As sure as the sun comes up in the morning and day turns into night, 18 holes at a time is one of life's constants. Unless you’re one of those new age-types okay with only 9, that is.
Why 18? The urban myth says the Scots played 18 because there were 18 shots in a bottle of Scotch. In reality, back in the late 1700's St. Andrews morphed from a 22 hole course into an 18 hole course, even though it didn't have 18 distinct holes. Evolution being the unstoppable beast that it is, the R&A would eventually deem a match 18 holes, no matter how many holes a course actually had.
Today we buy golf our golf 9 or 18 holes at a time. The USGA, the R&A, the PGA and the Choir Invisible can debate ways to grow the game, but the 9 or 18 hole purchase remains sacrosanct and largely immutable.
But what if you could actually buy golf by the hole? What if actually you could play, and pay for, only 5 or 6 holes before or after work, or in between sales calls, or when the kids are in preschool, or any other time you have a free hour or two?
Would that change things?
Logistical nightmares? Potentially, but French company eGull Pay thinks it has a solution, and it may be coming to a course near you sooner than you think.
Pay & Play By The Hole
Any Uber user knows the ease of using your phone to get a ride: open the app and tell it where you want to go. The app knows where you are and it sends a car to get you. You meet at the pickup point and away you go. The app handles all of the billing.
eGull Pay applies the same concept to golf.
“Participating courses near you are listed on our app,” says Pascal Stolz, CEO of eGull Pay, which debuted its software at this year’s PGA Show. “You call the course to book your start time. The course issues you a code to activate your round, and they tell you what hole to start on.”
From there, your phone is tracked by GPS, just as with Uber. The app tracks the holes you play and when you're done, you check out of the app and your credit card gets billed only for the holes you’ve played. eGull Pay then pays the course, minus its commission.
Bottom line, you're not paying by the 9, by the 18 or even by the hour. You're paying by the hole.
“The industry has never been structured to allow courses to sell by the hole,” says Stolz. “As a point of sale system, 9 holes is relatively new, but it’s usually 18 holes walking or riding. What we’re doing is opening up multiple ways to actually bill for a round of golf, and a round of golf is no longer defined by 9 or 18 holes. It’s defined by the time people have to come and play.”
You no doubt have a few Yeah, buts locked and loaded, so let's take a look at two key challenges eGull Pay faces.
Yeah, But... #1
Is there a fear courses might get so clogged up with people playing 5 or 6 holes they'd lose revenue from full 18 holes rounds? Absolutely, but eGull Pay lets courses customize which days and times they use the Play & Pay As You Go model, and so far the two times sparking the most interest are twilight and early morning.
“Twilight rates are heavily discounted, and golfers are still unhappy if they can’t finish 18, even with that discounted rate,” says Stolz. “By moving to Play & Pay By The Hole, the golfer only pays for what they play, and there’s no need to discount the value of the greens fee.”
So instead of paying a fixed twilight rate for 9 or 18 holes and racing to beat the darkness, you simply play as many holes as you can, and pay a per hole rate for what you play.
There may be even more benefit early in the morning. That first group out has a wide open course in front of them, but another way of looking at it is there are 17 holes worth of unsold daytime inventory out there.
“That first tee time of the day is only one tee time,” says Stolz. “If you do Play & Pay By The Hole, you could maybe have 14 tee times with like a mini-shotgun start for those who only want to play 5 or 6 holes, because they have to get to work.”
eGull Pay is free for both the golfer and the golf course, and courses can completely customize their per holes rates as well as when and for how long they offer per hole pricing. They also have the ability to change on the fly.
For example, if a course finds itself with open tee times, it can activate Play & Pay By The Hole that morning, and deactivate it if some 18-hole reservations come in. That’s one of the reasons the app makes you call the course first to make a reservation - courses can say no if some 18 hole golfers show up, and to prevent course logjams.
“Say you’re driving by a course and it’s 10 AM and you have an hour or so between appointments,” says Stolz. “You check your app, call the course and ask if they’re open. If they say yes you can go get 5 holes in. You don't have to block out 4-plus hours for 18 holes.”
Yeah, But... #2
Not that we golfers would ever do such a thing, but what about trying to cheat the system?
“We’ve made sure that if a golfer tries to cheat, which is basically uninstalling the app, or putting their phone on airplane mode, or letting their battery die, we charge them the full 18-hole rate,” says Stolz. “We let them know that as part of the terms and conditions. It’s like losing your ticket at a parking garage. You’re paying the full rate even if you’ve only been there for an hour.”
Make sure your phone is fully charged.
The concept may also do away with the dreaded raincheck, which neither golfers nor golf courses like very much.
“If a course knows it’s going to rain, switch to Play & Pay By The Hole,” says Stolz. “The golfer gets in what he can until the rain starts. It’s better than getting a rain check, which is a future round the course can’t charge for.”
Desert courses can also benefit, says Stolz. Courses can go pay per hole at 9 AM or so, allowing the golfer to quit when it gets too hot. The golfer still gets some golf in and the course gets revenue it otherwise wouldn't. As the old business adage goes, a little bit of something beats the hell out of a whole lot of nothing.
Le Golf Français est Grand
eGull Pay started in France as a scorecard/pace of play app. It wasn’t very successful until a partner course, Le Golf National (home of the 2018 Ryder Cup), asked if they could integrate a payment system, maybe even a pay per hole payment, in the app. Once the app was perfected and implemented, Le Golf National, as well as the largest golf course operator in France, fell in love with it.
Stolz, a veteran of the North American golf industry from his days with TaylorMade and Cobra in the 90’s, was tabbed to bring the idea to the US. Among the challenges: modifying algorithms to recognize that while 99% of the rounds in France are walking rounds, 80% of the rounds in North America are riding.
“We had to make some significant technology improvements to track walking versus riding on a hole-by-hole basis,” says Stolz. “In addition, in the U.S., we have facilities that have three 9’s or something like that, so we had to adapt so we’re not limited to an 18 hole layout.”
Stolz says courses will find incremental increases in food, beverage and pro shop sales as a result of Play & Pay By The Hole. In addition, the French experience has shown an unexpected benefit: growth.
“What they found in France is a golfer who used to play 18 holes maybe three times a year now comes to the course twice a month and play 7 holes at a time,” he says. “From a revenue perspective, the guy used to play 54 holes a year, now he plays 108 holes on average, so you double the income from the occasional golfer by allowing them to play in the time they have available.”
Filling Out The Tee Sheet
eGull Pay Beta testing in the U.S. started last November with two courses in Southern California. Stolz says one of those course is doing well with eGull, while the other has been a little slow in implementing the platform. As of right now, five courses in Florida and five more in Southern California are listed on the app, but Stolz since the PGA Show, more than 100 additional courses have shown interest.
“Public facilities that are independently owned, golf management groups - they’re very interested,” he says. “We’ve had discussions with all the big ones, as well as municipal courses that want to increase play.”
Surprisingly, resort courses are also interested.
“Especially resort courses that have conventions,” says Stolz. “Typically you have a lot of people at a convention but nobody on the course. It gives the course the opportunity to get conventioneers to go out and play a few holes.”
Obviously, the heavy traffic, 90,000+ rounds a year courses may not need it, but Stolz says very few courses in the U.S. are truly booked 100% of the time, 100% of the days.
“If we have a couple hundred courses signed up by the end of the year, it’ll be a success for us,” says Stolz. “And if a golf course has 10 addicts of the system, that’s the start of the snowball."
“And from a course operator’s perspective, there’s very little he has to do differently. The course operator was at the inception of helping us data-log all the things we needed before we actually came to the U.S.”
With only 10 courses in the fold thus far, eGull Pay has a ways to go. To spur recruiting efforts, they're asking golfers to do some bird-dogging.
“A typical course operator will say since no one’s ever asked about Play & Pay By The Hole, there’s no need for it,” says Stolz. “So we’re offering a trip for two to the Ryder Cup for golfers who recommend courses to us.”
To enter the sweepstakes you download the app, and then find courses that aren’t listed, which shouldn't be hard at this point. eGull Pay asks you to email the course GM or director of golf and tell them you’d like to see Play & Pay By The Hole, and CC the email to: [email protected] That’s your entry, and eGull Pay takes it from there.
The contest runs from now until June 30th, with one winner getting the trip to the Ryder Cup and 50 others winning free holes of golf.
Save Your Marriage
While there are kinks to work out and unintended consequences to deal with, eGull Pay was one of the few non-equipment items at the PGA Show that made you go hmmm…. For serious golfers, Play and Pay By The Hole will never replace 18 hole rounds, but look at it from this perspective: if you run a golf course, your sellable product is a round of golf which is, by its nature, a limited inventory. Why not maximize that inventory when it makes sense to do so?
“Why not have short format events on the nights you don’t have men’s or women’s leagues?” says Stolz. “Now you can create new forms of entertainment golf during the week. Why not have a Sunset Six for women to go play 6 holes and have a glass of wine?”
“We’re also appealing to the husband who wants to play golf and still save his marriage, or the golfer who doesn't have time, because of family or work, to commit to a full 18 during the week.”
Study after study says time is an obstacle keeping people from playing golf. If buying by the hole helps a course maximize its inventory without slowing down play, and if enough golfers like getting a few holes in when they have time, it seems like a win-win. Things change, and Business 101 says progressive companies try to deliver product in ways their customers want to buy it.
No doubt the eGull Pay model has some challenges, but on its face, the potential is paradigm changing.
What say you? Should golf courses embrace a pay-as-you-go model?