Designing a tee time distribution strategy that delivers for you.

Tee time strategies for golf courses

Thankfully, people are playing more golf. Online channels have put choice at their fingertips, but lately we have seen online choices consolidated and business terms become more restrictive. Profitably distributing tee time inventory is a challenge. This guide outlines the distribution landscape and helps you craft a strategy for sustainable growth.

1. What is a tee time distribution strategy?

A tee time distribution strategy is a plan of action for selling tee times profitably through a variety of channels. A mix of direct channels, such as a golf course’s website, phone lines, and walk-in and indirect channels such as tee time websites and wholesalers are typically used. The goal is to increase exposure to golfers to drive utilization, target the right segment of golfers to ensure positive reviews and proper care for the golf course and maximize gross operating profit per available tee time to ensure financial success.

Is it complicated? It can be—but choosing the right number and mix of channels can provide a competitive advantage and be a force multiplier to financial growth. Continue to read for help developing a distribution strategy for your golf facility.

2. Understanding tee time distribution channels

The same evolution in digital technology that put tee time booking options on every tablet and smart phone also empowered golf courses to reach golfers on a global scale. From the direct booking power of their own websites to the indirect channels detailed below, golf courses today can engage consumers when they look for golf. Is that good enough for a long-term strategy? Golf is a time experience and competes with tours, restaurants, amusement parks and more.  

Remember, a golfer’s path to a tee time purchase decision is not straight. The untold path to a reserved tee time includes planting the seed to play, a decision on where to play and when to play. As you’re building your strategy, you’ll want to ensure your tee times are available in a variety of direct and indirect channels.

Your website

For many cases, the primary channel for selling tee times is a golf course’s own website, or that of their management company brand. In addition to providing an excellent opportunity to communicate what is unique and special about a property, it is the only online distribution channel that allows you to sell directly to golfers.

To maximize the performance of this channel, remember that over 50% of all web traffic now comes from smart phones and tablets. Design a site that loads quickly, is easy to use on mobile devices and provides a secure, streamlined booking experience for golfers.

You’ll also want to ensure your site appears, or ranks, in the top results on Google, Bing and other search engines. On average, 51% of website traffic is organic, resulting from people asking questions and clicking through to sites providing the top answers. Engineering your site to rank well is called search engine optimization (SEO) and it is a best practice. You may also want to invest your marketing budget in online advertising to attract potential golfers and engage them on your website.

Online tee time agencies (OTTAs)

OTTAs are digital platforms that expose tee times to golfers and allow them to book tee times. Every day, golfers around the world plan and often book their tee times with OTTAs.

As a distribution channel, OTTAs offer access to golfers actively looking for tee times. Some OTTAs are branded about price, some are branded on convenience. A long established OTTA, BirdieBug.com is currently changing its branding to focus on friendliness and superior customer service. Too often we see golfers confuse poor customer service from an OTTA with golf course service. BirdieBug is removing this issue by committing to treating everyone with a friendly approach by putting friendliness above profit. The BirdieBug commitment to friendliness is extended to both clients and customers as BirdieBug will not allow a golf courses’ experience to lead to an unfriendly business relationship. BirdieBug will remove any possible profit opportunity before they allow a business relationship to become unfriendly.

Unlike many OTTAs, listing your golf course and selling tee times on BirdieBug is free. BirdieBug, like many other OTTAs makes money by charging golfers a fee per round booked, typically $0.49 per round.

API Platform

A travel and lifestyle API platform tackles the challenge of multiple travel communications standards, each with multiple versions. This allows developers to quickly and confidently navigate travel integration through a scalable, enterprise solution that integrates multiple vertical requests into a single API. Multiple verticals include golf, travel, tours, experiences and more.

As a distribution network, the LinksRez Platform provides one connection to multiple reservation systems and allows you to keep your listing and tee time inventory updated across all networks through one interface. This creates broad global exposure for your tee time inventory and can help you fill last-minute openings.

LinksRez charges a small flat fee per reservation which has established the platform as the most economical choice available in distribution today.

Wholesalers

These are third parties who source tee times in bulk at discounted rates and sell them, at a mark-up, to golfers, golf leagues, golf outings, travel agents and OTAs. Wholesalers can help golf courses reach out-of-market consumers they might not reach otherwise, although they do not interact directly with golfers.

Multiple mark-ups, first between the golf course and the wholesaler and again between the wholesaler and the league, travel agent or OTA, can result in rate disparity and reduce golf course profitability. Additional concerns include inconsistent shopping and brand experiences for golfers.

Online travel agencies (OTAs)

OTAs are digital platforms that connect consumers with travel suppliers and allow them to book flights, hotels, cars, activities like golf, and more. Every day, millions of people around the world arrange their travel and leisure activities through OTAs.

As a distribution channel, OTAs offer access to a large number of consumers actively shopping for travel, and the ability to attract specific types of travelers. OTAs can also open up more opportunities for you to participate in packages, bookings that include a flight and a hotel or a car and a hotel

Listing your property is free. OTAs make money by charging hotels or golf courses a fee per booking, typically a percentage of revenue, although the cost often differs between OTAs. The OTA then acts as the main point of contact for amending or cancelling bookings, leaving you to focus on the guest experience in-house.

Tour operators

Focused on creating an end-to-end travel experience for consumers, tour operators contract, typically at a discount, the individual components of a holiday—flights, transfers, hotels, meals, guides and activities including golf—and sell the combined package direct to travelers or through OTAs and wholesalers.

Tour operators often specialize in a specific location (e.g. Myrtle Beach) or experience (e.g. golfing, skiing or diving). Discounting your inventory for distribution can be beneficial if your property location and amenities align with their expertise and target traveler.

Offline

Don’t overlook off-line channels for distribution. Similar to bookings coming from your website, offline channels, such as phone, direct book leagues, or direct book outings, allow you to set the tone of the end-to-end golfer experience and maximize profitability. The key is to monitor these channels and be responsive to inquiries, especially if you have strong off-line production. Golf specific call centers such as GolfRez can help handle the stress of busy phones and improve the proshop experience for both workers and guests.

3. Building your distribution strategy

There is no universally “right” distribution strategy, rather the best plan will include diverse channels and reflect your business objectives, property economics and the best guest for your golf course. As you start to assemble your distribution mix, you’ll benefit from focusing on the following essentials:

1. Have clear business objectives

Before you begin experimenting with new distribution channels, take time to understand your current performance and define what you want to achieve. This will not only help you identify the right distribution mix; it will allow you to measure your success.

Objectives may include:

  • Attracting more premium price paying golfers (who typically book earlier)
  • Profitably increasing food and beverage sales
  • Reducing reliance on a single distribution channel
  • Improving your ability to fill last-minute vacancies

2. Target your best guests

Knowing the profile of your best guests – those who have a positive impact on your profitability and who prioritize the amenities you offer—will help you select and prioritize distribution channels. Whether the right guests for your property are those shopping for the best tee time of the day or last-minute budget golfers, you should focus your attention on their preferred booking channels. In fact, simply understanding if the core of your business is premium rate golfers or discount golfers will help you target your efforts. Use market intelligence reporting, available from companies like Sagacity, to help you identify and target high-performing geographies and market segments.

3. Understand your profitability

Gross operating profit per available round (GOPPAR) is a key performance metric that can help you evaluate the impact of distribution on profitability. Unlike revenue per available round (RevPAR) which helps golf courses understand how well they’ve managed inventory and rates to generate revenue, GOPPAR takes into account revenue and expenses to provide a true picture of profitability.

To calculate GOPPAR simply subtract your gross expenditure from your gross revenue, then divide it by the number of available rounds (tee times) at your golf course.

GOPPAR = (Gross revenue - Gross expenditure) / Available rounds

4. Maintain competitive rates

In addition to finding the right channel mix, competitive pricing is a critical part of your distribution strategy. Having a real-time understanding of market conditions and the prices offered by a comparable competitive set will help you optimize your rates.

5. Avoid the temptation to set and forget

With rapidly evolving golfer preferences, it’s critical that you continuously monitor and optimize performance in your distribution channels. Be diligent about analyzing both the costs and contribution of your channel providers and watch for performance variations in different seasons, days of the week or in specific market conditions. Change inventory allocations up or down to maintain the optimal channel mix to fuel profitable growth.

4. Four tips to help your golf tee time distribution

With your distribution strategy in place, take these actions to maximize performance in your channels.

1. Go mobile

Golf reservations are increasingly happening on smartphones and tablets, so a mobile-friendly website will increase your ability to capture direct business. In addition to ensuring your site loads quickly and is easy to use, integrate a mobile-optimized booking engine to provide a seamless, secure buying experience. Recently golf tee time booking engine companies have emerged. They are almost exclusively focused on growing online reservations and user experience is one of their top initiatives.

2. Maximize your content

Make the most of your increased online reach by providing detailed information about the amenities you offer—from simulators and free breakfast to premium golf cars and on course refreshments. You have a story to tell, be sure you do so. Sharing lots of photos so golfers can imagine playing your golf course is another best practice. Discover how to optimize your BirdieBug listing to attract and engage the right golfers for your property.

3. Brush up on golf course performance metrics

Optimizing performance across your distribution channels requires you to be familiar with a core set of metrics the golf industry uses to evaluate business results and compare them across similar properties. Review what each metric can tell you and perhaps more importantly what it can’t, then set up your performance measurements.

4. Manage and maximize your online reputation

Your golf course’s reputation for responsive service and great guest experience exists almost entirely in the digital world and impacts on your ability to sell tee times. Be sure you have a strategy for maximizing 5-star reviews and responding quickly to both positive and negative feedback. The GolfRez call center can be used to respond to inbound emails and phone calls to turn your reviews into additional bookings.

Don't miss these stories: