Here at foreUP, we've built up one of the best products in the industry and I'm excited to speak today on the merits and the biggest mistakes I've seen in the industry in regards to aggregate booking.
I've never run a course, I've never directly worked inside a course, but I've had the experience of working with hundreds of different courses and have talked with many people in the industry, and I just want to speak on the biggest mistakes I've seen within the industry.
The most common mistake with third-party aggregators that I've seen courses make is the lack of data collection.
The key part to remember here is when a golfer comes to your course from GolfNow, they are GolfNow's customer, not your customer. Yes, they are paying you, but ultimately your goal for that customer is to convert them into a recurring customer on your golf course.
Third-party aggregators don't help collect data, which is harmful to your course's marketing and database growth.
What you'll notice when GolfNow books a tee time on your tee sheet is that the golfer comes over as firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're lucky they will put a first name and last name in there and they'll give you a phone number, but past that they don't give you anything.
One thing to notice is that the email they send you is just a dead email. If you send information there it doesn't go anywhere, so that means any marketing campaigns you do, any social media campaigns you run any reminder emails you send, and any thank you emails you send out aren't going anywhere.
You can't use that email to convert that person into a recurring customer and ultimately, if you're not collecting data at the pro shop, it's going to be near impossible for you to convert that customer into a recurring customer at your course.
How do you do that right? How do you get staff to collect somebody's personal information? How do you get them to collect birthdays so you can send out birthday emails? How do you get them to collect their email or phone number or address?
I've been working with Mark Farrow recently who used to run a course, and he did this really excellent program. You can use a report to create some sort of competition or offer specific prizes for the team members who collect the most information, and we've seen huge success with this.
We have seen courses where they've collected nearly 100 birthdays and 100 emails, and you can use all this data later for your marketing campaigns, for your social media campaigns, and help convert that GolfNow customer into a recurring customer for yourself.
Replacing your online portal with GolfNow's portal can cause you to lose power.
One big mistake is not common, luckily, but when courses replace their own private portal with the GolfNow portal, they're going to see some issues. GolfNow is becoming the place that people end up when they come to your website and they're registering on GolfNow. They're coming to your website and they only see hot deals that GolfNow benefits from.
There's no reason to do this other than pure convenience on the operator side of things — and I've seen this happen more times than you'd probably believe — but ultimately what it leads to is if you ever want to leave GolfNow, you can't because you gave them your website, so this is the probably the last thing you should ever do.
The best pricing should always be restricted to your website only.
I remember posting on LinkedIn that I did a study where we looked at that data of how people were using GolfNow and the effect it had on their average daily revenue, how it dropped over time.
Immediately I was contacted by one of the third-party aggregators with an angry email and he essentially blamed it on the operators. He said that if it was affecting ADR, it was because the operator wasn't using the third-party aggregator effectively.
But this is the number one thing: the best pricing has to be on your website. If it's not on your website, you're telling customers they should go look elsewhere if they want to book at your course.
With foreUP, we provide GolfNow with the pricing through our tee sheet and through our interface in our API, but GolfNow has chosen not to use that data. They just set their own prices and you have to go through GolfNow if you want to set those yourself.
There are other third parties, like Supreme and Quick18, who will pull the price that's set on foreUP and pass it to GolfNow correctly. So that lets you do cool things like create a booking class or a reservation group or a specific price class just for GolfNow, increase the price by five to ten percent, and make sure the best price at your course is never found on these third parties.
The other piece that I've seen people not take advantage of is courses not putting specials on their own website. If golfers looking for online specials can’t find them on your website, they're going to GolfNow to find those deals.
What I've seen work is that golf courses will set online specials on their kind of twilight times, those times that are less occupied or less utilized.
If you are integrated with GolfNow right now I would highly recommend switching that to a Supreme or Quick18 integration. Usually, the deals are the exact same or a little better, but your pricing is going to be passed on correctly you never have to risk GolfNow offering a better price.
Signing a multi-year contract might be keeping your course in a less-than-profitable situation.
The next piece here is multi-year contracts. Your membership doesn't even have to be a multi-year contract, it could be just automatic renewal every single year you're on GolfNow and you're never evaluating how good that ROI is. Is it worth the amount of trade I'm giving them? That's one of the biggest mistakes is people aren't evaluating this year after year after year to make sure the trades are worth it, and the trades usually aren’t.
GolfNow, TeeOff, these are all sales channels where you should be evaluating the effort you’re putting in and what you’re getting back. But these methods aren’t experimenting for you. You should be testing what happens when you discount certain tee times or offer a weekly special.
Constantly experimenting is vital to your course's growth.
So this is a big problem: not experimenting on how to use things more effectively and how to the most ROI for the effort you put into something. Oftentimes operators get a report from GolfNow that says, “We brought you X number of rounds, we brought you A amount of revenue. Yes, we cost a lot in trade but we brought you this much extra that you wouldn't have got otherwise.”
But it's kind of a lie in a way because what you should be looking at is how would the course have done if it wasn’t using GolfNow. Can you compare what you did this year to past years? What does your revenue growth look like — are you selling more, are these customers who are spending more at the pro shop, are these customers who are buying food at the restaurant?
A course shared a story a couple of years ago: they turned off GolfNow and their rounds dropped significantly, like 10 percent, but the customers that came to the course were actually spending far more money. Their average revenue per month went up between 10 and 15 percent.
They kept GolfNow off because they didn't see that return and I'm not saying you have to go turn off GolfNow, but if you want to use it effectively, it has to be an active thing, not a passive, “Turn the switch on and let's wait for the money to roll in.”
Using a local distributor for your tee times is likely a better option.
GolfNow isn't the only answer. There might be a local option — I know Paradise Golf out in Florida is a fantastic local small group, Mesquite Golf is another one, Golf Utah is one in our area, Golf Back is another one that Brown Golf Management is spinning up.
There are a lot of these microcosms that are coming out of the woodwork and they offer more flexible plans, they will give you all the customer information straight up because they're not trying to hide it.
There are a lot of options that don't require as much in trade and oftentimes they bring just as much traffic as GolfNow would. So explore what's in your area, explore what other people are looking at, and not only does it help support your own golf course looking for these, but it's also supporting the local economy.
If your website isn't optimized, customers won't be booking.
There is a mistake that is undoubtedly the biggest a course can make. Eighty percent of golfers book through their phones. They're going online to your website, or to GolfNow, to TeeOff, but 80% of golfers are on their phone and if that experience isn't smooth, if it's not nice, people quickly pivot to something else.
So you want people to come to your site and have a great experience and that has to be really well built. There's not really an excuse in today's age for not having an incredible mobile experience.
We offer website services at foreUP, and there are lots of other companies that offer websites for small fees. There are some really inexpensive options out there like Squarespace or WordPress, and you can even go straight through them if you're a little more technical. They all offer really mobile-friendly experiences and there's no reason to be on an outdated one.
So to review, these are the seven mistakes that I've seen most often:
- Lack of data collection
- Replacing your online portal with an aggregate booking engine
- No pricing restrictions
- Signing multi-year contracts
- Lack of experimentation
- Not using local distributors
- Not optimizing your website experience.
Some courses are happy with the third-party aggregation and have seen success, and I am happy for those businesses! But if you’re using something like GolfNow, ask yourself if you’re making any of those seven mistakes. You might be losing money and devaluing your tee times if you are.
Not a foreUP client? Get a demo today to see what we can do for your course.
Brendon Beebe is the chief technical officer at foreUP and has led the engineering development department for the last six years.