The Pro’s Tips To Avoid Tech Hazards
Investing in new golf software can be a challenge. Here are some tips from clubs that have done it.
Golfers won’t pay extra for the high-tech services outright. Club owners have to include the amortization costs of the system in their greens and other fees.
•Accurately measuring the return on investment (ROI) of a system is difficult and speculative, at best. Plan carefully.
Dark Horse Golf Club’s Bob Peterson summarizes: “There are no perfect systems and software for any line of business. We value the leader-board aspect. We are a high-end daily-fee club with significant tournament play, so the yardage information and pace of play features are very useful. There is ad revenue potential and the system does produce incremental food and beverage revenues. We also use the system to offer specials, bounce-backs, announce upcoming events, etc.” — TD
Summing It Up
•Stand-alone tee time systems or GPS packages are fine, but fully integrated systems provide a quantum leap in benefits and payoffs.
•A GPS system is only as good as the information put into it, and the management of its capabilities.
In February 1971, the most powerful computer system in the world got behind a six-iron shot by Alan Shepard, Jr., only to see him take a mulligan on his first whack. But Shepard had a good excuse—a bulky spacesuit hindered him as he tried to hit the ball off the moon’s surface.
Today’s 21st-century golfers don’t have to ride a rocket to harness the computer power needed to get them into the game. And the results are a lot more satisfying, too.
The computer revolution for the golfer started with tee-time reservation systems. Players called a property, requested a starting time, and heard staffers clicking away on in-house computers.
Next came online booking. Now it’s commonplace for golfers to surf the Web, locate a course and reserve their times themselves, without any need for club staff to be involved.
But that’s hardly the extent of how computers and golfers are now interacting in today’s world, thanks largely to the introduction of what is truly space-age technology into the game. The all-reaching, all-knowing power of global positioning systems (GPS), though,?is only the start of the story. While it’s nice to have GPS to help keep track of players and carts, the real benefits come when that technology is married to, and effectively managed with, all of the other systems that are now at golf professionals’ fingertips.
For example, when golfers start a round at many properties, the first thing they now see in their carts is a display screen with a survey that asks for input about their check-in experience. And sometimes, before they even make the turn, a manager will drive up to apologize for, and address, any negative issues they may have cited.
Computing power is now also politely asking players if they’d like to have their score kept electronically. Even the most stroke-challenged golfers usually enjoy being able to have “Big Brother” keep tabs on them in this fashion.
This feature is proving to be especially popular in tournament play, with scorekeeping now integrated with leaderboards at many courses. Players on every cart, as well as kibitzers in the clubhouse, can eagerly track the agonies and ecstasies of each contestant—creating new reasons for many to hang around the property a little longer, and to spend a little more while they do.
|Bob Peterson, GM, Dark Horse Golf Club|
Making Dark Horse a Front Runner
Bob Peterson, General Manager at the Dark Horse Golf Club in Auburn, Calif. (between Sacramento and Reno, Nev.), can personally attest to the positive power that computing has now brought to his world. “We aggressively promote the ‘electronic leaderboard’ feature for our tournaments,” Peterson says. “We are the only course in the area that offers it, and it really makes our events special.
“Most players really like the information on the screens,” he continues. For starters, they like the accuracy of the data that is provided about the course. Peterson cautions, though, that as with all computer systems, this is again a case of the information that comes out only being as good as what’s put in.
“Make sure that your yardage points cover all of the critical areas such as distance to hazards, how far to carry hazards, etc.,” he advises, in discussing the importance of accurate course mapping. “We spent a lot of time making sure all of the truly important points on the course were well-covered.” At least two days in clear weather should be spent on mapping efforts, Peterson feels.
The system that Peterson chose has an optional “Pro On Board” feature that can provide special tips for handling a hole and its hazards. But even without that option, good integration of GPS?technology with a club’s communication and course management systems can yield real-time improvements in the pace of play.
“We use [GPS-generated] information religiously in the golf shop to monitor pace of play,” Peterson says. “We can send messages early and often to the entire field, or just to the offending groups. By the time our course marshal approaches, the group knows where they stand—and that they are under observation. The marshal can then thank them for picking up their pace, or remind them again that they’ve fallen off.”
There are also many tangible benefits, where safety issues are concerned, to be gained from this technology. Not only will fewer heads be conked by golf shots (“Having the system provide the distance to the group in front of you has been a great safety feature,” Peterson says), but making full use of available two-way communication features will pay off for the most serious safety issues of all: lightning and other life-threatening situations.
“This is a feature you can actually use to reduce your insurance costs,” Peterson notes. If a
thunderstorm threatens, “it is an effective and easy way to clear the course.” Because the sys-tem can display each cart’s location, clubhouse staff can pinpoint those who don’t respond to the clear-the-course alert and not only send another message, but specifically request a response.
As a two-way link, the system can also be used by golfers to call for help in case of player injury or illness. “In the two years I’ve been here, we’ve had three instances where this feature has played a role,” Peterson reports. “One was a non-issue, the second was for heat stroke. The third was for a medical emergency, and the response time was clearly shortened to get help to our site.”
This Space for Sale
Beyond these on-course benefits, Dark Horse has also found some creative ways to fully tap the marketing potential of its electronic system. For example, “We print the electronic scoresheets off for the players, and use this interaction to remind them of any upcoming events or specials,” Peterson says.
Because of full integration of the on-cart technology with the club’s food and beverage system, golfers at Dark Horse are now pre-ordering from an enhanced menu to get something that’s a bit more tasty (and with beefier revenue) than the usual snack-cart fare.
“I’d estimate that the convenience factor has improved food sales by 25 to 50 percent,” Peterson says. “Secondly, it’s been a time saver that’s helped us maintain our pace-of-play goal.”
The really meaty payoffs, though, are coming from Dark Horse’s aggressive efforts to sell advertising on its onboard screens.
“When we first opened, with all of the ‘newness’ and related fanfare, the club sold new ads for all 18 holes, for [total revenues of] $60,000,” Peterson says. But once the novelty wore off, renewals proved tougher to secure, so an in-house ad sales professional has been added to the staff.
“We have formal contracts, in-house ad design capability, and a customer-service focus with our advertising partners,” Peterson reports. “You need to have the long-term resources in place to do this in-house.”
Building in the Empire
Farther down the state, Bret Barnes is the Head Golf Pro and General Manager of the Yucaipa Valley Golf Club. While Peterson has been making good use of GPS?and an integrated golf software system at Dark Horse for several years, Yucaipa is a new kid on the block.
And this particular “block” is huge. “We call it the Inland Empire,” says Barnes, because of the density of population in the area, which stretches from Los Angeles 70 miles due west to Palm Springs 35 minutes to the east.
Yucaipa’s course has been rated the best value in this “Empire” for the last four years, according to Barnes. And he’s even more confident that the club will be able to continue to snag that coveted prize, thanks to a new GPS-based, integrated system that the club installed last fall. “We’re the only club in the [region] to have anything like it,” he says.
Yucaipa Valley runs “some 7,000” rounds of tournament golf a year, Barnes reports, and until this season, pencils and paper scorecards had to handle the load. But with 15 other golf courses nearby, the club’s owners feel their new system will further enhance its image as the place in the Empire to hold tournaments.
The club’s big tournament season begins in March, but Barnes and his staff have already ramped the new system up to handle events with 100-plus golfers, with minimal problems.
“So far, the golfers love it,” Barnes says of the early users at Yucaipa. “It gives them all the information they’re looking for.” That includes on-board digital guidance for distance to the pin, hazards or whatever other key point a golfer wants to measure.
At this property, it’s been “an almost seamless transition” from having next-to-no technology to featuring a highly-loaded system, Barnes says. “One day there’s nothing on a cart, and the next day the system is on and working,” he describes.
In the competitive fray of densely populated areas, clubs like Yucaipa and Dark Horse stand as proof that savvy application of available computer technology can provide real advantages, both in drawing golfers to their courses, and enhancing their experiences (and expenditures) once they’re there. To these properties, it’s every bit as believable as landing a man on the moon. C&RBforum