Online Reservations: Booking a Faster Tee Time
  August 12, 2013

Golf is one of the most popular ways for Americans to ride out the dog days of summer. Spanning all ages and skill levels, millions of players flock to the game every July and August. Over 490 million rounds of golf were played in the US in 2012, where the game has grown to a $25 billion industry - making it easy to see why so many businesses are looking for new ways to engage with players.

With August serving as National Golf Month, I thought it an appropriate time to take a look at how today’s golfers are leveraging the Web to connect with the game on a digital level. According to the National Golf Foundation, there are approximately 14.8 million core golfers in the United States - a core golfer being someone who plays eight or more rounds of golf a year – and their 2011 Core Golfers and Technology study uncovered some interesting facts about this demographic:

  • 25% read golf articles on mobile phones
  • 84% researched golf equipment online in the previous year
  • 30% purchased golf equipment online in the previous year
  • 4.4 million bought a golf item on eBay in the last 12 months
  • 2.4 million downloaded a golf related mobile application
  • 4.6 million regularly read blogs re: golf brands, courses and travel
  • 5.9 million booked a tee time using a third-party website

You can argue that the underlying takeaway of these statistics is that people generally leverage the Web, mobile and social channels to further engage with the things that they’re already passionate about. No surprise there. It should also come as no surprise that there is no shortage of businesses, services and products competing for the revenue that a passionate group like this represents – especially given that 64% of core golfers have an annual household income of over $100,000 a year. Be that as it may, it’s usually the services that somehow make peoples’ lives easier that end up succeeding – which is why I’m so intrigued by the fact that almost 6 million people booked tee times online in 2011.

Online reservation services are certainly nothing new. In fact they’ve been around for so long that users often take the fact that they can book a reservation for just about anything via the Web for granted– which is exactly why it’s only a matter of time before a "go-to" site for scheduling tee times emerges. As it stands, a clear-cut leader in the online golf reservation space has failed to rise above the competition – or even significantly distinguish itself from the handful of sites currently providing the service. You can cite the likes of OpenTable and Taxi Magic as prime examples of websites that rose to the top of their respective markets - dining and transportation – but most people have trouble naming just one website that offers the ability to schedule a tee time online. This is even more puzzling considering the opportunity a site that sets itself apart in this space would have given the potential buying power its visitors and traffic would represent to advertisers.

To illustrate what distinction there currently is in the space, AlertSite set up a benchmark test pitting the top 5 tee time sites against one another over a 4-week period. Rather than simply measure availability or homepage response times we actually executed a transaction on each site - which consisted of what most people use the sites for - navigating to the URL and searching for tee times in a particular state.

The data generated is below:

golf tee time benchmarks

As you can see, won going away, with coming in a distant second at roughly 4 seconds slower. This large of a discrepancy can’t be overstated as we continue to shift into a new digital age where the user is driving the factor in most markets. We’ve all seen the statistics; back in 2008 Aberdeen showed that a 1-second response-time delay can drop user satisfaction by as much as 16% while also decreasing conversion by up to 7%. Our blog post earlier this month already looked at how a user’s overall experience with a site is becoming the definitive factor in its success – and how speed plays a major role in shaping that experience – something has in spades over the competition.

Whether or not builds on this head start remains to be seen, but they’ve already established themselves as a leader from a performance perspective. We’ll just have to wait and see who emerges as the frontrunner – but there will eventually be one. Remember when we used to have to call travel agencies and airlines to book flights? I’m fairly confident we’ll be asking the same question about tee times in the not too distant future.

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