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Golf and E-commerce
By Art McCafferty

The impact technology is having on golf was the focus of the the annual winter conference of the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association. Jim McIntyre and Matt Hanna opened the proceedings with a presentation entitled, "Keeping Pace with the Web." These gentlemen, representing Traverse City-based Knorr Marketing and Knorr Interactive, spun and delivered an interesting web of information for the attendees.

Essentially, they spent their time updating the audience on the dramatic changes that are taking place on the Internet. As examples they used two of the websites that they have been involved with: Garland and the Otsego Club. Three of the themes woven throughout their presentation were: love your customer, dynamic databases and treat the Internet as a capital expenditure. They also pointed out that Internet technology is permeating all facets of the golf business and will continue to do so. They invited attendees to visit the research of Jupiter, Forester, Media Metrix and Gardner to make them more aware of the impact the Internet technology is having on the marketplace.

This was the second time the golf industry had been given this message. At the Governor's Conference on Tourism in September, Susy Avery and her staff at Travel Michigan, said they were putting much of their financial marketing muscle into the Internet.

A number of the vendors present at the show complimented the online theme. Book4 Golf and Davey Commercial Grounds Management were two examples of how the golf business was taking advantage of Internet technology.

Book4 represented the online registration industry. Last year at this time, there were 35 such companies vying for this market. Today, that number has dwindled considerably. Michigan is working with a variety of vendors: elinks.com, book4golf.com, linkssource.com and thegolfer.com. Larry Bowden of The Natural, has been an early adapter to online registration, but has not been that thrilled with it. "The technology seems to work fine, but I do not pick up a lot of rounds with it." John Brehm, of the Pohlcat, could not be more bullish. He is a huge fan of book4golf.com. His Pohlcat tee sheet resides in Minnesota, but is only a computer screen away in the Mt. Pleasant CVB office, Soaring Eagle Resort and the rest of the world. "Book4 drives some copy my way, but I get a lot of my bookings through the CVB, the Soaring Eagle and our own office," said Brehm. "The software is great. Each morning I can see how my tee times have filled up. The system has eliminated a lot of phone tag and I only have about one percent no-shows. It saves in other ways as well. I used to print 45,000 marketing brochures now I print 15,000. When people call I tell them we are on the net and they can find out all the information at http://www.pohlcat.org."

Book4, with $30 million in new funding, a new president in Kim Robinson and a new partnership with PGA Tour.com, as well as its 41.5 million hits per month, seems to have a leg up on the competition. This year will be critical, as dot-com companies have established a legacy of going through their capital before profitability kicks in.

Davey Commercial Grounds Management (http://www.davey.com) has developed a new Global Positioning System system which gives golf course owners and architects the tools to create a new course or modify existing ones. After having scanned your property by air, a CAD software program, Autocad, allows users to move or eliminate existing trees on the property, create ponds or build new bunkers. According to Mark Jackson, account manager for the firm, the company plans to use the Internet to get the word of their product out more quickly to their client base.

E-commerce has also had its impact on golf shops as well. The industry has been hard hit of late with the invasion of Asian clubs offered to the U.S. market at huge discounts. In addition, Internet online start-ups like Chipshot.com and Liquid Golf have been taking their share of the market. National chains like Pro Discount Golf and Nevada Bob's have been extremely hard hit. However, Chipshot.com, a Silicon Valley hotshot, that MG visited last year, has been sold. Like other dot-coms, they ran out of money before they were able to finish their round.

Jeff Johns is the manager of the Boyne Country Sports /Bavarian Village Internet store. "I must say it has been a wild ride, managing this site. In many ways we are in competition with ourselves. However, we feel that we do need a presence on the Internet as a defense against our competitors," said Johns. "We feel we can be a regional player, but we realize it will be difficult to compete on the Internet on price alone. Our intent is to create additional value for our customer by personalizing their online experience when they come to our site, http://www.boyne.com."

With so many different entities to Boyne's wide-ranging empire, they have decided to make Boyne.com the portal of all their online activity. However, there will be sub-URL's once inside the site, such as, http://BoyneMountain.com and http://BoyneHighlands.com. "We want to individualize our properties as much as possible," said Johns. "They are uniquely different and we want to present them that way."

Richard Held, Chief Operating Officer for Boyne Country Sports/Bavarian Village, indicated the Internet allows for versatility and creativity. "The technology allow us to work with many of our corporate customers in a variety of ways. For example, we have special shopping nights for different companies. They come in during special times for discount shopping. The fact that companies can communicate so easily with their employees online allows us to propose these unique marketing ideas. We are also working with American Express and our corporate partners in scheduling ski trips, primarily to Big Sky."

I found the Boyne site easy to navigate and make a purchase from. To test the site, I ordered some merchandise online. I immediately received a conformation of my order and in a reasonable time received my order. Craig Bickley of Marketplace Solutions developed the backend for the e-commerce site. They have worked with a number of businesses eager to get online. Boyne will need to keep on top of the technology as Pro Golf Discount and Nevada Bob's are bringing their stores online later this year.

The second-generation e-commerce sites which combine both clicks and bricks seem to be the business model that will ultimately prevail. Generally, the clicks and bricks have shown past profits and thus have an appreciation for the bottom line. While profitless http://Amazon.com continues to be the model for the virtual e-commerce world, the online competition from the Walmarts, Sears and Barnes & Nobles of the world are taking their toll.

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