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What is the Only Thing a Consumer Can Buy Less than 7 Days in Advance that Costs the Vendor Thousands of Dollars?

Airlines, hotels, car rentals, the theatre, sporting events, and restaurants all share one thing in common.   A consumer can make a reservation more than seven days in advance.  Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, theatre, movies, and concerts allow you to purchase advance access to that event on a non-refundable basis.

For most golf courses in the United States, a golfer can only book a tee time seven days in advance.  Golf may be the only entertainment activity where reservations are accepted with such a narrow booking window.  Whether that policy is a hangover of over 30 years of anachronistic procedures of the days from using a paper tee sheet, a golf course’s adherence to a seven-day policy costs hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

What is just as puzzling is that of the 8,042 public 18+ hole regulation length golf courses, 21% of those golf courses do not offer online tee times, according to Mike Dickoff of Apparation LLC, one of the golf industry’s leading information technology companies.

In Colorado, there is a group of very savvy PGA golf professionals at municipal and daily fee courses that are offering the advanced booking of tee times beyond a seven-day window, generating impressive incremental revenue as shown here:

City Castle Rock Denver Eagle Golden Larkspur Steamboat
Course Plum Creek Green Valley Ranch Eagle Ranch Fossil Trace Bear Dance Haymaker
Ownership Daily Fee Daily Fee Municipal Municipal  Daily Fee Municipal
PGA Professional Cy Twete Matt Bryant Jeff Boyer Jim Hajek Mark Pfingston Cody Hasten
Standard Booking Window 7 Days 8 Days 8 Days 7 Days 7 Days 10 days
Advance Booking Window 8 – 90 days 9 – 90 days 396 days 396 days 8 – 90 Days 11 – 90 Days
Fee $10 per person $15 per person $20 per person N/A N/A $15 per person
Guaranteed Non-Refundable Non- Refundable Non- Refundable N/A N/A Non-Refundable
Dynamic Pricing Yes Yes Seasonal Pricing No Yes Seasonal Pricing
Prime Time In-Season  Green Fee $75 WD, $85 WE Starting at $65 WD, $90 WE Starting at $77 Starting at $80 $149 WD, $179 WE Starting at $75
Advanced Booking Green Fee $85 WD, $95 WE Starting at $80 WD, $105 WE Starting at $77 $160 $195 $169
Advanced Reservation Fees – 2022 $76,620 $27,000 $36,360 N/A N/A $21,390
Advanced Reservation Fees – 2023 $92,390 $31,500 $39,480 N/A N/A $21,315
Advanced Booking Green Fee Differential  Impact – 2023 $693,000 N/A N/A > $750,000 >$750,000 N/A
% of Online Booking 85% 50% 70% 99% 87% 65%
Phone Reservations Allowed Only 7 Days in Advance Only 8 Days in Advance Only 3 Days in Advance Only On Day of Play Only 7 Days in  Advance Only 10 Days In Advance

Jim Hajek’s, recently retired Director of Golf at Fossil Trace, advanced booking policy is amazing.

Starting on December 1, 2023, golfers could book tee times for any day in 2024.  While the rack rate is $80, the advanced booking fee, which includes a green fee, cart, and a sleeve of balls (a gift not shared before checking in) is $160. Including the sleeve golf balls, it generated $148,800 in supplemental merchandise revenue in 2023.

It should be noted that every other Saturday morning, the league player pays about $115, including a green fee, cart, and entry into the weekly event in which 50% of the prize earnings are spent within the pro shop.

This policy results in fifty-three percent of tee times being booked more than seven days in advance. When considering tournaments and leagues, over 90% of tee times are booked more than seven days in advance.

Fossil Trace charges the full fee for all players failing to show on the daily of play.

Do they have problems with credit card chargebacks?   Historically – no.  More recently – yes.  The credit card companies are not as good as before.  Fossil Trace reports they are slightly more likely to lose more battles than they win.

However, most players do not attempt to dispute the charge as the course is armed with the appropriate information as the guest agreed to the terms and conditions clearly stating they will be charged full rates (email confirmation upon booking with a text sent 24 hours in advance). The course retains all documentation to provide the credit card company for any dispute.

The good news is that disputes are rare. The goal at Fossil Trace is not to make money but just to encourage the golfer to do the right thing – cancel or adjust the size of their reservation. If they can fill the spot, no worries and all is forgiven.

The more nettlesome issue is when golfers cancel and rebook within seven days, hoping to secure a lower rate.  From a legal perspective, it is considered “Cyber Fraud,” and various municipalities have stated they would pursue litigation to include barring the golfer from the course.

In Steamboat, you could only book ten days in advance if you were a resident or pass holder. Non-residents could book up to 90 days.  One of their pass holders created an alias non-resident account, canceled the advanced reservation, and re-booked.  Their legal team deemed this to be identity theft and cyber fraud.  They had a hearing with this individual, who showed no remorse, and the Steamboat City Manager banned him from the course for 90 in-season days.

Fossil Trace had six individuals who engaged in the same practice.  They were counseled that if they were to engage in such a practice again, their playing privileges would be withdrawn and referred to the City’s legal department.

Is this advanced booking technique a new phenomenon relating to the Pandemic?   Surprisingly, no.

Mark Pfingston, Head Golf Professional at the Golf Club at Bear Dance, implemented over 15 years ago the Southwest Airlines model where a golfer could only book a round of golf on their website.  They did not allow customers to go to a platform where their fees could be compared to competitors.  Hence, GolfNow was a non-starter for them.

Southwest charged a $10 premium to get on the plane first.  Mark adopted that policy of allowing a golfer to book early for $10.  The premium to book early at Bear Dance is now $25 per person.

Golf courses are latent adopters of technology.  Policies that would boost their cash flow are often overlooked.

Considering the demand now exceeds supply, the golf course owners would be well advised to follow the leadership of the sage Colorado PGA Professionals and implement advanced booking of tee times to maximize revenue during this resurgence within the golf industry.

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1 comment

  1.    Reply

    Spot on as usual! Our marketing team pushed me on this a few years ago and I’m glad we added this feature. It’s been a nice additional revenue driver while also being an outlet for the golfers who must have the prime times!