Easy as 1-2-3: Pay-by-the-hole could revolutionize sunset golf

It’s the same story just about every time I drive past a golf course as sunset is approaching.

Empty. No one in sight.

But here’s what’s really sad: Sunset is approaching, but it’s hardly imminent. It could be a 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and still no one is out there.

I’m sure that drives golf course operators nuts, the idea that they have to get the vast majority of their revenue in the morning. The tee sheet is jammed until noon or so, and then the pro shop is practically deserted – especially on weekdays.

The culprit, in my view, is that golfers are hesitant to pay for a specified number of holes if they aren’t sure they can get in that many. That’s true even if it’s a twilight rate. It just doesn’t feel like a good deal.

There’s a new technology that could change that, however. Two apps – QuickGolf and eGullPay – have introduced a pay-by-the-hole concept similar to Uber or Lyft.

It makes so much sense, it just might work.

According to the National Golf Foundation newsletter, each app has signed up about 50 courses so far, and QuickGolf hopes to get to between 100 and 200 by the end of the year. But both Harvey Silverman, co-founder of QuickGolf, and Pascal Stolz, CEO of eGull, have been discouraged by the golf industry’s unwillingness to adopt change.

Said Silverman, “We’re constantly pushing this rock up a hill against a mindset that says golf is either nine holes or 18 or that’s it.”

Stolz’s take on it: “Golf is the only sport that you can’t play for an hour. For some reason, the golf industry doesn’t want to give away a nine- or 18-hole potential round for an I-don’t-know-how-many-holes-you’re-going-to-play.”

Both have found that, on average, the pay-as-you-go golfers play about six or seven holes. But here’s the really interesting statistic:

“We’re finding that customers who were playing three times a year are instead playing twice a month,” Stolz said.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Playing golf is like adopting good eating habits. The more you do it, the more you like the results, the more you keep doing it. It’s so simple.

We have to change the negative mindset surrounding our great game.

How often have you found yourself saying, “I don’t want to play golf this weekend. It will be too crowded.”

And how often have you heard a golf course operator lament, “I don’t know how I’m going to stay in business. No one’s playing golf anymore.”

See the contradiction? It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. It sounds a little like Yogi Berra’s famous line: “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Now let’s take it one step further and talk about the late afternoon situation.

We have apps for everything these days. We can check the GPS for the fastest route home. We can see what the wait is at an attraction. We can calculate how many steps we walked. And on the golf course we can see exactly how many yards it is to the front, middle and back of the green.

So why can’t we check the local golf course app at 4 p.m. and see how many holes we could get in before dark?

Just as Uber and Lyft revolutionized how to get from Point A to Point B without driving your own car, golf can modernize. It’s just a matter of getting the technology and utilizing it.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to get us all to stop moping around about where golf is and where it’s going. But I do know this much: Nothing is going to change until golf courses start offering some new customer-friendly options.

Maybe it starts with pay-by-the-hole. What are they waiting for? The sun is setting on too many revenue opportunities … and chances to get newcomers excited about the game.

Let’s change our thinking – one hole at a time.

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