Third Party Booking Agents in the Golf Industry

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This article is written by Johnny LaPonzina, President of Professional Course Management, who has successfully owned, operated, or managed 19 golf courses in South Florida during his career. He is the past President of the South Florida PGA and a member of our PGA Hall of Fame.

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I’d like to take this opportunity to address PGA professionals not only in the South Florida section, but every PGA section in the country of my major concerns of the current jeopardy and threat to our public golf course industry with third party tee time booking agents.

In PCM’s 30 years of owning, operating, or managing golf courses in South Florida, we have faced numerous obstacles and challenges including: hurricanes, economic slowdowns, aging demographics, an over abundance of golf courses, and a gradual decline in the growth of the game of golf. Having said that, the current dilemma and real imminent danger to our golf courses is allowing barter times that are given to third party booking agents with no floor as to what they can charge for a round of golf at your course.

This policy is destroying the very core and integrity of golf courses in their ability to price their rounds of golf fairly and in relation to the revenue they need to generate to maintain their courses and keep them open. Numerous golf course management companies, municipalities, and public golf course owners have expressed their outrage and objections to barter times being sold for as much as 80% ‐ 90% off the regularly posted prices. In South Florida alone, two or three barter times per day can be sold at quality golf courses for rates as low as $5 per round for green fees and carts. We are training our customers to go online where they find hundreds of tee times available every day at rates which in some cases can be as much as 90% discounted.

These barter tee times are now competing with our own golf courses for customers on an uneven playing field. For example, a course may have a posted rate of $35 and the consumer can pay $5 or $6 for that same round of golf by booking it online through a third party booking agent. Our ability to price our courses fairly and equitably is being destroyed and challenged by these practices. While the barter time prices may be profitable for the third party booking agent, they are severely effecting what the perceived value for a round of golf should be.

I believe the explosion and growth in these barter tee time practices is a serious and imminent threat to every PGA golf professional’s job and to every public and municipal golf courses ability to price their course fairly and equitably to ultimately survive. Trading golf inventory for marketing is creating long time problems for our industry. We are causing severe damage to our credibility to our regular customers who now expect to play golf with an 80% or 90% discount to get their loyalty. Further, it helps destroy our resort and tourist play by eroding seasonal rates and profits which we all depend on.

All public golf courses need to be aware of the severity of this problem and with cooperation, the problem can be fairly resolved. If a golf course feels that they are generating enough rounds to warrant a barter tee time, then all they have to do is put a floor to the price that the

barter time can be sold for and that price should be the same as your public rate that any golfer walking in would pay. Competing for golfers then becomes an even playing field.

I strongly feel that as an industry we must address this issue as it will be a destructive force going forward. Many golf courses in South Florida understand this issue clearly and have taken steps to resolve it. If the barter tee time prices are not controlled with a floor to their price, then courses should consider delisting with that third party booking agent. In the end, if the third party booking agents have no courses, they have no business.

I’m asking all PGA golf professionals at public courses to cooperate with a united front to help resolve this issue and make third party tee time booking agents a potential benefit rather than a severe liability to our golf course industry.

Sincerely,

Johnny LaPonzina, President
Professional Course Management

Big discussion occurring on Facebook right now. Comment Here: https://www.facebook.com/GolfOperatorMagazine/posts/615248545199836

Also Read: Golf Now is Golf FREE!

 

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32 Comments

  1. The barter tee times are allowed by the club. You do not have to participate. I agree that if you give me a time for FREE. I will sell it for anything and it is all profit to me. I would not participate and would not recommend participation. Plenty of ways to advertise and get return with out giving away your course.

  2. While I agree with this post, the discount online tee time industry is not going away. The golf industry is its own worst enemy. As PGA Professionals, our duty is to keep this great game alive and to bring in NEW golfers as each year we lose so many to less play, family time, death, too old to play, etc. We CAN effect change in two ways….1). Create new golfers….2). Hope that courses become parking lots, malls and condos to reduce supply. Since we have no effect on 2, I suggest we all focus on creating new golfers. The tee time industry (Add Groupon type business models to this) is like a drug. Until we have supply and demand on our side again, I am afraid that golf courses are going to continue to hurt themselves.

  3. Bob G. Hesselmann on

    Even in the Netherlands we see that the current state of our economy has driven people away from the golfcourses. The first respond would be discounting greenfees, hoping that the few golfers left will choose your golfcourse to play. In our country the costs of a round of golf are app. 20-25 euro. Selling a greenfee under 20-25 euro will cost you money. Hoping for the guest to make up for that loss in food and beverage spending is an optimistic view. Guests will wait for the cheapest offer and will anticipate on the golfcourses to become cheaper and cheaper. A guest that will come to play your golfcourse for 5 dollar is also the kind of guest that will buy their beverages at costco and bring their own sandwich.

    I took marketing classes in the early eighties and learned that discounting will lead to a discount war that does not have winners. In the end everybody will lose.

    Try to find your niche, and set your prices accordingly. The prices you charge will reflect the quality of your golfcourse. Distinguish before discounting. Find your unique selling proposition and advertise your qualities. There are still golfers out there that are willing to pay for quality.

    Maybe we have been overpricing so we all might have to cut our prices but if you do so, keep in mind that you have a bottom level and never go below that level.

    It takes some nerve if economy is slow but in the end you will lose less by having a fair pricing strategy than when you give away teetimes for three bucks a head… That will only get you to file for bankruptcy much sooner…

  4. Scott Seifferlein on

    Has the current state of the economy in the Netherlands driven people away from football matches? what is the price of attending one of those?

  5. The answer is not lowering the price of your golf course. The answer is to raise the value of your course to the price you wish to charge.

  6. Once again it comes down to what are you doing differently than others?

    1. Do you send thank you notes
    2. Do you ask for a tournament to resign for the following year, within 30 days after their event.
    3. Does your staff acknowledge individuals consistently?
    4. Do you have ongoing training in customer service (not just once a year)
    5. Do you tell your staff thank you for their efforts at the end of the day? (Costs nothing)
    6. Do you promote a sense of ownership with all employees?
    7. Do you think outside the box?
    8. Are you 100% consistent in your business practices?
    9. Do you set goals and objectives ?
    10. Do you have a Business and Marketing plan?
    Etc…

  7. Owen P Mcclain on

    Golf has a two-fold problem. It got fat, dumb, and happy in the 80’s and 90’s, when courses had ample staffs of PGA professionals and learning opportunities….after which they didn’t want or need more players, being full. Hence, staffs were trimmed and player development programs vanished. Today, managers seem to not notice that our problem is a lack of programs to attract new players. Noticing vacant tee times, they discount. Everyone competing for the same, non-existent customer base; all they get are disloyal, cherry pickers, not the kind of customer base that they need.

  8. Ace Golf Marketing on

    Nicely stated Johnny. There is no doubt that the perceived value of your course is destroyed when players see rates cheaper than even a cart fee… I strongly agree with you, Johnny, at a bare minimum, if your course MUST use the third party, negotiate a floor price for trade rounds to be sold. I have personally argued with Golf “Later”… about this for several of my courses, and finally reached an agreement. It can be done. Secondly, offering these “price shoppers” some incentive to collect their contact information does hold some value. After all, “the fortune is in the follow up”!

  9. Alan Kristmanson on

    Let it happen. This will end in these naive operators driving their courses into receivership, reducing golf course supply. On another note, boycott the Golf Channel. The only golf only TV product is trying to ruin the golf industry. Go figure.

  10. Steve Scheuermann on

    Like it or not, Golf Now is the trend in the golf business. We can either waste time complaining about losing the good old days or embrace our customers new habits for making tee times. The biggest problem is too many golf courses fighting for too few golfers. Except for the trade times, we control our own prices that are listed. If we are not full, and who is, why not fill empty non-peak times. Most courses already reduce rates in the spring and fall without Golf Now. And many have non-peak rate reductions. More golfers means more opportunity to up sell – range balls, food & beverage and merchandise. I would rather have 200 golfers in a day than 75, and our pub & grille would too! Is it odd that Golf Operator Magazine is selling its books at 50% off – is that not cheapening the product? Or, are there too many books still in inventory, kind of like our inventory of unused tee times.

    • I am not and never have been against occasional discounting as a way of attracting new business, in my case about 4 times a year with a big sale and spot sales on individual products. What i am not in favor of is 365 day discounting and we are not talking 50% here sometimes its 97% . Golf course owners/managers are in general blinded by the “FREE website” and the potential marketing power of the Golf Channel. BUT then fail to do anything else …. and so put their club on a death spiral!

  11. Alan Kristmanson on

    If you have a good brand, great web site, market well, have a great following (database) you should be able to market to these people directly and YOU offer specials and promotions only NOT third party web sites. Control your brand!

  12. Owen P Mcclain on

    Why on earth would you give someone 3 percent ownership of the assets of your facility, with no liability or obligation to help with operating expenses, in exchange for publicity that highlights your competition and directs people away from your own website, all while undermining your price structure?

    • Well said Owen, I have been preaching this message for years. I have been standing at the Pro Shop counter when staff answers, and then directs the call To Golf Now who sells them a tee time at a lower price than the club offered while they had the client on the phone.
      Keep in mind it is the club posting the “discounted” rate that Golf Now sells outside the barter time. The industry needs to look in the mirror…they are the ones responsible for the rates that are being posted at the course for fear their product competes on price only and not on perceived value the customer will experience while playing their facility.

  13. All this started in the early 1980s with the advent of discount cards. Well-intentioned first they devolved from a one time use charity benefit to standard operating procedure for many courses. They would allow their use unlimited all through the off-season at extremely discounted prices and lose money while the discount card providers literally made hundreds of thousands of dollars and clubs summer revenues continue to decline. This is simply another form of the same scam. Our investment our costs our overhead, their profit and it has to stop.

    These ridiculous practices were the start of the decline in revenues at most golf course. My fees are only a few percentage points higher than they were 25 years ago when I built the course but we all know what has happened to our costs of operation. If this continues I’m afraid the end is near for many courses in Florida and across the country.

  14. Steve Oberschlake on

    I definitely agree and will convey the message to other owners. I sampled both Golfnow and Golf18 this season and had experienced some early growth in rounds, but fell off quickly and then only sold the barter times. They are truly a competitor of our rounds and dropping the value of golf. It is time to take back control!

  15. Reality is that golf course operators are ultimately responsible for the performance of their business(es). I can understand why, as a voice of the group (operators), you would want to encourage the industry to “not discount” in this way. However, there are many of your peers who like the idea of these outside salespeople. I would tend to agree with Owen McClain with regard to the need for player development programs – particularly for those courses who struggle to attract enough golfers to sufficiently fill the tee sheet on a regular basis. In that same vein, encouraging the good competitive players you do have to establish a regular “game” for like minded players is key as well (IMO). It’s a very competitive business. Without “building” sufficient demand for your product, your ship WILL sink. And, at the end of the day, if you don’t want to deal with the discounters, then don’t. Those who do will likely not be able to compete in the long run anyway.

  16. Michael Christy on

    I agree, have a floor for the price for third parties, after all the expense to run a golf course is going up, fertilizer, labor for mowing etc, etc, if you can’t make a profit you won’t have a golf course to play on!!!! For only the rich will be able to play like the old days!!!!

  17. Yes, I did $100,000 worth of Golf Now revenue this year, how bout you?? Anyone remember the Golf Card?? There dead, Golf Now works for me, local courses 2 miles down the road have ZERO idea how to utilize Golf Now to make it work call it , old?? Naive?? Set in there ways?? If you think every course Is going to set their RACK rate and keep it at that well good luck that won’t happen , I can tell you I lost respect for your publication for continuing your war against them, you have the answers and we should only use you right? Not

    • Chris, We don’t offer a tee sheet or a booking engine so no they should not use us for that….. But for marketing yes they would be 1000% better off using Legendary Marketing!

      • Its 2014, I am meeting my goals and moving forward increasing rounds all thanks to GOLF NOW!!!!, BIG DEAL, I give 8 people FREE golf, 7 am and 2:50, no one uses these times anyhow, the rest is simple, have some open tee times and your rate is $40, lower them to $32 sell them or let them go by without getting a dime,,,,hmm….$128 a tee time or ZERO

  18. The golf business is very similar to many others out there. If you think all you have to do is post a lower price for your product, it won’t be long before your history. For those of you who use Golf Now, your customers are loyal to you because of your price, nothing else. How long do you think it will be before another desperate operator will just drop their prices lower than yours, and take all of your LOYAL customers? The internet is ruining the golf business because so many operators take the easy path to business. To get true loyal customers you will need to meet your customers needs and expectations. Give them a product that is fairly priced and give them great service. Go the extra mile and exceed their expectations….then price will not be the only reason they choose you over the guy 2 miles down the street. Andrew, you keep trying to educate those operators out there, some one in SoCal is still listening.

  19. Michael Christy on

    I agree, have a floor for the price for third parties, after all the expense to run a golf course is going up, fertilizer, labor for mowing etc, etc, if you can’t make a profit you won’t have a golf course to play on!!!! For only the rich will be able to play like the old days!!!!

  20. Allen Manguson on

    Johnny LaPonzina is right on point, I have elected not to use any of these providers although I see high end private clubs in the summer getting rates a slow as $15 on these supposed HOT DEALS! Pitiful for the industry and local clubs in the area. I know we are all fighting for the same dollar but when the Europeans come over and get Golf Now rates that low there truly is no value and true market cost for our product. You are right Johnny, Set a floor no lower than your reciprocal or daily fee rates and stick to them. This will help us all prosper.

    • Pigs would fly if Golf Now didn’t exist. Still go with the thought that lowering your prices will never get more golfers. All each club is doing is stealing each others customers and with that type of marketing strategy all you will do is eventually lower your prices more often. When was the last time you raised your prices? I’ll bet your employees would like to earn more money. I’ll bet you pay more now for water, gasoline, parts, equipment, etc. etc. Lowering prices to attract more golfers is the “Death Spiral” and until you decide to get out of that mentality, you are headed for trouble. Heck, does your customer expect you to never give your employees a raise….your customers wouldn’t like it if they never got more money for their jobs. Going through Golf Now is only a short term fix to your problem, and hopefully you’ve been in the business long enough so far to understand that what you are doing is going to eventually hurt you and your business.

    • And by the way, I would rather take ZERO before I took $128.00 from Golf Now, because I know that you are establishing your base pricing off what Golf Now is setting for those FREE times you are giving to them.

      • Scott,
        You are so right. Once Golf Now starts selling your barter tee times for $10 you become a $10 Golf course. Your brand is then watered down to the point you can’t sell any tee times much over the $10 bar that you have now set. Can you spell suicide?

  21. I couldn’t agree with Johnny more..not willing to drink the koolaid, will die trying to keep existing customers through service and developing new ones through relationships. It’s all about relationships and making golfers want to choose you.

  22. Hello,

    I’m the GM for a very nice but quite challenging Nicklaus Design course in southern California. One of our biggest obstacles to increasing rounds is the difficulty of the course. We have taken a number of steps to make the course more playable for mid-high handicap players, with some positive results.

    The 3rd party tee time sellers debate is both old and hot. Obviously GolfNow is the elephant in our collective living rooms. Most operators like the huge number of eyeballs GN generates and deplore the price warfare GN promotes in the way it displays tee times, by time of day. My course at $45 weekday is listed right next to another course of lower quality at $28.

    Operators control the prices on all but 1 or 2 tee times a day. At 10-minute intervals, we have 36 tee times between 6:30am and 12:30pm, our prime time. We give GN 1 time a day, which is 2.7% of our prime tee sheet. I am not so concerned with that 2.7% as I am with the other 97.3% of times that operators use to conduct price wars with competitors. Let’s face it, we got hooked on the short-term “crack” of discounting to lure patrons and failed to think strategically about the long-term consequences. Remember when discounted tee times were ONLY for off-peak tee times? Did GN force us to open the entire tee sheet to this madness? No, it was a self-inflicted wound. So we must take genuine responsibility for the discounting that ails us.

    One of the key steps we are taking to reverse this trend is to make GN tee times slightly more expensive than tee times on our website booking engine (which we acquired independently & are not using the GN engine for our website). Every day, every customer gets a little card with his receipt — and our counter staff says it verbally — that the best rates are on OUR website, not GN or other 3rd party sites. Gradually we are migrating people to our site at rates that work for us, and the ratio of GN rounds to our website rounds is slowly improving in our favor.

    We are also moving the other 3 trade times we give to our website so our customers believe we are giving them the sweet deals. I think this improves customer loyalty.

    If anyone else has solutions along these lines, I’d love to hear them. This discussion can be meaningful if we quit arguing about “who struck John” and focus on forward-thinking solutions. We are where we are and the answer is in future actions, not a Greek chorus filled with whiny self-flagellation.

    Flint the GM

  23. I feel the only good way to deal with barter times is to hold the 3 rd party accountable for their results. I am currently negotiating an agreement where they keep the money for the third tee time booked through their website everyday. I feel this is the best way to make sure they are actually working for you, not themselves.

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