Brown Golf CEO, John M. Brown on Club Talk Podcast

CEO of Brown Golf Management speaks with the CEO of GolfPay on how golf course operators are adapting (or not), to the modern age consumer, and how Brown Golf facilities are using GolfPay to drive more business direct vs. relying too heavily on expensive 3rd party tee time providers. For those that wish to read, we have transcribed the question and answer section from the podcast below.

For more information on GolfPay and their products, visit their website

Dale: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you a little bit about how that tournament ended at Augusta the Masters, what do you think about Tiger Woods?

John: What a fantastic last day! You can’t beat what we saw yesterday. All the drama the emotions, it was fantastic.

Dale: Is that going to increase business, John?

John: It already did. The fact that the Masters was in the morning, which obviously is unique for the Masters we saw all our driving ranges full of golfers about four o’clock, so it already did.

Dale: Excellent. I want to get into a little bit about what this podcast is about. This episode of the podcast is about how operators are adapting to the modern consumer. Therefore, we’re going to focus on the golfer and obviously a golfer is a consumer. There are certain trends going on out there and you know we’ve spoke in the past about you know that golf operators in general a little behind the times, but I wanted to kind of tap into your knowledge and get into this a little bit so from your perspective. How tech savvy is today’s golfer and how are you aligning what you’re doing with this topic?

John: Absolutely, I’d be happy to speak on that. We have 28 golf courses and of those 28 two are private clubs and 26 are either a hybrid or daily fee or semi-private golf facilities, so there’s really a need for us to be able to reach our customer base, understand who our customers are, and communicate with our customers all while giving them platforms that they enjoy to book tee times and the bottom line is, the phone is an instrument of communication for everyone well outside of making calls and just the technology advances in recent times by companies like yours of collecting data and being able to book tee times via text message make it very easy for customers to book quickly and to do it without having to pick up the phone and actually call somebody.

So, the importance and the focus for us on that instrument has been tremendous over the past 12 months or so and we continue to see more and more tee times being booked via text message every month you know operators obviously tend to vary in different age groups.

Dale: Obviously you’re a young guy so you probably look through look at things a little bit differently than then some other operators I think that gives you a big advantage in helping to support operators.

So, if we can regress a little bit maybe and get into what is your background if you don’t mind?

John: Sure, absolutely. I’ve grown up around the golf business my entire life my father was a head golf professional. I’ve worked at golf facility since I was a young child and picked up a lot of you know just a lot about the industry through osmosis being around it and it’s been a passion of mine. I played college golf and when I entered the workforce it was fairly natural for me to enter the golf management arena.

We started our company brown golf in January of 2011 and we’re in our ninth year of business now and before that I spent seven years with Troon Golf. The majority of my career has been with those two companies but, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Northeast private club world as well just working as a bag boy, I’ve worked behind counters, I’ve worked in accounting offices and just really have seen the industry come full circle in the last 20 years or so.

Dale: Awesome, so when you add your years up, I believe it’s around 15 years working with Golf Course management companies, there’s a lot that has changed in that time. For instance, the iPhone wasn’t even around back then everything now is really revolves around the mobile phone. The average person, now, stays on the phone mobile phone whether it’s checking email or text messages or whatever over four hours per day and that’s about the time that someone spends on the golf course. That is a bit of time being displaced.

It makes a lot of sense to be able to connect with golfers in as many ways possible through the mobile phone and I’ve always been impressed with how quickly your team picks up on that and focuses on that so, kudos to you guys.

You know you bring up customer data when we talk that’s that seems to be a huge focus point for you and I can get into the reasons why we feel it’s important, but I would like to get your perspective on why customer data is so important?

John: I think customer data is at the crux of the most important issue in the golf industry for operators. The reason, I believe, is that we’ve taken, for lack of a better word, a little bit of a lazy approach to filling our tee sheets. The industry started relying on third-party tee time distribution companies to push rounds to the club, and we really need to put that onus back on our golf courses and our operators.

The best customer that we could possibly speak with in any marketing capacity is the person that has been at our checkout counter and has played our golf course and so many times golf operators check that person and send them off to play their round on the golf but, have zero ability to communicate with that customer after the fact. We just think that’s not the right way to do business. The right way is to control your customer data, understand your customers’ needs, and continue to market and speak to your customer. So, every single month our company takes the approach that we want to grow our reach channels, we want to continue to market to those reach channels, and we want those customers that are playing our golf courses to become loyal to our clubs and not to other platforms.

Dale: Let’s get into that a little bit. Do you have any specific strategies that you use that has worked for you or helped to empower your operators to get more business, directly, versus going through third parties because it’s attractive for golfers to look for discounts so how do you go about achieving that growth?

John: We take an approach that’s similar to how customers buy products in other major arenas. Whether it’s Amazon or, or, whatever it may be, there’s really two things customers are looking for. 1. They’re looking for the best price for a valuable product and 2. they’re looking for convenience. That’s really the focus of what Brown Golf does and our partnership with GolfPay obviously assists in that strategy.

We not only want to offer the best price to our golfers whether they’re calling our golf shop or going to our website but, we also want to offer the most convenient platforms for booking tee times. Our partnership with GolfPay has assisted with this through text message technology for booking tee times, web chat bookings integrated voice response bookings. All these different technology applications that allow us to collect customer data and allow the customer to book tee times very easily… It’s easy and it’s simple for us. It’s the best price and convenience. It’s what we market and it’s what we promote. It’s what our company is about when it comes to tee sheet management.

Dale: We’ve done some studies on this and there’s always going to be the guy that sits on their computer waiting for one of those trade times to open at one of their favorite courses, if they’re lucky enough to catch it. So, there’s always going to be discount seekers but, what’s really been exciting for us is to see how attractive convenience is to consumers and golfers.

However, if everything is equal in price and value, they’re going to go down the track of convenience and if it’s more convenient to do business direct, they’re going to go that route. Everyone likes to go direct when they can but, obviously if it’s not very convenient then it becomes an issue and that’s where the third-party providers can become appealing to that golfer. So, by really making the customer experience enjoyable and by providing a lot of convenience from the standpoint of communication and booking, that’s going to really pay dividends in terms of your previous answer about generating a lot of customer data and obviously higher green fees overall.

The last thing I want to get into a little bit about your company. Tell us about Brown Golf Management and how you’re different from other management companies out there. How do you differentiate yourself?

John: Our company is a creative golf company, in that, we were born of out of a different inception than most of the other management companies out there. What I mean by that is, in January 2011 we had an opportunity to branch off with some venture capital money and go out and purchase golf facilities. We then started to operate these clubs and own the cash flow of that facility. So, whether they made money or lost money, we had skin in the game. And because of the nature of how we started as a company, it wired us a certain way.

Profitability and understanding your average dollar per round and understanding your rate channels became essential. We wanted to maximize those areas and at the end of the day, if a golf course is not able to self-sustain, meaning able to make enough top-line revenues able to reinvest back in itself, something bad is going to happen to that course. Whether it’s going to drop its price to a point that you it doesn’t make enough money to self-sustain or whether it’s going to start spending less on the condition of the golf course, whatever it may be, if a golf course can’t self-sustain something bad will inevitably happen that golf course. We just fly in the face of being willing to just manage facilities while thinking about it from an owner’s perspective.

It’s vitally important that golf operators focus on cash flow and on profit margin. Our portfolio is constructed today we have 28 golf courses over 20 facilities. One half of those facilities are vested facilities, where we have a financial interest on the cash flow. The other half are third-party management but, there is no difference between a managed facility and a brown golf owned facility in terms of how we operate them.

My goal is to create an environment where I can grab the customers information, make it easy for them to continue to come out and play our golf courses, give them wonderful conditions, wonderful service while they’re there, and then be able to re-market to that customer. That is our focus.

Dale: That’s excellent, I mean obviously we’ve had a relationship since before the beginning of the year I believe that when we started with you guys. How many golf courses do you have on our platform now?

John: I believe 16 of the 20 facilities and we’ll looking to add the rest soon.

Dale: Yeah, we’ve all always been pretty impressed with your team and the way we look at management companies is, we believe, it is almost imperative for operators to align themselves up with a management company and when I started this business, I never would expect to have that thought process, but I believe there’s such a gap between where operators are in terms of mindset of where the consumer really is so far ahead technology wise and I think that divide is only getting bigger. That is the biggest problem when we look at it in the golf industry is there such a huge divide where a management company, that’s more forward-thinking like Brown Golf, that can come in and bring them up to speed rather quickly and start to fill in that gap. So, we really appreciate the opportunity working with you and I appreciate your time today.

John: It’s been my pleasure and if I could just expand on the management company information, the one thing I do think that management companies can do and that is interpret all the data for golf course owners. It’s important for a golf course owner to understand what’s happening at the facility level and to really take that information and make the right decisions as the owner of a golf course.

The way I would do that if I owned a golf course, is I’d put my club out for RFP and meet with five to six companies narrow it down figure out which company I trust, which company I felt would provide the best data and that I could partner with and I think that’s the best way for a golf course owner to move forward.

And our relationship with GolfPay has been excellent to date you know I first met you I don’t know 18 months ago or so and I was really impressed by the technology leaps you had made so far and since then every single day, you give me more information about what your company is doing and it’s only going to make our company better, so I appreciate the relationship.