Commentary: The future of online tee time booking

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By Alex Lavoie

The ways golfers plan and schedule tee times have changed. The phone in the pro shop has grown quiet as players move toward online booking as the preferred method of reserving a round of golf. Pro shop staff no longer spend hours answering the phone to punch in reservations. Instead, they can focus on selling pro shop products and providing better service.

Overall, online booking has improved the experience of golf in many operations. The ease of registering online has made the process of pulling up to the pro shop and checking in that much better.

With online booking firmly cemented into the management tools that the majority of golf courses use, we must ask what's next? Will online booking eventually be the only method of booking rounds online? What role will third-party tee time booking websites play in this?

Where the industry is right now

To understand where the market is going we need to look at what is happening right now.

Today's online booking tools offer a high degree of visibility that elevates the service level provided to the customer. Not all online booking tools are created equal, but the best ones offer players a user-friendly experience that permits them to see precisely what tee times are available and, if course management wishes, even see who else is playing.

Modern online booking tools are now built according to best practices in design and website optimization. Golf courses with a well-built website should display a "book a tee time" call-to-action on every page of their site. Some booking engines even let you book without leaving the golf course's website.

From an operations perspective, online booking solves more problems than just reducing the time spent on the phone. These tools actively capture customer data, and if they are well integrated with the tee sheet software, they can automatically enter captured customer data into the CRM and record crucial data like names, emails, and phone numbers. Capturing this data makes following up and marketing to existing audiences much more straightforward.

What about third parties?

Tee times can be reserved through several channels beyond the phone and website. Today’s golfers now book tee times through mobile apps, third parties, social media, and even text message. Generating more bookings at your golf course means leveraging every possible channel.

Third-party distribution can be a viable option if the return on investment is worth it. Third-party websites do much the same as an online booking tool on your website, except that the course is required to give away tee time revenue for the opportunity to market tee times on the third party’s high-traffic website. Third parties can give golf courses a lot of visibility, but this exposure comes at a cost, especially if the third parties are undercutting the value of your course with deep discounts 

However, the question operators must ask themselves is whether it's worth the cost in bartered tee times. If courses can encourage customers to move from third-party channel bookings towards reserving on the course's website, then the expense of advertising through third parties is worth it. There are many strategies to do this, but using modern booking tools that are a similar caliber to the well-developed booking tools third parties use is a great start.

If you ignore the sizable audience they attract, third-party websites are essentially a massive booking engine. So, if your golf facility needs to develop its audience, third parties might help put you in front of people who have not played or heard about your course. But, if your audience is loyal and knows your operation well, you may not need to rely on a third party. Operators need to see the use of third parties as an investment in marketing, not an online booking strategy.

What's next for online booking?

In general, I expect we will see increased streamlining of the booking process, automation, and a heavier emphasis on the social component of booking a round. Players will not only pay for their round online, but they'll also check-in from the parking lot, which automatically lets their playing partners know they've arrived.

Golf itself is a social sport. We all know how playing the game with close friends is an important bonding experience. Booking technology eventually will take advantage of this by offering detailed player profiles where golfers can show off their best scores, handicap tracking, and link to their social media pages.

A large part of the future of online booking, especially the social side, lies in the growing popularity of custom mobile apps. Selecting playing partners and interacting through the app is likely the most user-friendly experience, especially if the app permits curbside check-in and comes packed with extra features. One day these apps may even have an augmented reality component that incites players to post to social media!

Some golf courses will embrace these trends while others won't, and there will always be that golf course that still uses a pen and paper tee sheet and handles every single reservation on the phone. However, as the industry slowly moves towards more and more online booking, we will see service improve and hopefully more participation in the sport.

Alex Lavoie is content manager at Chronogolf. He works with an awesome team of writers, PPC specialists, designers, and email marketers to deliver the most informative and interesting golf industry content on the Chronogolf Blog. When he’s not writing, you can find him teeing it up on the course or playing drums in one of his many bands.











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