News & Opinion

Time for just few holes? There’s app for that

Thinking Outside the Tee Box: One in an occasional series about innovators who are making golf more attractive.

 Imagine this: You’re headed home after work, you’ve got 90 minutes until your kid’s soccer game and you want to squeeze in some golf.

So, you check an app with your phone to find a nearby available course, arrive and check in at the golf shop, play five holes in 70 minutes, get back in the car and make it to the soccer game just in time. And best of all, you are charged only for the holes you played. That’s right, just five holes.

This isn’t some fairy tale. It’s already happening at 35-plus courses across the country with Quick.Golf, a web-based app that offers golfers a pay-per-hole opportunity and matches up golfers who want to play with courses that have room to get them out. Quick.Golf hopes to become the golfing equivalent of OpenTable, a popular app that helps diners find available area restaurants.

It’s an ingenious idea and helps solve two of the three issues that keep modern customers from playing more golf: it’s too hard, it’s too expensive and it takes too long. With Quick.Golf, users can control how long they want to play, and they pay accordingly.

“I’ve been doing research and asked people, What are the primary barriers to keeping you from playing more golf?” said Harvey Silverman, a co-founder of Quick.Golf. “The number one answer by a large margin was lack of time. It was never about the money. We tried to think of a way to solve that, other than courses continuing to discount themselves to death in order to get a few more folks to play, while harming their rate integrity and likely discounting to the golfers who would’ve played anyway.”

Quick.Golf is still in the early development stages, with multiple sites in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix and the San Francisco Bay area, plus courses in Colorado, Maryland and Florida, and some in New Zealand about to come online.

The biggest obstacle for Quick.Golf is that golf is a traditional game with a traditional customer base and traditional course owners (i.e., “older” in many cases) who are set in their ways.

“Golf course operators are hesitant to think outside the box or try something new,” said Silverman, 63, of Redwood City, Calif. “We have found some forward thinkers, and they’ve seen success.”

The reason why Quick.Golf is a win-win is that it helps recreational players fit golf into their busy schedules while delivering golfers to courses at non-peak times. Courses control when they’re available for pay-per-hole Quick.Golf play by indicating the time windows on the app.

Even if the pay-per-hole income is incremental, it’s still extra revenue that the course otherwise wouldn’t receive. Quick.Golf takes a small commission, which includes the incremental credit-card charge. Quick.Golf is a cashless operation, so it’s easy for courses to implement. 

“We’re an impulse buy, like when you pick up something in the checkout line at the grocery store,” Silverman said. “It’s like, ‘I’ve got some time, I’ve got my clubs in the trunk, let’s see if a course near me is available right now for Quick.Golf and if it is, I’ll stop off and play before I go home.’ There’s no tee time required. That’s how we’ve seen it being used. The average amount of play has been six holes.”

So, the golfer checks the Quick.Golf app to see which nearby courses are open for quick play. The golfer, who has a valid credit card registered in the system, picks a course, maybe adds a message that he’s on the way with two other golfers and will be there in 20 minutes, and clicks “Go.” Once at the course, the golfer checks in, provides information on whether he or she is walking or riding and how many players he or she is paying for – but doesn’t pay then. The golfer’s credit card is charged only when the golfer checks out afterward and confirms how many holes were played. Then the player is charged the pre-arranged per-hole fee.

“It is an honor system,” said Mike Dickoff, Quick.Golf’s other co-founder. “If a guy played six holes and says he only played five, we can’t check on that, but that hasn’t been a problem anywhere. We know when they check in, so if they’re out for four hours and say they played two holes, we’d notice.”

Should a player neglect to check out, he would receive a reminder message, said Dickoff, 61, of Minnetonka, Minn. Failure to check out would lead to a charge for an 18-hole round.

Another benefit of partial-round play is that those golfers may purchase food or beverages or gear in the shop once they’re onsite, which equals more revenue for the club.

“And if this per-hole option gets the golfer to the course, maybe it stimulates his or her interest in the game to get out and play more often,” Dickoff said.

In Quick.Golf’s research survey, the No. 3 reason for not playing more was, “I don’t have anyone to play with,” a response that came from 15 percent of those surveyed.

“Part of that answer is, my buddies don’t have time for a full round, either,” Dickoff said. “So, OK, we can’t play 18 holes today. Let’s all go play six.”

What if the reason you don’t have anyone to play with is that you don’t have any friends?

Dickoff laughed. “We don’t have an app for that yet,” he said.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle