A few years ago, Harvey Silverman, a golf industry consultant, was studying why consumers were not playing more golf. The responses he was receiving were not surprising; the solution he proposed was.
“The No. 1 reason was time,” Silverman said. “It wasn’t time regarding pace of play – how long it took – it was just, ‘I don’t have time to play more golf.’ A distant second was (price).”
The breakthrough came when a Texas course operator said some of his customers asked if they could pay to play five or six holes.
That eventually spurred Silverman and business partner Mike Dickoff to develop Quick.Golf, a two-year-old browser-based service that allows courses to sell golf by the hole. Quick.Golf competes directly with eGull Pay, an app-based serviced run by former TaylorMade and Cobra executive Pascal Stolz.
In theory, both services fill an obvious need. According to research by industry analyst Jim Koppenhaver, founder of Pellucid Corp., only slightly more than 50 percent of available tee time inventory is filled at U.S. golf courses. The chief reasons cited by consumers for not playing more golf are, as Silverman noted, time and money.
Quick.Golf and eGull Pay would seem to address those issues.
Both companies recommend to their client courses that they offer the service during non-peak hours when plenty of tee times are available. This could be during twilight hours or following a rainstorm that led to tee-time cancellations.
“The industry has heavily discounted twilight,” Stolz said. “Even when you discount 50 percent and the golfer doesn’t finish 18 holes, they’re very unhappy. Well, just get them to play and pay by the hole. Not only will you make more money in most instances because they’ll pay at the normal rate, so you’ll generate more revenue, but they’ll be happier because they only paid for what they played.”
Stolz said he recently attended a golf conference where the issue of pay-as-you-go golf came up several times. That, he said, was the first time he ever had heard it mentioned at industry gatherings.
Still, Quick.Golf and eGull Pay have had difficulty generating momentum. The companies have signed up only about 100 courses. Stolz said 1,267 people have downloaded eGull Pay’s app.
He compared pay-as-you-go golf to other revolutions in golf, such as the slow adoption of metalwoods in the 1980s and early 1990s, and tee-time services in the 2000s.
“Things in the golf business move at a glacial pace,” Stolz said.
“All of these (course operators) are brought up selling golf in either 18- or nine-hole increments. That’s it’s. That’s the way it’s been for years,” Silverman said. “Getting any number of course owners or operators to think outside the box is really hard to do.”
But there are some believers out there. Roger Billings, general manager at Chardonnay Golf Club in American Canyon, Calif., was an early adopter of Quick.Golf. He offers the service on his club’s website and periodically markets it to his customers.
“I’m very much sold on the concept,” Billings said. “The challenge has been nominal adoption by the consumer.”
In the two years he has offered the service, Billings said fewer than 12 customers have used it. A few of those, he said, were regular players who were stuck in traffic and used Quick.Golf to play a few holes until the roads cleared.
“Surveys will tell you that time is a big issue with people playing golf nowadays,” Billings said. “It solves that issue and it solves the price issue. Even though they say in the surveys those are the barriers to playing more or playing at all, when you offer them an option that addresses those issues, they’re not taking it up.”
Billings believes the services need to be marketed heavily to non-golfing millennials, who say they have an interest in playing golf but don’t have enough time to play. He can’t reach those consumers, however, because they’re not in his database.
But if course operators could tap into that latent demand and lure those millennials out to the course for three or four holes, it could be the start of a fruitful relationship.
“At some point,” Billings said, “they’re more likely to migrate to 9 or 18 holes.” Gwk