Golf TechCon Las Vegas

The lights, glitter and ka-ching of slot machines in Las Vegas don’t hold much excitement for me, but the buzz I felt as I touched down was definitely reserved for the NGCOA’s Golf TechCon, the first dedicated golf business technology conference held in the USA for 19 years. It’s fair to say the game has changed in that period! 

Great to catch up with our 2016 keynotes, Lodewijk Klootwijk and Jay Karen!

Great to catch up with our 2016 keynotes, Lodewijk Klootwijk and Jay Karen!

With some 250 course owners and operators, representing myriad business models from MCOs (multi-course operators) to true mom-and-pop businesses from the mid-West, GolfTechCon had a great vibe and an incredibly energetic atmosphere - perhaps aided by the hyper-real and out-of-this-world surrounds of Las Vegas. We were most certainly not in Kansas anymore.

As an aside - Vegas’ reinvention of itself from the underbelly of gaming to one of the world’s true luxury and entertainment destinations is quite extraordinary. Witness the high prices: beer prices decline the further you move from the infamous Strip, national chains hike up prices, and restaurants have no shame serving up average NZ sav-blanc with price tags that make you wince. And that’s before there’s an event in town and the menus all get switched. But the story has a great message: long-term investment and strategy can lead to significant change in the eyes of consumers.  Unfortunately Vegas’ success makes it a target, and the day after I left a crazy person took this to a horrible extreme at the MGM Grand. I have no doubt the city will shake off the atrocity, but it was a sad reminder of some of the difficult challenges the USA faces at the moment.

My key takeaways from GolfTechCon were these:

  • The US industry faces similar challenges to ours: flat growth in golfers, and the ongoing challenge of conflicting expectations of the older generation and the younger (most particularly in member-dominant clubs);
  • Due to the sheer size of the market (and, in part thanks to Topgolf), the US is expanding its market and developing a wider range of responses to the generation gap. The position of more daily-fee (public golf) focussed facilities is to target younger consumers with relaxed rules, music on course, and more contemporary hospitality offers;
  • Technology is most certainly responding, with golf business management software in particular offering more from cloud-based solutions at low monthly subscriptions, allowing courses to better understand their customers.

This brings me to two big themes: data and revenue management.

The two work together, with a common theme that tools to understand the data underpinning your golf business are expanding, and in many cases allowing courses to become significantly better revenue managers. The systems supporting hotel management are already available: they can access your POS, run algorithmic calculations to determine and forecast best price, then plant those prices back in your booking system. All done automatically.

But are the people ready? Both golfers and operators?

In a great session on dynamic pricing, we heard the usual objections: our customers aren’t ready, many are seniors etc. Sure, but they travel. They buy stuff online. And they most certainly understand when prices change dynamically. Whilst they may not see much of it in golf, the concept itself is not foreign. We need to take them on the journey because the message was loud and clear from software provider and operator alike: there is significant revenue being left on the table in the golf industry as long as we run static prices.

But it’s not just golfers we need to move - the manager is absolutely not equipped with the skills, even when they have the software. The common refrain from software vendors was that they continued to roll out functionality, but did not see it being used. Education and activation were required. A willingness to give something a go, a curiosity as to what is possible. This was true both of understanding data as well as starting to more proactively manage revenue lines. 

So where to from here? Well, just having a GolfTechCon is a great start and credit to the NGCOA for putting on the event in the first place. The Golf Business Forum will certainly address technology in many ways, and we will explore additional education sessions to meet the needs of the industry. But above all we would encourage all managers to start pushing their own boundaries, start trying something new, with a focus on digging into data and exploring ways to manage revenue more actively. 

This post originally appeared in Golf Industry Central's e-newsletter.

Andrew DaviesComment