Discount Tee Times: Bane or Boon?

Are online tee time services bad for the game? The Wall Street Journal has a thoughtful article about the impact that services such as GolfNow are having on courses.

The business model that allows GolfNow to offer such cut-rate golf is freaking out some in the industry. Critics contend that openly offering tee times at a fraction of standard rates damages golf courses’ “price integrity” and commoditizes a product that traditionally sells more on the basis of service, quality, convenience and personal connection.

“GolfNow basically encourages customer disloyalty,” said Stuart Lindsay, a longtime consultant to golf courses through his Edgehill Golf Advisors and an outspoken GolfNow skeptic.

What these services do is to barter a couple of tee times each day in exchange for listings on the discounter’s website. The discounter pockets a percentage of the final sale price of the greens fee. It seems like a nice arrangement, because many courses have unsold tee times and the system might help a golfer find a previously unknown course.

One problem, noted in the article, is that the discount tee time systems create expectations for lower prices and encourage customers to play courses simply based on price. Loyalty to a home course is gone. Further, the services could use their customer information to market other products—such as apparel, balls or clubs—that could take away from the sales of the pro shop.

My own experience with these has been mixed. On several occasions, I have been told by a course operator that I could have gotten a better price had I just called in my tee time.

I also think that it is possible that my long term interests might best be served by paying full prices. Courses constantly forced to discount may very well go out of business. Remember Borders Books? They couldn’t compete on price with online giant Amazon and discounters like Costco and Target. I don’t know if I’d miss Borders so much if I did not live in the company’s hometown of Ann Arbor. I can still get all the books I could possibly want from those same discounters. There still is plenty of supply to meet the demand.

When golf courses start going out of business, it is another story. GolfNow isn’t going to be able to create more supply to meet demand. Instead, there will just be more golfers on fewer courses.

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