The golf world is certainly not lacking for yenta services. There’s Bridgestone’s “Find my ball match” tool, the Fourball app for golfers looking to expand their playing partner network, and Thousand Greens, a peer-to-peer platform where members of top shelf clubs arrange accompanied guest rounds with members of other highly regarded clubs. But the big stick in the space is Golf Life Navigators, an automated matchmaker that simplifies the biggest decision most dyed in the wool golfers will ever make: what green pasture to call home when they’re ready to spread their snowbird wings or planning to relocate for retirement.
There are around 3,800 private golf club communities in America to pick from. So, golfers looking to relocate to the faraway fairway of their dreams have their work cut out for them when it comes to winnowing down the field and finding a match that meshes with their lifestyle. Golf Life Navigators Proguide survey is as comprehensive and granular as eHarmony’s personality matching questionnaire. It takes about fifteen minutes to fill out and upon completion will generate a handful of club prospects that check all the desired boxes.
The service is complimentary to use for consumers, with clubs seeking lead generation opting into a freemium subscription model. When GLN was initially rolled out in 2014, it was a much more traditional matchmaking business. Co-founder and CEO Jason Becker would interview clients in-person at golf clubs in northern climes, asking them a series of questions to ascertain their priorities and then pinpoint and introduce them to three or four suitable Sunbelt clubs that most of the time had never even been on their radar.
“The problem was it wasn’t scalable, so we decided to provide a platform where consumers could come on and complete our Proguide3 questionnaire, be given instant results and the opportunity to opt-in and speak with a club immediately,” explains Becker. “On the other side we could then send those matches to the clubs in the marketplace we created.”
Since their algorithm went live in 2017 they have had a little over 17,000 consumers fill out the questionnaire, signed on golf great Peter Jacobsen as spokesman and entered a co-marketing partnership with Golf Channel. There’s also a real estate component to the business called Golf Life Properties, a referral brokerage that works with vetted golf-certified agents in all their club matches specific markets.
Golf Club Amore
The science of matching golfers to their ideal club tends to boil down to six prime motivating factors: location, budget, golf expectations, specific off-course amenities, food and beverage, and the overall social setting that aspiring members are seeking.
“We know that golf is not the most important piece of this puzzle. Even the diehard golf enthusiasts are telling us that it is more about walking into an atmosphere where they can find and meet others that have the same social interests and meet friends. The social component of the algorithm is weighted heavily,” says Becker.
“Clubs input their own data, but if they have a car club, a beach club, or a wine tasting club…when a consumer expresses interest in those things that’s when the matches are occurring, so it really does emulate eHarmony.”
Golf Life Navigators median consumer is a 59-year-old male, roughly a year away from making their buying decision, although female participation in their ProGuide completion has gone up 8% in the past twelve months.
Men and women tend to have different priorities when keying in their preferences and there are some surprises when looking at the gender divide data. For example, in terms of motivating factors, women find the investment into a club five times more important than men do though both sexes can agree on prioritizing group fitness. Looking for more consensus? 89% of GLN prospective members factor in a club’s practice facility and 73% take into account landscaping beauty. And as for emerging country club sports trends, pickle ball remains on the upswing, now almost five times more popular than racquetball.
Real Estate Driven
“I think the club industry as a whole is going to hit this inflection point very soon where clubs are going to have to get more involved, and at least understand the real markets within their gates and adjacent to their clubs. For the consumer, our data says that 70% of consumers are going to combine their search for a club with a search for a home,” says Becker.
“Going a step further, we’ve found it’s a 50/50 split as to what is more important. Some folks are a little skewed to the golf side and want to find a club first and then a home and others want to find the right home first. With the amount of capital improvements and capital enhancements into club communities, there is a direct correlation to the real estate market values.”
So once a search has been narrowed down to X, Y, and Z clubs and all three have a beautiful well-kept golf course(s), the equivalent amenities, and the same demographics of people belonging, it’ll often come down to which one will be the better investment.
Currently GLN matches are concentrated in sunbelt hot spots like California, Florida, South Carolina, and Arizona. They are currently inputting clubs in northern states into the algorithm and will make them live in about six-months. By the end of the first quarter of 2020 GLN plans to be countrywide.
“Anywhere there’s a saturated number of private clubs, the model works,” says Becker.