CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Jamie Andrews was a financial advisor in Philadelphia when he had a life-changing realization: he didn't want to be a financial advisor in Philadelphia. Heavy stuff, no doubt, but Andrews wasn't about to relegate himself to panhandling on the streets of the City of Brotherly Love.
He had a plan, a business plan that is, to sell traveling golfers discounted tee times at key destinations around the country. Andrews, a traveling golfer himself, was sick and tired of getting shut out of his favorite courses when he was on the road. So in October of 2001, Andrews and partner Kelly Ford started Open Golf Tee Times, an Internet driven wholesale tee time and golf packing business.
"Things are moving faster and going better than I ever imagined," Andrews says. "We started with Las Vegas and western destinations and now we are moving east."
Andrews says that Vegas is far and away his biggest market. Because the average round of golf in the Sin City is well above $100, Open Golf Tee Times can negotiate wholesale rates that are well below the standard "rack" rate at the course. Scottsdale and Phoenix have similar characteristics but east coast destinations such as Myrtle Beach are a different animal all together.
"Golf on the east coast is far cheaper than golf at the big western golf destinations," Andrews says. "Golfers back east are not used to paying $100 a round, so we have less negotiating room in destinations like Myrtle Beach."
Nonetheless, Andrews and Ford are targeting the Grand Strand as their next major golf destination. As he has done with the other destinations, Andrews will send an Open Golf Tee Times employee to the beach to do reconnaissance on as many courses as possible over a one or two week period. Once that person returns, he or she will become the Myrtle Beach representative and will handle all calls about tee times and packages.
"We have six employees right now, and I want to keep this as a small business," Andrews says. "I don't want to have a huge company. I want people to call up and know whom they are talking to."
The key difference between Open Golf Tee Times and other tee time brokers, according to Andrews, is that the company negotiates a wholesale rate and not a price per unused tee time. In other words, the company doesn't buy tee times, rather it locks into a rate based on the amount of potential business it can send a course's way.
Andrews says that some golf courses have been more receptive to the idea than others.
"Courses out west have been very receptive because they are destination driven and part of the travel market," he says. "Courses back east have been skeptical and sometimes they don't offer enough of a discount to make it worth the advertising dollars and expenditures."
The wholesale purchase and subsequent brokering of tee times to hundreds of golf courses around the country may sound like a complicated endeavor. But you don't have to be an economics major to grasp Open Golf Tee Times revenue model. Andrews describes it like this: "If a course charges $100 a round and we negotiate an $80 wholesale rate, we'll sell the golfer the tee time for $90 and that is the profit margin on that given agreement."
The majority of Open Golf Tee Times' business is the brokering of individual tee times in Las Vegas, Scottsdale and Palm Springs. But Andrews says that the golf packaging arm of the business is growing rapidly, and should continue to do so as the company digs it claws into the Myrtle Beach golf market.
The Grand Strand, with 12 million visitors per year, is one of the nation's most competitive (and lucrative) golf packaging destinations. Undaunted by the prospect of being the "new kid" in town and believing a slice of the pie is still available for the taking in the "Golf Capital" of the world, Andrews says that he and Ford have contacted over 80 percent of the courses in the Grand Strand.
"Competition in Myrtle is challenging because there are so many players," he says. "The way I look at it is that I am a big golfer and I like to take trips, but I would not have a particular packager on my mind the first time I booked a trip. We are trying to get down there and get some exposure and I think it's just a matter of time before we become a major player."
Open Golf Tee Times currently relies on the Internet for a good chunk of its exposure. The company's network of websites, including www.opengolfteetimes.com and www.teetimesinlasvegas, receives approximately 1000 hits per day. According to Andrews, 50 percent of all tee times are requested online and the number should grow as more and more golfers become Internet savvy.
The company utilizes a tee time network powered by Scottsdale, Arizona-based Golf Switch, Inc. Golf Switch sets up real time tee sheets for use by Open Golf Tee Times and its customers for those courses that are on the company's national network. Andrews says the arrangement is unique in that Golf Switch typically deals with golf courses only, and not independent package providers.
"They are in the business of getting golf courses to use their system, and we are in the business of providing discounts to golfers," Andrews says. "We are the only discounter they currently work with, and they fit into our business model perfectly."
The average discount that golfers can realize by using the service varies by destination, but 20 to 30 percent savings are not unheard of in western markets. Eastern markets are invariably tighter because the greens fees are lower to start with, says Andrews. The company is able to secure tee times 60 to 90 days in advance in Las Vegas, Phoenix/Scottsdale and Palm Springs, and golfers will be able to book up to a year in advance at some Myrtle Beach courses.
After they "conquer" the Grand Strand, Andrews says he and Ford will begin to focus on non-destination areas that are rich in golf but underutilized during certain times of the year.
"We want people in the non golf destination areas to use us eventually, but that is further down the road," says Andrews. "In a place like Charlotte, they may only give two or three dollars off (per round of golf) and it's not worth it. We will target an area, see what we can negotiate, and then decide if it is worth it."
Much like the idea of logging on to one website for tee times around the country, it is just that simple.
July 25, 2002