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September 2020

The Future of Golf Starts Now

By Jared Williams

As we approach our November election, it’s very easy to generate some fodder by simply mentioning President Donald Trump. One thing I can always look forward to is knowing that the President’s tweets will be distributed to me in some way, form or fashion. Through it all,  we can learn a lot from the things he says or does. 

A few weeks ago, President Trump agreed to loan Kodak Pharmaceuticals (yes of the same Kodak film company) $765 mIllion dollars to produce generic drugs that will help to stabilize the market. This move could not have been any more odd or unprecedented, as Kodak had filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

Cathy Enz, Cornell’s Professor of Innovation and Dynamic Management, said that ‘Kodak started as a film company and actually invented the digital camera in 1975.’ Enz referenced the reluctancy in Kodak  to transition into digital cameras; it waited way too late to do so.

Kodak reminds me of a lot of what has happened to GolfNow in our industry. GolfNow has been extremely successful in marketing and delivering tee times to its golf course consumers, without any real concern for the outcome to each golf course owner and operator. Both Kodak and GolfNow were so good at doing what they have always done that it was very, very hard for them to change.

Understanding that GolfNow’s willingness to market and  price barter tee times on its own (accompanied with its business practices) has certainly increased its number of detractors within the industry. Unfortunately for GolfNow, there is no ability for the federal government to come in and mandate a loan that can fix the issues that currently exist for GolfNow. It would take either a willingness for GolfNow to do what is good for the industry and support the golf course operators, or it would take a reliable competitive alternative to GolfNow in the marketplace. We had that with EZLinks.
 
When GolfNow acquired EZLinks in November of 2019, we had reason to believe that GolfNow would alter its subscription fees and offer fewer benefits to its golfers. In 2019, GolfNow’s subscription service (GolfPass) gave golfers one free round of golf per month; in 2020, those golfers are now receiving a $10 anytime monthly tee time credit. NBC’s acquisition eliminated competition to the detriment of golf courses and golfers alike. So without a reliable competitive alternative (EZLinks), GolfNow can continue to make its own rules and engage in this type of monopolistic behavior.

With every software acquisition and a determined reluctance to work with rival companies, GolfNow has deprived golf courses of the ability to choose their preferred vendors. Regardless of how many times we have advocated for GolfNow  to make improvements to its business model, it has not happened.

Now that the DOJ is well aware of the issues we face with GolfNow, GolfNow could finally elect to change its business model and practices. I don’t see that happening on its own, but I do think that the DOJ can influence some positive change within our industry. The merger and conduct by GolfNow has avoided critical antitrust scrutiny thus far, but I am confident that the DOJ will not ignore what is happening in our industry.  Kodak started its post bankruptcy era under the slogan, “What’s Next Starts Now.” So my question to the DOJ, in light of this acquisition, is similar… what’s next? Hopefully we find out soon.

 

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