If you’re familiar with the golf industry, you know it’s experiencing a time of dramatic change. Bill Lodes, EVP of Business Development & Strategy for First American Payment Systems, points out, however, that the traditional, on-course side of the industry isn’t the focus of new golf industry trends. “Off-course is where the change is happening,” he says, “Everything from driving ranges and the Topgolfs of the world to getting fitted for clubs or having their swings analyzed online.” These changes are creating unprecedented opportunities for both emerging and established ISVs to serve the golf industry.
Lodes says with today’s busy lifestyles, fewer people take time for four or five hours for a round of golf with a foursome. Off-course activities give more people the opportunity to enjoy the sport — even people who wouldn’t go to a traditional golf course. Golf industry trends also include tech options that save time and add convenience. Golfers are subscribing to online services that they once paid club pros for, and they’re scheduling their tee times through third-party websites.
“We’re seeing the industry head in a new direction,” Lodes says. “The whole industry is battling change and trying to quickly adapt.”
The Right Mix of the Old and the New
Lodes says businesses and organizations in this vertical market are looking for help to morph into more customer-centric environments. Even for a vertical as steeped in tradition as golf, customer-centric changes are slowly taking hold, like adding GPS and USB ports to a fleet of golf carts, for example. It’s not a given across the board, however. “Some clubs are slower to change,” says Lodes. “They have a long history, and they’re slow-moving. If they had their preference, they might not move as quickly, but members want online access and other conveniences. It’s a push-pull — joining the traditional with the influx of technology.”
To make a serious play for this market, ISVs should keep top of mind that businesses in this vertical aren’t just challenged to keep up with golf industry trends, but also by numerous day-to-day tasks required to keep a golf course running, like managing employees, keeping up with maintenance, running the pro shop, and serving concessions.
Lodes says Justin Wolf, one of First American’s directors with deep ties to this industry, and other members of his team have attended industry shows over the past few years, including the PGA Show in Orlando, to learn what businesses in this vertical actually care about and need. They’ve also seen an influx of new software solutions introduced in the past few years. “It’s really a hot vertical,” he says. “Think about all the different parts a golf business needs to manage — payroll, insurance, food and beverage — and they’re all starting to be driven by technology.”
He comments, however, that disruptors coming into the vertical aren’t necessarily payments experts. “That’s where we come in,” Lodes says. “It’s an opportunity for us to share our expertise.” He says payments companies like First American are working with ISVs to provide businesses in the golf industry with a total solution that captures payments from all revenue streams. “From our perspective, payments is at the center of all of it.”
The right payments partner can provide state-of-the-art security, allow businesses to tokenize information so golfers can quickly book a tee time and pay online without having to re-enter their card information, and even use an account updater tool so the customer never has to update an expired card.
“We’re adding payments and new technology to traditional club management software so now golf courses can compete in the world,” he says.
What Lies Ahead
In the next few years, Lodes says to expect the tech explosion in the golf vertical to continue, with online coaches offering more services on a subscription basis. He also predicts the number of golf entertainment venues and indoor simulators will continue to grow.
In addition, Lodes’ says there will be more emphasis on initiatives such as the PGA Jr. League that work to capture younger players’ interest. He comments that technology is an integral part of kids’ lives, so it will need to be commonplace on the golf course as a new generation of players grows into the game.
Landing on the Green
Lodes advises ISVs that the best way to capitalize on the current opportunity in the golf vertical is to do your due diligence before entering into a partnership with a payments company. “ISVs need to identify and work with payments companies with the expertise they need today and who know what’s coming down the pipeline,” he says.
It’s also smart to partner with a company that has dedicated business development directors in the verticals for which you are developing applications. “Finding a true partner will dictate the success of an ISV,” Lodes comments.