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January 2020

Secret Shoppers Get Tech Advantage

By Scott Kauffman

The secret shopper is getting more sophisticated. At least that’s the case with 59club USA, a customer service-based management tool that officially made its North American debut a few months ago.

Though 59club USA might be new, the namesake parent company – 59club – has been delivering sales analysis, benchmarking and employee training for 12 years in Europe. Since the growth of the internet, the company’s services have become more innovative thanks to the power of cloud-based technology that allows 59club to utilize an endless stream of objective data points and images to measure, improve and ultimately help clients maintain custom-service standards.

And the age-old mystery shopper process is a perfect example of how 59club is leveraging the power of today’s technology and 12 years of “industry input and experience under its belt,” according to Mike Kelly, managing partner of 59club USA.

“What we’ve done is rather than just send somebody in to write down a long narrative about their opinion, every one of our shoppers goes in and benchmarks their experience against specific criteria developed for each portion of the operation over the last 12 years,” explains Kelly, who has 30-plus years of upscale hotel and leisure club management experience. “So whoever our shopper is, opinion has very little room in what you’re going to shop.

“Your job as a shopper for us is to benchmark the experience against the criteria we’ve established, and we have software on an app that does all of this for you. It sounds so easy but there’s been millions of dollars spent on the software to make this happen.”

After inputting findings to the cloud, everything is web-based and easily accessible for management to view and track results versus the “long narrative form” of those shopping reports of old, Kelly says.
“Now, it’s in a data format where they can see trends very quickly,” Kelly adds. “After three, four or five shops, we’re using the same set of criteria each time, so it doesn’t matter who the mystery shopper was. With this consistency, you start to realize where you’re really good in your operation and you start realizing where you’re not so good.”

The payback, according to 59club, is greater customer satisfaction, increased visitor and member retention and higher revenues. Indeed, in a competitive experiential economy, exceptional customer experiences have never been more critical to club or courses’ long-term viability.

That might explain why 59club USA is already working with more than 30 North American golf and resort owner/operators, including 14 PGA Tour Tournament Players Club properties and Bobby Jones Links – a growing new golf management company.

The 59club was actually born out of a simple need by Simon Wordsworth, the former director of golf at The Belfry. Never one to rest on his Ryder Cup laurels, Wordsworth was keen on measuring his own guest service experiences and revenue streams, so he enlisted some of his fellow golf professional buddies to start secret shopping various aspects of his operations.

After a number of visits at The Belfry, and a tremendous amount of valuable actionable data collected along the way, Wordsworth’s friends wanted it done at their clubs. What started as a side gig soon became a full-blown business with a couple of hundred European clubs using 59club services.

But it wasn’t until a friend and high net-worth investor recognized the potential of Wordsworth’s unique data rich services that 59club became global in scale.

Scott Kauffman is a golf business writer and the managing director of Aloha Media Group, and is regular technology columnist for Golf Business. You can contact him with tech news at



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