The boom in online tee times

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu December 24, 2011 14:37

The boom in online tee times

For years now, the notion of golf clubs providing their members and visitors with the prospect of booking their tee times online has been a topic bubbling away under managers’ and members’ surfaces. And then last November the issue jumped to the forefront when two of the biggest service providers to clubs, Club Systems International and BRS Golf, following in the footsteps of YourGolfTravel and Online Teetimes which linked up in March 2010, and One Golf Network and GolfHub which did so last September, joined forces to integrate their substantial offerings – with increasing online bookable tee times provisions to clubs at the heart of their collaboration.

As it turns out, that announcement was the culmination of the internet-based tee times industry booming in recent years. The ability to offer visitors and members the opportunity to conveniently book tee times that would otherwise possibly go unsold, combined with the data on course usage that is open to clubs, has provided an attractive opportunity for club managers to increase revenues and operate more professionally. During a recession this has understandably appeared especially lucrative to some clubs, particularly as software has been built into the packages to allay members’ fears that online bookings would hamper their freedom to play at their clubs at a time of their choosing.

BRS Golf, which has taken on Club Systems’ SpeediTee online booking system, perhaps provides the greatest example of that: last year one of its clients, Oundle Golf Club in Peterborough, adopted a version of online bookable tee times, even though this facility isn’t offered to its members or visitors. Instead, the data administration management the system provides has proven to be invaluable.

The backdrop is that the popular private members’ club was usually busy throughout the weekdays and weekends, with members turning up to play whenever they wanted to. But like so many other clubs, there were quiet times, which, if marketed properly, could have been generating extra green fee income from visitors – both from playing the course and via bar and catering sales.

Simply by using the BRS Golf Administration module, the club managed to both identify and market the available tee times, and still enable its members to enjoy their golf course whenever they wanted.

In the early part of 2010, in a discussion about ways of generating additional income, Oundle’s secretary Lance Quantrill and club professional Richard Keys realised there were two particularly quiet periods during the typical week: Tuesday afternoons and Thursdays. “Each year Richard and I invest half a day in planning the year,” said Quantrill. “One snowy day in January 2010, we saw that there was a great opportunity for significant additional green fee income by selling available tee times. We were keenly aware that even though the club has a thriving membership, we still wanted to turn any worthwhile opportunity into income to relieve the pressure to raise subscriptions.

“We reckoned we could add a further £5,000 in green fee sales, and I knew that we should also be able to persuade the visitors to spend a further £10 per head in the pro shop and in the club if we made it an attractive enough proposition.

“We’d identified the tee times opportunity before, but discounted it as we could not see a way of both administering increased visitor traffic and reconciling the wishes of members to turn up and tee off.”

The issue they had to resolve was simultaneously enabling their members to play whenever they wanted, while having the means to slot the visitors in whenever the pro shop (the focal point for all the green fee bookings and sales) could do so. Quantrill knew what he needed: “I’d seen the BRS system and knew it was exactly what we needed to enable us to handle the bookings, while getting the members and visitors to call us and ask what tee times were available.”

Because Quantrill didn’t want visitors just turning up, clogging the tee and potentially clashing with members – and vice versa – members were given priority on these days, but anyone wanting to play had first to call the pro shop to book a time. The BRS Administration module enabled the club to run an internal tee sheet system, and thereby identify, control and manage the available tee times.

Quantrill stated: “That’s the great thing about the way we’re using the BRS Golf system. Members didn’t want to switch to tee time booking as such, and wanted to continue to enjoy the freedom of turning up and playing whenever they wanted. But we still needed to know and see the available times in real time from both the pro shop and the office, so that members and visitors could call us and book the times we could offer. In the same vein, visitors can only book up to two weeks ahead.”

Quantrill explained another restriction on visitors that enhances his members’ enjoyment of their course: “During the lighter part of the year, the available tee times can only be booked up to 4pm, at which point members have the course all to themselves again. This ensures our members can enjoy coming up in the summer evenings and playing whenever they want, while we can push visitors to exactly the times we most want to sell and which avoid any ‘clashing’ or interruption of the members’ enjoyment of their course.”

To market the new opportunities to play Oundle’s course during the specific time periods, Quantrill put one half page advert into a unique regional golf magazine reaching all golf clubs in the four counties around Oundle, and advertised suitably attractive green fee rates on Tuesday afternoons and Thursdays. Quantrill also arranged for the green fees to be promoted on the club website’s banner, a feature made possible by CLUBView, which generated even more measurable ‘opportunities to see’ for the club’s new initiative.

Starting in May 2010, the net result has been successful for the club. In under the first six months, £6,054 additional green fee sales was made simply by marketing the available tee times on just one and a half quiet days in the week. Furthermore, six of the visitors joined the club and all the visitors have spent money in the pro shop and on food and beverage – all thanks to an investment of £1,500 for the original BRS Golf Administration module and the cost of some advertising.

“We’ve turned our typically quiet times in the week when our staff had little to do into our busiest and most profitable times. The BRS system has been the key to making our initiative happen and we’ve managed to do it all without disaffecting our members who continue to enjoy playing their course, almost always whenever they want,” said Quantrill. “It’s not simply a matter of either having your members playing whenever they want or turning everything into tee time booking. Thanks to the flexibility that’s built in to BRS Golf’s system, we’ve shown that any golf club can – if they want to – have the best of both worlds!”

But many clubs have also seen revenues grow primarily due to the internet-based tee time booking offerings as well. For example, the UK Marriott organisation has seen an “exponential” rise in its tee-time bookings since launching a new golf specific portal site with online tee time distributor GolfSwitch. Marriottgolf.co.uk was launched last summer to enable golfers to book real-time tee-times at the hotel chain’s 11 Marriott Golf hotels and country clubs, 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week.

Alison Ainsworth, Marriott’s senior director of golf, leisure and spa operationsEurope, predicted that it will drive a large increase in the number of online tee time bookings received by the resort specialist.

She said: “Since we launched our portal site we have seen many new golfers finding their way to our courses. The online booking engine has exceeded all our expectations with more than 1,000 bookings in the first two months alone. Not only does this bring in extra revenue but it will also allow us to market to these golfers in the future with the many promotional offers we will be able to put on at short notice.”

In addition, Teeofftimes.co.uk has announced growth of 140 per cent over the last 12 months, arranging golf for 105,000 customers at more than 500 clubs and resorts.

Steve Hemsworth, managing director, believed that his site’s growth is a clear example of the capricious nature of the golf club industry. “Our results are clear evidence that golfers’ habits are changing and the online market is seeing a surge in the number of customers wanting to book tee times via the internet. We are seeing a growing trend towards more last-minute bookings and in 2010 alone, 67 per cent of bookings were made within 72 hours of play and 43 per cent were booked when the pro shop would normally be closed.”

Hemsworth added that the top 10 per cent of his customers, including The Belfry, The Warwickshire, Turnberry, Moors Valley, Foxhills and Moor Allerton, have received in excess of 1,000 new customers thanks to online tee time booking.

Suppliers can even incorporate specific web sites for groups and not just include booking forms on existing clubs’ websites. For example, LiveTeeTimes.co.uk was recently set up by Online Teetimes for golf insurer JRW Group. Spokesman Dave Lynchehaun said: “LiveTeeTimes means that our customers can now access discounts online. That’s what it’s all about – getting golfers onto the golf course with the best deal possible!”

Central to LiveTeeTimes is a booking engine created by Online Teetimes to give golfers powerful search tools to find and book a green fee at almost 400 golf clubs in theUnited Kingdom.

“This will create more revenue for golf clubs across the country,” said Online Teetimes managing director, Paul Heeney. “As all revenues from bookings on the LiveTeeTimes website go straight into the golf operator’s hands, it is no surprise that this financial model is proving very popular in the industry.”

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu December 24, 2011 14:37
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  10. Matthew Moore December 5, 12:19

    This is a great piece and extremely useful for golf clubs looking to make the most of their free tee-times through the internet.

    Do you happen to know of any tee-time booking software that is synched with hotel reservation systems to allow a golf club and hotel to work together? Be great to hear from you if you do?

    Thanks in advance

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