By Ben Schumacher
Anyone who has golfed knows it can be one of the most frustrating sports to play. What really frustrated Brian Wroblewski was the fact it was just as hard to manage the process of getting to the golf course as it was playing the game.
“There were three things that really bothered me. I was sick of always hearing ‘maybe’ when I asked my friends to play golf. I was sick of walking into the office Monday morning and hearing people talk about where they played golf over the weekend, and I was sick of constantly getting emails and text messages in response to the golf invites I sent out to my friends,” Wroblewski said.
The solution to these frustrations was Golf Pipeline, a website designed to combine all the features necessary to manage your golf game.
Golf Pipeline provides a one-stop-shop for golf enthusiasts looking to book tee times, invite friends to play, track their scores, establish a handicap membership, build a profile, and communicate with all of their golf buddies and track their golf games. Golf Pipeline utilizes a unique business model that allows them to form partnerships with golf courses around the country. These partnerships and the ability to register for a handicap club licensed to use the United States Golf Association handicap system provide a significant source of revenue.
“Before we came along there were all these different applications and discount tee time providers that were offering services to golfers, but none of them were integrating all of the features necessary for complete golf game management,” said Wroblewski, president of Golf Pipeline. “People don’t really want to go to five websites to manage their golf game. We have integrated all of these features in a way that isn’t being done by any of our competitors. Our business model and the team we have in place provide a promising outlook for revenue and business growth for years to come.”
Golf Pipeline launched in the spring of 2012 and is constantly adding courses that allow golfers to book tee times through the website. However, the most powerful feature may be an invitation process that helps golfers organize their group of playing partners.
“Golf Pipeline can be used for every golf course in the country,” Wroblewski said. “For those courses that do not yet offer tee times, golfers can add an existing tee time into the system and use the invitation process to organize their golf game. We are going to start in the top 75 metropolis areas and add tee time making capabilities for roughly 30 courses in each of those areas.”
One feature that sets Golf Pipeline apart from its competition is their incorporation of handicaps with tee times. The ability to track handicaps allows delivery of a more personalized golf management experience than offered by competitors.
“The power of the handicapping when you marry it with the tee times is something no one else is doing,” Wroblewski said. “Imagine booking your tee time on Golf Pipeline and because you subscribe to a handicap club licensed to use the USGA handicap system we already know your handicap. As a result of that, in the future when you go to print your scorecard it will include the names of the guys you’re playing with along with all of your handicaps and you’re ready to play.”
The business model used by Golf Pipeline is one that will attract partnerships with most of the courses in the country. Its model allows the courses to make the most money possible on tee time reservations, while competitors offer last-minute discounts on tee times, cutting into the profits the courses can make.
“We will take golfers away from other sites by offering more features and having the features in one easy to use tool,” Wroblewski said. “All of the tee time sites today like Golf Now and Tee It Up operate using a much different business model. We have a partnership with the golf course, but most other sites are discount providers that hack down last-minute revenue for the golf course. Our model is an OpenTable.com model where you can select from whatever tee time is available. One third of courses that work with Golf Pipeline don’t work with any other third party or discounter.”
Golf Pipeline’s model for customer growth involves using the word of mouth of current members. The second part of its growth plan involves raising $282,500 in capital to jumpstart a marketing campaign to take the company to the next level. The company will be among 26 companies presenting to investors Nov. 13-14 at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium (http://www.wisearlystage.com/) in Madison.
“Golf Pipeline users can invite their friends to join by sending them an email directly from the website or simply clicking ‘invite Facebook friends.’ Anytime you book a tee time, post a score, join a handicap club, or update your profile, you will be given the option to publish to your own Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, and also to specific friends’ Facebook timelines if you want them to see your activity,” Wroblewski said. “In our model word of mouth will work because you don’t typically golf by yourself. So when golfers get a hold of this they want to invite their friends and interact with their friends’ golf games. We will also have an aggressive marketing strategy in the regions where we have critical masses. This will include Facebook ads, search engine optimization, trade shows, television ads, and many others.”
Golf Pipeline generates revenue when golfers make tee times or join a handicap club. However, the longer-term revenue model is a different source – market data.
“Right now, at least in the short term, our main revenue stream is tee times because there are about 40,000 tee times per active course per year,” Wroblewski said. “The total network for tee times next year is around 6 million… The long-term source of revenue is the data. By means of our users completing their Golf Pipeline profiles, data will be collected regarding courses played, equipment used, favorite tournament, etc. Industry leaders will be interested in this data because it helps them establish a customer profile. We expect data to become a dominant share of our revenue in the next five years.”
Golf has been around for a long time, but Golf Pipeline could represent a tool to take the golfing community as a whole to the next level and ultimately get more people playing together.
“Our dream is you throw 10 guys on an invite and the first three respond right away and everyone else gets the message ‘Sorry the tee time is full, book your own,’ ” Wroblewski said. “So instead of it just being one foursome, it’s two foursomes, or three foursomes. And now everybody has a good time, you go back to the clubhouse and get cocktails, and you enjoy one another’s company as fellow golfers. The only reason this isn’t happening is because people don’t know about the game being played. This is a way for them to know.”
Schumacher is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.