SBJ/Jan. 6-12, 2014/In Depth

GolfNow.com tees off on expanded push to transform clubhouse experience

When golfers go to GolfNow.com to book a tee time, they probably have no idea that the website is a division of the Golf Channel. Only in the bottom right-hand corner, several scrolls down, would a visitor see a small Golf Channel logo with the colorful peacock.

For a half-dozen years, GolfNow has operated as a Golf Channel property, administering online tee times for 5,000 golf courses in the United States and United Kingdom.

Over the last few years, though, GolfNow has been trying to transform itself into a full-fledged technology and software company capable of doing much more, like eliminating the need for golfers to go into the clubhouse and check in.

The site, owned by the Golf Channel, has rolled out software that can handle all facets of the golf-day experience.
“We’re just trying to make it easier for people to get out and play golf,” said Will McIntosh, a GolfNow senior vice president of business development and strategy.

It’s not a typical line of business for a TV channel, but it’s one that Golf Channel is backing with ample resources. By the time GolfNow completes another flurry of hiring this month, it will have a total of 300 employees across the country, including 150 in sales and support, and the rest in technology and marketing. That’s almost half of the 700 total employees for the Golf Channel.

McIntosh and Jeff Foster, senior vice president of new media, are the two Golf Channel executives spearheading the division. They plan to unveil a new suite of products in 2014 that, they hope, will move a game steeped in tradition and antiquated practices into the age of the tablet.

GolfNow calls this software G1 and a soft launch last year generated about 30 sales. They’ll begin a more aggressive rollout this month and through the rest of 2014.

G1 enables any golf course to completely serve the customer from the booking of the tee time, to the check-in at the course, to food and beverage, and future marketing.

Many public golf courses will work with anywhere from six to eight different vendors for tee-time booking, food and beverage, accounting, pro shop inventory and other revenue lines. G1 is attempting to become a solution for all of those lines of business.

The way Foster and McIntosh envision G1, the golfer will make a tee time and pay online through GolfNow, as he has done in the past. But through G1, that user profile will now extend from the online experience to the golf course.

The golfer will drop off clubs and be greeted at the curb by a course employee with an iPad. If the golfer hasn’t paid yet, he will be able to swipe a credit card with the iPad. The golfer is checked in there — no need to go into the pro shop or carry the receipt out to the starter.

With a card on file, the golfer can buy food and beverage on the course without cash and buy merchandise in the golf shop. Through all of these activities, the software will develop a profile of the golfer for the course operators.

“They’ll know everything from what kind of beer you like to what kind of ball you play,” Foster said. “Our vision is to take revenue centers where you need staff and arm them with the technology to make them much more efficient and more profitable.”

While a technology division doesn’t seem to be a natural extension of a TV network, in this case it works. It’s in Golf Channel’s best interests for more people to play golf and enjoy the game.

“We’ve just got to get golf courses to embrace operating their business a little differently, and to understand what the new tablet technology can do for them,” McIntosh said.

At least one sponsor has found value in reaching golfers through Golf Channel’s evolving technology platform. GolfNow never accepted online advertising in the past, but a new agreement with Cleveland/Srixon is breaking new ground for a longtime Golf Channel sponsor that is willing to test this form of nontraditional media.

Cleveland/Srixon beginning this year will be the official equipment provider for GolfNow’s loyalty program.
Cleveland/Srixon’s stable of professional golfers, like Graeme McDowell, also will play rounds of golf with promotion winners. Another division of the Golf Channel, its amateur tour, also will feature Cleveland/Srixon as its official club and ball.

“It’s nontraditional media, but it’s a great way to get a brand involved,” Foster said.

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