A proliferation of Internet-based tee-time reservation systems and e-mail marketing campaigns by golf courses over the last five years is changing the way golfers get on courses, as well as reducing the green fees they pay.
It's a win-win situation for the consumer and the industry, some say, and the industry is growing so fast that the days of calling pro shops to make tee times could be numbered.
"I envision the future as a one-site, one-source tee-time stop," said Mike Carran, director of sales for click4teetimes.com, whose 5-year-old site has more than 60,000 registered users. "I envision that we'll be offering tee times at all courses, at all rates and more in advance."
E-time websites are granted access to times by participating courses. They get the times only two or three days in advance and are limited to selling only tee times that golf courses make available to them. But the advantage is that the sites are allowed to sell the times at discounted rates.
For example, a recent search on Golfnow.com offered a Friday morning tee time at Robinson Ranch in Santa Clarita for $87, down from the regular rate of $117. Click4teetimes offered a Thursday morning spot at Black Gold Golf Club in Yorba Linda for $67, down from the rack rate of $87.
But as the industry grows, so does the number of available tee times, and peak times — discount included — are beginning to surface on many sites. For example, a Saturday morning 9:33 time was available at Eagle Glen Golf Club in Corona through Ezlinks.com for $73.59, down from the regular rate of $115.
"It's a misconception that all you can get is poor tee times in the middle of the afternoon on weekdays," Carran said. "The reality is that times are available all day every day. It might not be the course closest to your house, but there is probably something available."
And these sites offer spots at courses and prices to fit most any golfers ability and budget. Beginning golfers can find times at executive or par-three courses. Budget-minded golfers can find times at many municipal courses throughout the Southland.
Still, golfers might not find what they are looking for on a website. That's when they can search their inboxes for special offers from courses that not only offer discounted rates, but also include free merchandise such as shirts, hats, a sleeve of balls or food.
"The hot dog promotion seems to be really popular," said Matthew Donovan of Donovan Bros. Golf, which operates 12 courses in Southern California. "We've given away shoes and a putter, but for some reason, the hot dog promotion goes gangbusters."
Donovan said his company has collected about 30,000 e-mail addresses and the list is available to the managers at each course. When they anticipate a slow period, he said, they send out an e-mail with a special offer.
It's been so successful that Donovan's company set up a website, Donovandaily.com, so that golfers could sign up to receive the offers without going to a course.
"The golfers love it," Donovan said. "And so do we. It helps us spook golfers to our courses."
Beyond that, most courses now have websites of their own and occasionally offer discounted tee times on those sites. Many also have e-mail clubs that offer breaks to players who sign up for them and e-mail players with special deals.
While there are no membership fees to get on e-mail lists or to get times through most golf E-time websites, premier memberships clubs have also grown in popularity at many courses and websites.
These clubs, which can cost anywhere from $75 to $500 annually, allow players benefits such as discounted tee times, the ability to make reservations in advance of the general public, lessons and range balls.
Roger Dunn Golf Shops recently unveiled the Birdie Savings Card. Golfers pay $24.99 up front for a card that gives them a 40% discount off green fees at more than 30 Southern California courses, plus $20 off in store merchandise.