Relief may be coming for rained out rounds

Sensible Weather is partnering with the PGA of America to offer a service that will provide money-back guarantees for rounds ruined by inclement weather

Your trip to play Pebble Beach Golf Links was booked months ago and today’s the day. Your tee time is in less than an hour, but the sky is darkening. Rain is coming and chances of getting your bucket-list round in aren’t looking good.

Your phone lights up. It’s a text from Sensible Weather, the company that sold you a money-back rain guarantee when you booked your Pebble Beach package. The message: Sensible Weather’s forecast indicates that rain is coming in an amount sufficient to ruin your round. Do you want your refund? Click yes to authorize. You click yes.

What happens next is up to you. Head over to Pebble Beach’s Tap Room to drown your disappointment? Or double-check your rain gear and head to the first tee to meet your caddie?

Hero Dubai Desert Classic 2023
Golfers may soon be able to purchase rain insurance — a money-back guarantee — when booking an online tee time. The service would also eliminate the hassle for a club when trying to determine when to offer rain checks.

As Sensible Weather’s text informed you, you’re free to play in the rain, so long as the rainstorm doesn’t close the golf course.

That scenario is what climate scientist Nick Cavanaugh, CEO of Sensible Weather, envisioned when he created his Santa Monica, California, company in 2019 — easing the pain of golfers, campers and theme-park visitors whose experiences routinely are ruined by inclement weather.

With enough historical data and forecasts and enough computing power, Sensible Weather plans to offer money-back guarantees to millions of golfers on thousands of golf courses worldwide, making the raincheck a thing of the past.

"The concept is, we process an awful lot of data on the back end to understand the chances of your particular tee time getting rained out, so we can build a policy and capture those odds in real time," says Cavanaugh.

"You’ve gone to Pebble Beach and you’ve been looking forward to it for six months, and we know you’re there on that particular day for a particular tee time, and if it’s raining, we can say, 'Hey, you have this policy and we’d like to refund your greens fee.'"

Although Sensible Weather does not yet offer a golf weather guarantee and has no relationship with Pebble Beach, the Monterey Peninsula icon is the type of property the company hopes to bring on board through a partnership announced in January with the PGA of America and its 28,000 member professionals.

But tee times and stay-and-play packages are just part of the story. Sensible Weather expects to indemnify everything from corporate golf outings to large-scale spectator events like the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup.

Sensible Weather’s foray into golf is being backed by Elysian Park Ventures, the private investment arm affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group. That partnership is alongside its partnership with the PGA, the goal of which is to connect the company to golf courses, resorts and golf vacation packagers.

No timeline for when this service will come to fruition has been formalized.

For the PGA, a key selling point is that Sensible Weather will take local pros out of the lose-lose proposition of deciding how much rain triggers a raincheck. Improving the customer experience and the opportunity to create ancillary revenue is why the company caught the PGA’s interest.

Arjun Chowdri, the PGA’s chief innovation officer, who sought out Cavanaugh’s company, said the partnership is in line with his charge, which he describes as "thinking a bit differently and bringing in great minds from the outside to help elevate the industry, the golfer experience, and make our PGA members' lives better."

"The idea of a micro-insurance product for events and experiences could really provide benefit, be beneficial, to the golf industry," Chowdri says.

Cavanaugh began work in climate science following work at University of Pennsylvania, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at San Diego, where he earned a doctorate. His climate-research work has been backed by a $10 million National Science Foundation grant and $34 million in funding from various venture capital companies. Time Magazine named the Sensible Weather guarantee to its list of the best inventions of 2022.

Sensible Weather’s guarantee would be an added charge to a tee time reservation through a golf course’s or resort’s online reservation system or through a third-party like EZLinks or GolfNow. Cavanaugh says the target price for the guarantee is likely to be 10 percent of the cost of a tee time. Refunds would be paid out by Sensible Weather.

The question of how much rain triggers a Sensible Weather money-back guarantee is dependent on the locale. Using two hours of rain as a yardstick, for example, that amount of rain during a four-hour round in Scotland or Ireland or even Portland, Oregon, is not uncommon and might not ruin the round but it certainly would in Arizona, Cavanaugh says.

"You can understand the multi-dimensional complexity," he said. "The variables determine whether the guarantee costs 50 percent or 5 percent, but 10 percent is where people want to buy coverage. So, what can we offer them for 10 percent? It depends. Is it March or September? Is Oregon or is it Arizona? Is it tomorrow or is it two weeks from now?"

The point is, when morning of the day comes and the skies darken, "When you have this moment, it’s a negative experience, not what we’re looking for, so can we make that negative experience a positive one by offering some sort of refund," he says.