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September 2019

A Perfect Match

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AI Facilitates pairing of Golfers with the Right Private Club

By Scott Kauffman

When PGA Professionals Jason Becker and Lynn Josephson started Golf Life Navigators five years ago in Southwest Florida, their initial goal was to a be an online guide for the millions of Baby Boomers thinking about joining a golf course community.

The key to their service was completing a 10-minute online questionnaire called ProGuide³, with the number representing the three main areas of focus when considering such a move: golf, real estate and lifestyle. From the survey results, up to six “best-matched clubs” are presented for consideration, effectively unveiling a business GLN likes to call “eHarmony meets Zillow for Golf.”

When the concept was originally launched, however, it was certainly more old school in execution. For instance, Josephson, a walking encyclopedia of South Florida golf after working as a top pro for more than 40 years, would go through every completed ProGuide by hand, marking up survey results with a red pen and cross-checking it against his good old-fashioned spreadsheets filled with decades of history and knowledge.

Then, Josephson, GLN’s president, would typically report back to the customer within 24-48 hours. To be sure, this time-consuming task by an indispensable human was always going to be GLN’s Achilles heel if the company ever wanted to truly scale this digital business.

That’s when artificial intelligence entered the picture and changed Golf Life’s data fortunes forever. Indeed, two years after automating an all-new ProGuide³, the growth has been incredible, with more than 16,900 avid golfers now completing the free questionnaire and receiving valuable matching club intelligence in a matter of milliseconds.

Already highly active in 49 markets across eight states, GLN continues to increase its number of private club partnerships and earlier this year the company planned to expand into Tennessee, Louisiana and Alabama. Meanwhile, Golf Life Navigators now gleans some 138,300 data points on private clubs across the Sunbelt and 1.2 million data points from prospective buyers for clubs to utilize.

“Golf Life Navigators has been an untapped resource for real estate, but clubs are now taking full advantage of our information and expertise,” says Becker, GLN co-founder and CEO, who recently started monetizing their mountains of data through a new business, Golf Life Analytics. “With a constant influx of data points and our push for rapid growth targeting more than 300 new clubs by the end of the year, we are increasingly becoming the number one source for clubs and consumers in all aspects of consumer and club connections.”

Another significant boost to the company’s digital firepower was a strategic partnership announced earlier this year with the Golf Channel’s high-profile Golf Advisor network. As part of the partnership, the partners launched a targeted ad campaign during the week of the Masters and PGA championship to bring further awareness to its proprietary ProGuide3 algorithm and club-matching platform.

“For decades, the private club industry has lacked a mechanism for helping clubs connect with qualified potential members interested in their market, and Golf Life Navigators is now filling that gap,” says Jeff Foster, senior vice president, GolfNow and Emerging Businesses, Golf. “The partnership we’ve established between Golf Life Navigators and Golf Advisor uses that next-level technology and adds great content, marketing and services to not only help prospective members find their optimal golfing lifestyle but also clubs to stay competitive in an ever-evolving landscape.”

For Golf Life Navigators, it’s a landscape increasingly being driven by the undeniable force of artificial intelligence.

“The major thing for AI is it has tremendous potential to remove bottlenecks in what’s currently human-based activity,” says chief operating officer Chris Rafter of Lakeland, Florida-based Inzata Analytics LLC, the company that developed GLN’s data analytics software system. “And the Lynn (Josephson) example is a really good one. Before, they could only do so many pro guides because they only had one Lynn. We couldn’t just go out and hire another Lynn. Where are you going to find somebody that knows that much about a club?

“We joked about it and said, we’re going to make a robot version of Lynn and we’re going to teach a computer how to make decisions about recommending clubs same way that Lynn does.”

Lo and behold, Rafter now has another version of Lynn, albeit in the form of a supercomputer.

“It’s been highly successful,” Rafter says, referencing the company’s new algorithms spitting out endless streams of valuable and relevant intelligence in a matter of seconds. “They’ve done tens of thousands of these pro guides since we first put this into play, and it was a relatively quick project.

“It maybe took 60 days and it really helped their business take off. Before we started, they were concerned about advertising and pushing too much volume through their website, because they were worried about being able to meet that demand. Now we gave them pretty much unlimited scale to be able to make those (club-matching) recommendations.”

And even more exciting is the realization that GLN is evolving into much more than just a club-matching internet startup.

“What Jason is using his data for right now is he has really become the Gartner Analytics of the golf industry or Forrester Research,” Rafter says. “He knows more about people’s preferences, how they make decisions, as well as how quickly they make decisions about major investments around club lifestyles or real estate.

“Things like that. That’s really what GLN has turned into for the golf industry. … There’s never really been anybody like that.”

Scott Kauffman is a golf business writer and the managing director of Aloha Media Group.

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