Boxgroove promotes new private-club model

Findlay CC in Ohio is one of nearly 400 private clubs that have joined the Boxgroove network.

Findlay CC in Ohio is one of nearly 400 private clubs that have joined the Boxgroove network.

When he was a member of Jefferson Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, in 2008, McRedmond Morelli noticed something that offended his business sensibilities: an abundance of unused tee times. This is hardly unusual. Nationwide, Morelli found, 62 percent of private-club tee times go unused.

From that observation, a business was born. In 2009 Morelli launched Boxgroove.com, a web-based vehicle for golfers to schedule rounds at hundreds of private clubs. In theory, golfers could do that already by asking their home-club pro to arrange reciprocal rounds with other clubs. But, Morelli said, "That's like calling your travel agent to schedule a flight. Nobody does that anymore."

Boxgroove's appeal to private clubs is not only incremental revenues, but a marketing vehicle to increase membership. Brian Jorgenson, director of golf at Nashville Golf and Athletic Club, said he viewed Boxgroove as "a no-brainer" because it's a free, low-maintenance means of advertising his club to Nashville residents and visitors.

Boxgroove has signed 395 affiliated clubs and almost 6,000 golfers in 43 states and three countries. Nearly 40,000 tee times have been booked through the service. Unlike tee-time services, Boxgroove does not discount; its software is free to courses, which set guest rates, then pay Boxgroove a 23-percent fee.

Affiliated clubs set parameters so that guests meet desired criteria. A club, for instance, might whet the appetite of a local nonmember by allowing him to book only one round. The message, said Morelli: "If you want more, come join us."

At Eagle Golf, a Dallas-based course-management firm that has partnered with Boxgroove, Belinda Short, vice president of private club sales, urges her clubs to offer tee times only to members at other private clubs, thus maintaining an air of exclusivity.

Chad Bain, head professional at Findlay (Ohio) Country Club, said he likes the Boxgroove concept, "but we have not fully embraced it yet."

"We were a little cautious to do too many (tee) times," Bain said. "It's a delicate balance when you have members to take care of, but at the same time you're trying to drive revenues."

Findlay is located midway between Ohio State and the University of Michigan. Because of that, Bain said he might use Boxgroove to sell some of his tee-time inventory on fall Saturdays when his members are more interested in Big Ten football.

The New York State Golf Association partnered with Boxgroove a year ago, but Bill Moore, executive director of the association said he hasn't marketed the program because his member clubs have been reluctant to participate.

"The (clubs') boards of directors, even though they're concerned about revenues, they're pretty conservative about farming out their tee times to the public because it's a pretty short season," Moore said.

The big beneficiaries initially might be private club members. Short said she views Boxgroove as "a value-added benefit" for members looking for places to play while traveling. At Country Club of Farmington in Connecticut, pro Jeremy Vitkauskas said Boxgroove has generated few rounds - the club had 37 tee times posted last week - but about 75 of his members have signed up for the service.

Enlisting private clubs, however, is "analogous to herding cats," acknowledged Morelli, who worked for consultancies such as Accenture and Braun before starting Boxgroove. The private club market is fragmented and generally slow to adapt to new technology.

"Will I solve all of the private clubs' problems? Absolutely not," Morelli said. "But certainly we can help them."

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