Golfers, managers and business experts weigh new booking technology

By: Christian Davis | C&G Newspapers | Published May 18, 2016

 Maple Lane Golf Club, located in Sterling Heights, has been using GolfNow for five years.

Maple Lane Golf Club, located in Sterling Heights, has been using GolfNow for five years.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

METRO DETROIT — In large part, the days of calling the golf course clubhouse, asking for a tee time and hoping there’s an opening have faded into the past.

For many golfers, the decision of where to go, how much to pay and what time they’re teeing off is now just a few clicks away.

GolfNow was founded in 2001 and has become the leader in discount golf. The service ( is affiliated with the Golf Channel and is a member of the NBC Sports Group.

With its reach, and that of other cost-saving websites like, playing golf has become a buyer’s market.

Jon Bezak, of Royal Oak, said he uses one of the two services almost every week, noting that it’s the ease and savings that draw him to it.

“It’s changed the game. I almost exclusively book through these apps now,” he said. “With the exception of a few local courses I regularly go to if I need a quick round, I almost always book on (GolfNow or GroupGolfer).”

How it works
GroupGolfer is more of an investment approach. Every day, the site offers a discounted deal at a course. If enough people purchase the offer, then it activates to be used at another time. 

GolfNow has a real-time impact. For every 18 holes a golf course contains, the course owes GolfNow one “barter time,” according to Maple Lane Golf Club Director of Golf Chad Byron.

For instance, Maple Lane Golf Club, located in Sterling Heights, has 54 holes, so it owes three barter times a day.

The tee time is negotiated between the course and GolfNow, but the latter sets the price and receives all the proceeds, in effect becoming the course’s payment for using GolfNow. 

For the rest of the day, the course has the option to list as many times as it would like for whatever price it chooses on the site.

“So let’s say tomorrow is busy, but it’s not from 6 to 8 a.m. I can go into the system, lower the price down and hopefully get some business,” St. Clair Shores Golf Club General Manager Rob Spinazzola said.

Spinazzola added that there are several factors that lead to the discount offered. He said he goes off of the base price and “lowers it to an acceptable amount.” 

“I do look around at the other courses in the area (using GolfNow). That does play a factor in how we set it, but it’s not my determining factor, because we have to make sure we get the value that we perceive,” he said. “But a lost tee time, you’ll never get that back. Each tee time is its own piece of inventory, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.” 

Buyer’s market
One thing for certain is that the customers save. 

Spinazzola said the system has led to prices dropping with the idea that lower prices bring in more patrons and, hopefully, repeat customers. 

Spinazzola said his course has been using GolfNow for five years. In the first season of use, they did a survey with anyone that came in using the service to see if they had played at St. Clair Shores Golf Club before and found that 65-70 new golfers came through the door. 

“So not only did it bring in more business, but it allowed us to reach people that had never played our course before,” Spinazzola said. 

WestWynd Golf Course in Oakland Township has been using GolfNow for four years. General Manager Jimmy Mehlberg echoed Spinazzola’s sentiment.

“I think it gets some different people here. I think it gets the golfer who might not want to pay that full rate; it gets some newer people here,” he said. “Hopefully, they come in the restaurant. Hopefully, they come back sometime and play on a normal day, and hopefully, they like the course.”

Even Spinazzola takes advantage.

“I may be an operator at a golf course, but I’m still a consumer. Even I will go on and use it. It’s great for the customer,” he said.

Everybody wins?
Byron has been going through the records from the last five years when his course began using GolfNow to decide whether or not to stay with the program. 

He estimates that the course has broken even with the discounts.

“The barter-trade system in golf is tricky business,” he said. “It becomes kind of a battle within a battle to book your own golf course using GolfNow.”

Byron recognizes that golfers save with GolfNow, but at a very real cost to the course. 

“(Golfers) are going to book the cheapest time they can find, but not necessarily at the best golf course,” Byron said. “GolfNow has created the lost art of service, because people are no longer looking at the total package that the golf course offers.” 

Byron believes the buyer’s market will balance out at some point and that the signs are already there with the closing of other courses in the area.   

“It helps the customer, but it hurts the golf course. It’s only going to hurt the customer in the long run, when there are less and less courses,” he said.

Spinazzola called the system a “necessary evil.”

“It created more competition. In the golfers’ eyes, it’s a great thing. From an operator standpoint, it led us to drive our prices down, because you’re constantly competing in real time with other courses,” he said.

Mehlberg agreed that the system has driven prices down across the board.

“That’s why a lot of golf courses didn’t like GolfNow, because they were selling (barter times) so low, they couldn’t get a real rate going,” he said. “Everybody was searching for that cheap rate, so then (courses) had to lower all of their dollar amounts on the tee times we can control on GolfNow.”

Calls to the clubhouse have also been affected. 

“GolfNow has made it so people try to negotiate the rate. A lot of people don’t like putting their credit card online, and a lot of those people who visit GolfNow without wanting to put their credit card online then want to get that same rate,” Mehlberg said, reiterating that the barter-time prices are out of the club’s control. “They see those prices online (and) they think they can negotiate it, which gets a little old at times.”

GolfNow spokesman Dan Higgins said he’s heard those arguments before but disagrees, noting that his company offers a variety of solutions, from a service to handle all phone calls to connecting courses with the company’s network of food vendors to help keep costs low.

As far as the pricing, Higgins said GolfNow offers revenue specialists.

“We consider ourselves a tech company. We’ve come up with algorithms that can look at your tee sheets, demand, and try to price accordingly for you specifically,” he said. “This day and age, you have to adapt like that or you won’t be (around) that long. A lot of courses don’t like to charge less than their (regular) rate. Yes we are, but we’re bringing that golfer to you.

“There’s a lot of old-school thinking within the game of golf. We’re really trying to bring the 21st century to the business aspect of the course.”

According to GolfNow, 128 courses in the Detroit market use the service. In 2015, it facilitated 210,000 rounds of golf, generating $5.6 million in course revenue. 

Byron believes the way forward, with GolfNow or not, is to try and give the best experience to each golfer.

“If you provide the best value, the best service, the best atmosphere, hopefully those things win out with the best customers,” he said. 

Sports Writer Thomas Franz contributed to this report.