Industry News

Golf brands of NBC Sports Next helped golf courses and golfers connect more than ever before in 2021

Higher adoption of innovative technology and services that create new and improved golfing experiences; NBC Sports Next is the sports technology division of NBC Sports dedicated to the development of innovative products and services for golf, youth sports, and betting and gaming

ORLANDO, Fla. (Jan. 26, 2022) – The portfolio of golf businesses within NBC Sports Next will remember 2021 as their most impactful year ever within the golf course industry.

In no previous year have the technology offerings from the GolfNow and GolfPass brands helped more golf courses connect with their customers and more golfers connect with their passion, contributing to the overall health and growth of the sport.

With a challenge to follow the biggest growth year ever for golf in 2020 – aided by the impact the global pandemic had on outdoor activities – both GolfNow and GolfPass set multiple company milestones in 2021 and forged new and continued partnerships designed to bolster the industry and enhance the golfing experience.

“Innovation is in our DNA and we already were in a unique position before the pandemic even began to help equip golf courses with technology they would eventually need to keep their doors open and thrive,” said Jerramy Hainline, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Golf, NBC Sports Next.

“The big challenge heading into 2021 was being able to help our partners keep that 2020 momentum going and to help grow their businesses, as well as launching some really cool tech that is providing golf courses with the ability to offer their golfers an entirely new playing experience. We accomplished all that and then some!”

Growing the Game

NBC Sports Next golf brands GolfNow, TeeOff and EZLinks Golf currently provide technology and services to more than 9,000 golf courses in 40 countries around the world, including nearly 5,000 in the U.S. After facilitating an all-time record of 27 million golf rounds booked in 2020, the feat was nearly equaled in 2021, which represented an overall increase of more than 61 percent since 2019. The data also revealed that people who booked golf for the first time and those who returned to the game also increased significantly:

  • Unique bookers increased by +40% from 2019 to 2021
  • New bookers increased by +38% from 2019 to 2021
  • Reactivated bookers increased by +16% from 2019 to 2021

(Because of the global pandemic, we are considering 2020 as an atypical year, so the data shown is a more “apples to apples” comparison of growth since 2019)

GolfPass, which offers golf’s most comprehensive digital golf membership in partnership with Rory McIlroy, also had a banner year and continues to offer exclusive content and benefits to help every type of golfer – from beginner to expert – play more and better golf.

  • GolfPass increased its subscription base by more than 34 percent year over year.
  • 18 original series premiered on GolfPass in 2021
  • GolfPass content launched on Peacock in the U.S., Sky Q in the U.K., and on Samsung TV+
  • More than 100 million minutes of GolfPass content has been watched so far in 2021

As a leader and custodian of the game, NBC Sports Next employed the vast resources of the NBCUniversal company to promote golf participation in 2021, dedicating more than $10 million worth of media value on GOLF Channel and across a variety of NBC networks and websites.

On June 15, GolfNow and GolfPass hosted a first-of-its-kind event to welcome more golfers to the game. The world premiere of The Approach was a virtual and free event that featured celebrities, tour players, business leaders and fellow golfers celebrating new and emerging ways to “consume” the sport of golf. The event was designed to appeal to all golfers – including those who feel like they exist on the fringes of the game – letting them know they don’t have to fit into a one-size-fits-all box to join the golfing community.

NBC Sports Next also used its resources for the greater good in 2021, launching the Better Together initiative, which is designed to strengthen communities and NBC Sports Next culture through focused programs that attract diverse talent, and promote inclusion and equity through education, resources and community impact. A key area of Better Together is the formation of national partnerships and programs that leverage NBC Sports Next platforms to promote and facilitate opportunities to support causes aligned with its mission.

For example, NBC Sports Next’s burgeoning partnership with Youth on Course is a major step toward ensuring the vitality of golf as a recreational alternative for kids, and a way to promote technology as a way to create more affordable and equal access to the sport for youth in all socio-economic circumstances. A highlight of the new partnership took place in September on the 18th hole at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, where Rory McIlroy presented a $1 million check to Youth on Course CEO Adam Heieck – the culmination of money raised in just nine months through GolfNow’s innovative round-up technology.

NBC Sports Next’s round-up technology invites anyone booking a tee time online via GolfNow, TeeOff or the GolfNow app to round up the total cost of the reservation to an even-dollar figure. The $1 million donated to Youth on Course was generated from an average contribution of just $0.36 per tee-time booking. A similar campaign in November to benefit the U.S. military community raised $100,000.

Municipalities play an important role in affordable golf and NBC Sports Next, which partners with many municipal golf courses around the country, lent its support in 2021 to the National Links Trust, a non-profit dedicated to protecting and promoting accessible and affordable municipal golf courses. NBC Sports Next provided technology, editorial and promotional support for NLT’s project to improve the historic courses in the nation’s capital:  East Potomac Golf Links, Langston, and Rock Creek.

Other organizations that have benefited from Better Together in 2021 included the Orlando Minority Youth Golf Association; Deuce Golf; Tech Sassy Girlz; Black Girls Golf; DinoMights; ACES; National Fitness Foundation; and Positive Coaching Alliance.

Innovative Technology & Services that Create Better Golfing Experiences

The golf businesses of NBC Sports Next continue to offer innovative solutions to help golf courses become more efficient, customer-focused and successful. Forward-thinking developers continue to design technologies that are dynamic and meet the ever-changing needs of both golf courses and golfers. For example, many tech platforms in the marketplace have been relatively unchanged over the past three years, while GolfNow has made more than 1,000 upgrades and updates to G1's cloud-based golf course management software in just the past year, alone.

This dedication to innovation has made G1 the golf course industry’s best-selling business-management platform, evidenced by the November milestone of surpassing 1,000 installations.

Users of NBC Sports Next technology also are supported by a team of professionals dedicated to finding solutions, with product support available both online and by telephone. “WalkMe” technology also was enhanced in 2021, offering built-in programs of step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish DIY tasks, like checking tee-time inventory, accessing performance reports and updating live inventory. Additionally, more than 200 NBC Sports Next professionals in locations across North America represents the largest sales force in golf. Because they live and work in the markets they serve, these pros possess important local knowledge. They serve more as consultants for their golf course partners and help with market data, pricing consultation, marketing, and more.

Convenient, easy, customized, quick and safe are popular buzzwords in the golf industry as consumer expectations over the past year have shifted demand. New SmartPlay technology  allows a golfer to search for, book and pay for a tee time in advance at any participating SmartPlay golf course; pre-purchase golf shop merchandise and drinks when they check in and pay on site, and head directly to the first tee; place food and beverage orders during a round of golf; and either pick up at the clubhouse or get their orders delivered anywhere on the golf course through the GPS technology built into the app. Adoption for SmartPlay is growing rapidly, with more than 450 golf courses enabled with the technology.

NBC Sports Next’s burgeoning technology and services for the private club industry also gained momentum in 2021, growing to currently serve more than 600 private clubs using its industry-leading EZLinks Golf management and tee-sheet technology, marketing and group purchasing services with ClubBuy. NBC Sports Next also celebrated the 500th production of Clubhouse Bulletin, a custom, video newsletter for private clubs that continues to be in demand.

The ClubBuy group-purchasing program is saving golf clubs and other businesses of all kinds anywhere from 12-17 percent off everyday purchases for their facilities. ClubBuy is a free service and currently is used by more than 700 partners that, together, purchased more than $50 million in products and services in 2021 – from food to office supplies to agronomy products – representing a significant increase over 2020 and 2019 spending.

Golfer Trends – More Prefer Going Digital

With all the wonders technology brings to our everyday lives, the concept of saving time might be the frontrunner of all benefits. Golfers in record numbers are beginning to understand how the ease of booking tee times online or through an app can jump-start a better playing experience, helping them skip the typical speed bumps that can make what already is a healthy investment in time even longer. On the flip side, it also provides golf course operators with the tools and know-how to deliver a more customer-focused experience to their customers.
GolfNow estimates that in 2020, 41 million rounds that would have been booked through a phone call or by walking up were booked online:

  • GolfNow estimates the total share of online public rounds has grown more than 46% since 2019.
  • 75% of bookers through GolfNow’s online channel prefer their mobile phone to a desktop, which represents a 9% increase versus 2019.

Trends about when and how golfers play the game also have emerged since 2019:

  • GolfNow has seen a slight shift from weekend to weekday play, with weekday rounds increasing from +39 percent in 2019 to +43 percent in 2021, an increase of 9 percent
  • The share of 9-hole rounds have increased, moving from +12% in 2019 to +18% in 2021, an increase of +47%

Partners in Golf

Collaborating toward common goals, NBC Sports Next extended several existing relationships and forged new partnerships with industry leaders in 2021:

  • Extended its longstanding, enterprise-wide partnership with Troon, the industry leader in golf club management, development and marketing.
  • Extended distribution agreement with leading golf course management company, KemperSports.
  • Extended and enhanced an existing relationship with Supreme Golf through a multi-year agreement designed to bolster exposure for GolfNow public golf course partners and introduce a new membership tool for recreational golfers.
  • Acquired RevTechPlus, a trusted revenue-management company that also provides marketing and weather analysis to golf course customers nationwide.
  • Forged an industry-first sponsorship agreement with the United States Army, which provides tee-time distribution technology and promotional opportunities to golf courses located on 33 U.S. Army installations throughout mainland USA and Hawaii.
  • Established new partnerships with multi-course operators in key U.S. markets, including City of Atlanta Golf, Tampa Sports Authority, DG Golf Management (Myrtle Beach), and Fairfax County Park Authority (Virginia).

About NBC Sports Next
NBC Sports Next is a subdivision of NBC Sports and home to all NBCUniversal digital applications in sports and technology within its three groups: Youth & Recreational Sports, Golf, and Betting & Gaming. NBC Sports Next, known for its sports technology product innovation, equips more than 30 million players, coaches, athletes, sports administrators and fans in 40 countries with more than 25 sports solution products, including SportsEngine, a youth sports club, league and team management platform; TeamUnify, swim team management services; GoMotion, sports and fitness business software solutions; GolfNow, the leading online tee time marketplace and provider of golf course operations technology and services; GolfPass the ultimate golf membership that connects golfers to exclusive content, tee time credits, coaching, tips and other benefits; and NBC Sports EDGE (formerly Rotoworld), a leading platform for fantasy sports information and betting-focused tools. NBC Sports Next is fueled by its mission to innovate, create larger-than-life events and connect with sports fans through technology to provide the ultimate in immersive experiences. 

-NBC Sports Next-

Dan Higgins
NBC Sports Next