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February 2024

Does GMS Market Share Matter?

Things to Know if You are Shopping for a New Golf Management System

By Harvey Silverman

This article is an update of one I wrote in July 2022 about how the Golf Management Systems (GMS) rank in installations and how their respective market shares have changed. It’s timed for the upcoming PGA Show and what’s typically the GMS shopping season.

Should market share make a difference in the new GMS you select for your facility? I don’t think it should, but seeing the GMS landscape is good to know, even if not needed to know. 

Note: At the NGCOA’s Golf Business TechCon 2023 last October, we formally retired the label “Point of Sale (PoS)” and introduced “Golf Management System (GMS).” We did that because current systems are much more than the old electronic cash registers connected to a tee sheet and maybe a merchant processing device. Technology has advanced and will continue to do so, making it more difficult than ever to find and install a system that fits your operation. I’ve said many times and will continue to: If there are 15,000 golf facilities in this country, they’re run 15,000 different ways. More on this later.

Thanks to research performed by Apparation LLC and its access to the Internet Golf Database (IGDB), we have data showing us the respective market shares of Tee Sheet/GMS providers to public golf facilities in the U.S. (Data is also assembled for Canada, but for the purposes of this article, only U.S. facilities are discussed).

IMPORTANT NOTE: The data is compiled by examining each public course website (if it has one) and identifying the online tee time booking engine and website providers (a bonus). Sometimes, the course does not use the GMS-provided online booking engine. In those cases, the GMS provider is cloaked, and the online booking provider is recorded.

So, we’re looking at directional trends, not exact calculations.
 
The market share leader in online tee time booking engines remains… NONE! That’s right, 4,203 US public golf facilities, or 38.5% of the market surveyed, do not have online tee time booking capabilities. That’s a net improvement of 93 facilities in 2023, and some of these might have a GMS that can’t be identified. But not being online inhibits golfers’ ability to quickly find a tee time to book, not to mention diminishing search engine rankings. However, their online competitors have to be happy.

Five vendors dominate 61.5% of courses with online tee time booking. The leader in this group is still NBC Sports Next/GolfNow, with 2,727 installations, or 25.0% market share. GolfNow lost market share in 2023, with a net -222 loss of clients. It continues a losing trend for GolfNow, according to Mike Dickoff’s research. There are several possible reasons for such a significant loss, including a rejection of the barter model, failure of technology (G1) to deliver as promised, change in ownership or management of golf facilities, or a combination of these and more. Also, the GolfNow booking engine is sometimes bolted onto another GMS, hiding its identity.

Borrowing from baseball, let’s look at the slash lines (total installations/market share/change from 2022) of the four other members of the “Top 5”: foreUP, 1,294/11.9%/+141; Lightspeed 540/4.9%/+109; Club Prophet 579/5.3%/+27; and Teesnap (452/4.1% | +17. Club Caddie is the “up-and-comer,” with a 129% increase in installations over 2022 and a rapidly increasing install base with two major MCO clients and a 100+ retail simulator franchiser.

There are an additional 75 (81 total) tee-time vendors. You might recognize a few, but others were unheard of until Apparations’s research shed light on their existence. Long gone are Book4Golf, Greens.com, and TeeTimeKing. Instead, we have the likes of YouCanBookMe, Purpose Golf, and Easy Tee Golf. 

Now, before I hear from my GMS friends complaining their respective numbers are incorrect, let me remind them that 1) These are U.S. public courses, and 2) The identification is made by the online tee time booking vendor on the course website. Furthermore, I know that products like Sagacity (89, down 7) and Golfback (93, up 33) sit atop integrated GMS systems, so we’re missing at least 182 GMS counts and certainly more. They are most welcome to contact Apparation LLC to provide the most accurate (and verifiable) data.

“Data from Apparation’s 2023 Golf Software Wars Survey confirms that the golf course management software market for public golf courses in the U.S. is in a period of significant change and that golf course operators have more choices than ever to meet their information technology needs,” says Apparation Golf CEO Mike Dickoff. “Market leader NBC Sports Next (GolfNow) continues to lose significant market share primarily to the “five chasers'' (foreUP, Club Prophet, Lightspeed, Teesnap, and Club Caddie).  In addition, many new competitors have entered the market (e.g., Birrdi, Eagle Club System, MemberSports, Middle Pin, TeeWire, TenFore), and niche booking solutions like Golfback and Noteefy are proliferating.” Check out Dickoff’s website at www.apparationllc.com.

Here are a couple of other interesting factoids. The top three states with the most significant number of public courses without online tee time booking include New York (283), Michigan (255), and Iowa (240). The top three states with the fewest number of public courses without online tee time booking include Delaware (6), Alaska (14), and Hawaii and Nevada (15). Our nation’s capital, Washington D.C, has all five courses with online tee time booking, the lowest number in the U.S.! Maybe the ease of booking tee times is why nothing gets done there.

Here is a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting retailers’ issues with several cloud-based PoS systems, including WineDirect, Square, and Toast, and highlights questions to ask any cloud-based GMS about reliability and backups. I asked three GMS providers on my TechCon panel this question: “Are cloud-based transactional systems as safe and secure as we’re told? How does a course continue with business as usual if its system goes dark, as Square did a few months ago? How is the course data protected against data breaches, like MGM just suffered?” You might consider asking these in your shopping efforts.

If your priority is cost, that should be far down your list. Golf course operators don’t know how good they have it compared to systems for other retail businesses. The article also sheds light on how much a couple of the mentioned systems charge their clients – for the most part, you’ll pay less, maybe much less. One retailer with five locations pays Toast $2,000 monthly in software fees plus 2.49% in processing fees for standard transactions and 3.5% for online orders. WineDirect, which works with wineries, charges $200 monthly plus 1% of sales. That’s $12,400 for a $1 million business and $42,400 for a $2 million business. Do you think your system is expensive?

I asked several other questions at TechCon that I recommend to you, many taken from comments on the NGCOA Accelerate, including:

Do you have one specific service representative assigned to accounts? And if not, how does a customer avoid the aggravating sequence of explaining a problem repeatedly to different people?

Members hear during demonstrations that switching systems and implementing a new one is “easy.” Can we agree that it is not easy (let’s be honest here)? What are your best practices that fully brief and prepare a new client for installation, training, and implementation?

What possibilities exist to migrate data from the previous system besides the customer database?
What security features are available to prevent employee theft and detect things like gift card “edits,” refunds, reducing greens and cart fees, and limiting access to things like member accounts and reports?

Do you have a direct transactional tie to each customer transaction? 

Do you have easily accessible comparative reporting, month over month, year over year, etc., on things like rounds, revenue, revenue per available round, revenue per rounds played, weather impact, etc.? 
Is your cloud-based system as safe and secure as we’re told? How does a course continue with business as usual if the system goes dark, as Square did a few months ago? How is the course data protected against data breaches like MGM suffered?

What is on your three-year development roadmap if we choose your system?

Last but not least, be David Letterman when you shop. Have the top 10 things you absolutely must have for your business, and control the demonstration by requiring those to be displayed first. As I intimated at the top, not every GMS system is the right choice for every facility. If your requirements cannot be met, move on to the next vendor. Your time is limited, and it’s valuable. Bells and whistles are great, but you need to know your new GMS meets the needs of your business now and for several years into the future.

I wish you good luck.

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