansas City and trying to expand nationally), TeeMaster (former market leader in MSP that is likely shrinking to zero soon), etc.  I find it unlikely that any of these companies will obtain significant national market share in the foreseeable future in this oversupplied market, but that’s just my opinion and I could be wrong.

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Ok, that brings us back to the question of the day… what do our respective crystal balls say about how the tee sheet software market will look in 2019-2024?

Everyone has an opinion… we’ll only know who’s right in a couple of years.  I’ll give you 3 teaser predictions:

  • The four vendors that have currently been gaining market share (foreUP, Club Prophet, Teesnap, Chronogolf) will continue to do so, more than doubling their current combined market share of 25%.
  • One of those four vendors will become the new market share leader.
  • No new vendor will crack the top tier of vendors… although several will try.

If you want a deeper dive into my predictions for the market and the rationale behind them, send an email to thegolfgadfly@grouplooper.com or a text to 612-889-6710 and be prepared for a fun exchange… I’ll share my opinions if you’ll share yours!

Before you call or write, fire up the video below and use it for inspiration.

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good piece Mike

  2. John Valliere says:

    The relative cost for each product would also have been a welcomed comparison. Even if done by stars. (eg. *** ** * )

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