GolfNow®

A 54 Case Study

In the plus column GolfNow had a powerful media platform—Golf Channel—to promote online tee time booking. But, golf courses are notoriously resistant to change, and GolfNow needed golf courses to sign up fast. The race was on.

Introduction

The golfer’s lament: calling for tee times.

There are about 15,500 golf courses in the U.S. About 3,500 of them are private, essentially not open to the public. Perhaps another 3,000 to 3,500 courses are in rural areas, not connected to the Internet, tough to get to and even the best marketing won’t attract enough new foot traffic to make much of a difference.

telephone operator

If you’ve ever called for a tee time, I’m sure you’re familiar with the dance you go through. First, you call the Golf Shop, and if you avoid voicemail or a busy signal, perhaps you’ll get the young assistant pro or telephone operator. Your conversation likely goes something like this:

  • “I’d like to book a tee time for Saturday morning.”
  • “What time would you like to play?”
  • “How about two people at 10:30 a.m.?”
  • “We’re booked then, and only foursomes allowed before noon.”
  • “How about 12:15 p.m.?”
  • “Booked.”
  • “Well, I need to play before 1 p.m.”
  • “How many people in your group?”
  • “Two, like I said.”
  • “Sorry. I have a single at 12:48.”
  • “I’d like to book a tee time for Saturday morning.”
  • “What time would you like to play?”
  • “How about two people at 10:30 a.m.?”
  • “We’re booked then, and only foursomes allowed before noon.”
  • “How about 12:15 p.m.?”
  • “Booked.”
  • “Well, I need to play before 1 p.m.”
  • “How many people in your group?”
  • “Two, like I said.”
  • “Sorry. I have a single at 12:48.”

You think booking golf reservations are ripe for disruption?

telephone operator

The case for online booking

What’s up with golf?

We book everything online. Except tee times, apparently. Don’t get us wrong. GolfNow, the clear category leader, says they booked 13.4 million tee times in 2014, 15 million in 2015. Problem is, that’s only a small fraction of the 450 million or so tee times booked in the public courses segment.

In 1996, a small division within Microsoft launched the third-party, online travel booking site Expedia.com®, giving consumers a new way to research and book travel. They quickly added rental cars and hotels. And now, less than 10 years later, we’re booking shared rides and upscale dinners with apps from Uber and OpenTable.

  • flights
  • taxis
  • hotels
  • dining
  • tickets

Why not golf rounds? Approximately 15 percent of golf rounds are booked online, while 75 percent of airline reservations are.

15 million rounds in 2015

Relentlessly driving online tee times was vitally important to GolfNow’s goals: The more online tee times booked, the more golf courses would have to come on board the GolfNow platform to get their slice of the action. And the more golf courses on the platform, the more golfers who would use GolfNow.

Each fed the other to create dynamic, organic growth. But keeping the troops motivated was essential and internal promotions like 15 Million in 2015 insured GolfNow staff kept their eyes on the prize.

The Quest for Critical Mass

GolfNow needs golf courses like Uber needs cars.

Our work for GolfNow grew out of an ongoing relationship begun with Golf Channel in the late 1990’s ... before there was a GolfNow. Our business-to-business expertise in the golf category was needed to help sign up golf courses to participate in the GolfNow marketplace.

golf course activity

What’s interesting about the online booking category—even to this day—is the sheer marketing chutzpah of the leading players. The largest on-demand auto transportation provider in the U.S., Uber, doesn’t own a single car. The leading lodging player, Airbnb, doesn’t own a single hotel, not even a room.

golf course activityAnd the top online tee time marketplace in the world doesn’t own a single golf course.

Before the brand could build credible traction, however, GolfNow needed golf courses to offer tee times online. So the first thing we did was help them get there. “The Race to 3,000” was on.

the race to 3,000

The power of promotion.

Race to 3,000This was a sales promotion designed to effect hyper-growth. GolfNow’s online and on-air advertising on Golf Channel was its not-so-secret weapon, allowing the brand to build awareness and demand among golfers who, in turn, kindled the necessary apprehension and adoption among golf course operators.

Imagine trying out the OpenTable app to book a restaurant in Atlanta or New York and finding only a handful of restaurants available. Not because the rest were booked solid; they just weren’t OpenTable customers. Would you be likely to use OpenTable again? Probably not.

That’s why building an internal promotion to drive new course acquisition was so important to help fuel GolfNow’s growth. We wanted to go from approximately 1,200 to 3,000 courses and do it before April 1. The Race to 3,000 included an all-expenses paid trip for four top GolfNow salespeople to the Masters. A trip to the first major of the year, golf’s holy ground? They killed it.

postcard
GolfNow Ball Wall
postcard
GolfNow Sales Bell

The Race to 3,000 was one of many milestones GolfNow will log in pursuit of their moonshot to “Facilitate the booking of every round of golf, everywhere.” That’s what’s so great about a moonshot. It isn’t a long shot, but a glimpse at the truth for your brand and your company. When President Kennedy challenged America to reach the moon before the end of the 1960s, what went unsaid were the many spectacular discoveries and accomplishments that this grand mission would produce. And that’s where 54 thrives—we are big idea driven and project-focused, which produces remarkable results.

Fueling growth on two fronts

The way to a course’s heart is through its golfers.

Build awareness among golfers. Grow the number of courses. More courses means more tee times for golfers to choose from. More golfers means it’s more necessary for golf course operators to offer their tee times to GolfNow golfers. Clearly, a virtuous circle of growth.

Billy Peterson

Signing up the 3,000 was just the beginning. We worked with our client to develop education and adoption initiatives to help course operators get the most out of their new partnerships, from marketing communications to golfers to promoting operations technology platforms designed to help them operate their business ... and make GolfNow a more sticky provider.

Today there are more than 9,000 courses in GolfNow’s marketplaces. Growing the number of tee times available online has given way to other needs and initiatives, but getting to critical mass—as quickly as possible—was a key step in the brand’s rise to dominance.

GolfNow U

In order to be seen as indispensable to course partners, every GolfNow employee needed to be on top of his or her game from day one. To flatten the learning curve , GolfNow U helped on-board new hires and get them up to speed fast.

An online library of articles, videos and how-to’s ensured employees always had information and answers at the ready when a partner needed help.