As a PGA professional who attends the PGA Merchandise Show each year – it was held virtually last week due to the pandemic – discovering new products and ideas is the most fascinating part of the experience. Some are, to be frank, unnecessary gadgets and tools. Once you’ve seen two dozen versions of a ball washer or ball-mark repair tool, they all begin to look the same. However, if you search long enough, something inventive will announce itself.
This year that something was Golf Surprize, a value-added tee-time revenue generator that puts a clever spin on what golfers have become accustomed to from GolfNow, TeeOff.com or other third-party services. The relationship between golf courses and these sites has long been one of give and take. Facilities gain exposure across the third-party service’s website and e-mail database, which is often the best marketing platform they can afford but sacrifice a portion of their revenue by way of service fees from golfers who book online. The third-party sites are also guaranteed a certain number of tee times from the courses they service. The sites then sell those times at an agreed-upon discount. In some cases, the contract stipulates all of the revenue from those cheaper greens fees goes to the site.
This exchange is big business. GolfNow, which holds an overwhelming market share, has more than 17 million bookings per year. While that doesn’t approach 10 percent of all tee times booked – the old standby of dealing directly with facilities in person, over the phone or on the course’s website still reigns supreme – it is a major piece of business for thousands of courses. GolfNow has more than 8,000 facilities using their platform.
There’s a debate to be had about whether third-party services are good or bad for the industry. As is the case with food delivery apps or other middlemen service companies, sometimes the increase in demand comes with the devaluing of the product. But there is an opening for a company that looks at bartering in a different way.
Golf Surprize, started by Australian Anthony Robinson in 2017, does that by working with facilities to charge several dollars more than the course’s typical rate and having golfers book directly with the facilities themselves. After paying a little extra for their round, the golfer later answers a series of questions posed by the course, such as:
How many balls did you hit into the water on the 17th hole?
Which green do you think needs the most maintenance done to it?
How many trees did you hit on our narrow seventh hole?
If one of their answers matches a previous submission, they can be one of the fortunate 60 in 500 players at that course to earn golf shop credit up to $500. Another version of this game is called Target Scores, where a player gives the facility his handicap or average score and the golfer will then be asked to try to beat a certain score for the opportunity to win shop credit. The more people win, the harder the target score becomes for new customers, and vice versa.
In other words, golfers of all skill levels can win by playing well. Or by hitting a shank at precisely the right time.
“I wanted to say to everyone, ‘Actually, how you played today is good enough. We’re even going to award you for hitting it into the trees.’” – Anthony Robinson
Robinson, a top radio announcer in his homeland prior to starting Golf Surprize, recognized an opening after playing in a tournament and receiving a dingy gift of two no-name golf balls. He started digging into the rules of amateur status and how much money could be given to players.
“Golf basically awards players for good shots, but they don’t happen very often,” Robinson said. “I’m not that good. What about just turning up at a course and having a go? Golf is so focused on ‘I have to play better, I have to play better,’ but it’s never good enough, even for the best players.
“I wanted to say to everyone, ‘Actually, how you played today is good enough. We’re even going to award you for hitting it into the trees.’”
The premise is backed by some encouraging evidence. About 400 facilities in Australia, nearly one-third of the country’s courses, have used Golf Surprize. And of the golfers who win shop credit, the average player spends at least 2.6 times more than they win. That’s not including the benefit of gaining valuable information from customers about how they view the course. Many operators have made renovations based on the responses to their questions, which can be changed as they wish. And contrary to most tee time booking where one player may give the course an e-mail address and phone number, Golf Surprize succeeds in getting contact information from multiple players in a group.
“One of the things we found is that when we just handed someone a credit, they weren’t that excited about it,” Robinson said. “But when they won it themselves, they took ownership of it. They would use a $20 credit to buy something worth $50.
“Discounting a round of golf, that may put $10 into someone’s pocket. But if they win that money, it becomes really valuable.”
After seeing legitimate results in Australia, Robinson and his team have brought Golf Surprize to 12 countries and are now introducing it to the U.S. market in a partnership with the National Golf Course Owners Association. Duane Sinkule, a PGA professional who worked at Mountain Brook Club in Birmingham, Alabama, for 10 years, has taken a role as the Southeast Regional Manager, going from facility to facility explaining how Golf Surprize can add value. One of those that is starting to implement it is Augusta Ranch Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona. But the focus will be on the southeast in the beginning.
“It encapsulates everything that green-grass pros are looking for,” Sinkule said. “We’re going to make the green fee more valuable, get more spend in the shop and the customers are going to get a kick out of it.
“We saw with COVID last year that golfers were coming back. But that’s going to fall off as we get back to normal. So how are you going to make your facility stand out? You have to be more focused on the customer, which is what this is.”
The golf industry has long been focused on offering discounted rates or packaging green fees with a bucket of balls and a hot dog. That model has rarely changed over time. Too often courses have suffered from cannibalizing of tee times. There’s space for a new perspective. Robinson has even mentioned using Golf Surprize to brand golf lessons or other activities around a club where packaging a value-added tee time could convince golfers to spend more time and money at the course.
The possibilities are endless.
“If we had 400 facilities in the U.S., we would be over the moon,” Robinson said. “Do you want to lose golf balls for no reason? Or do you want to have a reason for losing them? That’s all it comes down to.”
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
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