“AI” in the Business of Golf: Will it Be Trick or a Treat?

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Is being a cynic a positive trait?  Or is a cynic actually a realist?  Is questioning a sales presentation about AI’s great benefits to the golf industry a healthy exercise?

I recently attended a presentation titled “Preparing for Golf’s AI Revolution.”

The session’s goal was “To simplify the complex and technical world of artificial intelligence and machine learning by covering the current tools and how to prepare your business to operate successfully in an AI world.”  The session promised that AI would predict rounds played based on weather conditions, forecast product purchases, and enhance club marketing and member services.”

While sounding promising, I pondered whether today’s golf course operators have the desire, the resources, or the intellectual capacity to grasp and implement the benefits of AI.  While 50% of golf courses are using the cloud, in an audience of nearly 100, only three attendees indicated that they were using AI in any form.

Predicting rounds based on weather is already a known quantity based on the research of Weather Trends International.  AI is not needed for that.  Inventory open-to-buy systems already do forecasting product purchases.  AI may help identify a purchaser, but will it increase the volume of purchases?  I have my doubts.  Will it enhance club marketing and member services?

Michael Williams, in an NGCOA article titled, “AI, AI, Oh! The Game-Changing Technology is Changing the Game – NGCOA” cites that AI will produce the following benefits for the golf industry:

  • “In agronomy, golf course operators have already seen the benefits of how big data can help manage the use of water and chemical treatments to improve conditions and save resources. Artificial intelligence will bring even more information and expertise to bear, with software that will predict conditions, recommend which products to use and eventually enable robots to apply applications and landscape the course.

  • On the marketing front, AI will help operators know each of their current customers’ needs better than they know themselves. Owners will have tools that analyze past purchases of an individual to determine their preferences, they will also be able to utilize data from golfers all over the world that match the profile of that individual to predict their current and future wants and needs. Imagine having the ability to write a scheduled, custom-crafted message sent to each of your customers. AI can do that.

  • It has long been known that golfers who play better golf play more golf.  But even with cutting-edge equipment and the efforts of generations of teaching professionals instruction has not been able to penetrate a large segment of the golfing community. But AI will enable the best instruction in the world to be available to golfers on their mobile phones. In addition, players can have a virtual caddy that knows not only your swing but the weather, considers the weather conditions, reads the green perfectly and also reminds you to order the turkey wrap and an energy drink rather than a hot dog and a beer.

  • Perhaps the greatest impact will be on staffing. With so much expertise and automation at their disposal, operators will have options on how and where human staff will be needed and best deployed. With many of the management and back office decisions being automated, the shift will be for more staff connecting with the public to ensure that the experience is an exceptional one, further solidifying golf as a part of the entertainment and hospitality industry.”

Certainly AI will help agronomy and staffing, but what about marketing and enhancing the golfer’s experience.  The golf course operator must overcome a series of hurdles to apply AI to club marketing and member services.  Data aggregation is a real challenge.

First, did the (1) customer opt in?  If not, forget about marketing to them.  There is a large regulatory governance debate regarding privacy, security and compliance.  Europe is very strict regarding the use of customer information.  In California, individuals under the age of 16 can request that all of their information be scrubbed from various applications.

Was the data (2) obtained manually or electronically:  private club membership or season pass/loyalty card application, POS, restaurant terminal, back-office computer, hand-held scanner, website, or mobile form?  Private clubs have an advantage in collecting data from the initial application and from the recurring a member’s recurring use of the facility.  However, to the extent was obtained manually, labor becomes an issue.  While face recognition may automate the transaction experience, I believe that prospect, while now in use in Asian airports (Tokyo, Hong Kong), is year’s away from being widely adopted in the United States.

Was the data gathered (3) “clean” and accurate?  If not, forget about marketing to them.

Was the (4) information obtained robust and provided an extensive customer profile?  Could you obtain biographical data (first name, zip code, gender, zip code, birth date, service and product preferences, transaction date, amount, and items purchased?  Targeting marketing becomes a hit or miss if all relevant data is not gathered.  I often receive invitations from golf courses to ladies’ social events.  United Airlines sent me invitations to enroll in their frequent flyer program though a valued customer for over 30 years.

Will the information be (5) stored on a single workstation or in the cloud so all authorized individuals can access it?  The latter is better s digital marketing is only practical in the cloud.

Is the data aggregated into a (6) single or multiple databases?  Single is preferred.

What is the (7) age of the targeted consumer as the message and the medium differ for various age group.  Over 70, email is perhaps best.  50 – 70 test messages is a better medium.  Under 50, TikTok and Instagram are more commonly used by this age group.

If those seven hurdles are overcome, the personalized delivery of information (“predictive sending”) then has to delineate whether the individual is a new customer, a recurring customer of the same products or services, or is there an opportunity to upsell either customer.  Some find being upsold offensive.  Even then, there is a presumption in marketing that human behavior is precisely predictable and doesn’t consider the variables of scheduling in life.  If the message is not relevant to the customer at the moment received, there is a high probability that they will opt-out.

Large corporations, i.e., airlines and hotels, have the the resources to integrate technology.  Golf is a fractured industry.  In contrast, eighty percent of golf courses are small seasonal businesses earning less than $2.5 million in revenue.  Based on my experience observing the operation of over 6,000 golf courses in 58 countries, I do not see the majority of  golf courses having the bandwidth to embrace AI, even for club marketing and member services.

Thus, I queried ChaptGPT 4.0: “Is AI a Trick or a Treat?” Here is the response I received:

“This is Bing.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a rapidly evolving field that has the potential to revolutionize the way we live and work.  AI can be both a trick and a treat, depending on how it is used.

Here are some of the tricks and treats of AI:

Trick: AI works like a human brain.  AI is essentially just a complex set of mathematical algorithms and data arrays.  Most AI work is best done by people and AI working jointly.

Treat: AI can help start a task, but humans must carry it over the finish line (emphasis added).  AI working jointly.  AI can assess and analyze millions of data points logically and sequentially, a process humans find mundane and challenging to complete.

Trick:  AI systems often incorporate machine learning, deep learning, and data analytics, enabling intelligent decision-making.

Treat: AI can make the workplace more human.  By integrating AI into offices, human capabilities are enhanced. AI will not substitute or replace humans altogether.1

In conclusion, Artificial Intelligence can be both a trick and a treat, depending on its use.  It’s important to understand that while AI has limitations, it also has enormous potential for improving our lives when used responsibly.”

Humorously, Grammarly suggested 21 changes (which I made) to the text string above.

The fundamental question I believe is to what extent is the management of golf courses a “reactive or proactive” business endeavor?  If one were proactive, I might see the value of AI; however, I guess 90% of the golf operations are reactive businesses.  To the extent that one is proactive via composing messages to broadcast to one’s customer database, AI would be a valuable time-saving tool.  Otherwise, AI may have little value to golf courses over the next several years.

I think Shakespeare’s thought that could be applied to AI is conveyed in the line  written between 1596 and 1598 in the play “The Merchant of Venice,” when the King of Morocco stated, “All that glitters is not gold.”


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1 comment

  1.    Reply

    JJ one of the clearest messages I’ve read on AI…I think!