Thursday, June 19, 2003

Web site hooks up golfers to bargains



By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Shaker Run golf pro Mark Lammi, David Goodman and Steve Juran (from left) share golf wisdom on the Shaker Run signature hole.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
Dave Goodman has given a new twist to the term "golf links."

Goodman has brought his passion for the game to the Internet, where he helps local golfers find bargains and enables area courses to market themselves effectively. The web site, www.CinciGolf.com, started as a retirement project but has grown beyond its founder's original game plan.

When he sold the Montgomery Kramer's Sew 'n' Vac store three years ago, Goodman headed for the golf course. His appetite exceeded his budget, however, so soon he was looking for deals.

Said Goodman: "I asked myself, 'I wonder who has a senior citizen special going this week? Maybe there's a Web site that would tell me.' All of a sudden a light bulb goes off in my head."

Teaming up with his son, who had considerable experience with eBay and Web site design, Goodman came up with an idea and a Web site to support it.

"The first thing I did was go out and talk to Shaker Run (Golf Course, in Lebanon)," Goodman said. "I told them about the concept, which would allow a page for each participating course on which they could do whatever they wanted. I didn't ask for any money in return, just some free rounds of golf."

Once Shaker Run signed up, the entrepreneur approached other golf courses in the Tristate. Some used their Web page to foster memberships; others focused on promotional offers.

Most coupons for free rounds or discounts Goodman received he used as prizes for CinciGolf's online trivia contests or random drawings. He used those incentives to keep golfers coming back to the site.

"People never know when these things are going to run; they have to keep checking," he said.

Last summer, CinciGolf.com gave away more than 200 free rounds of golf and introduced Tristate golfers to a wide range of links.

North Bend's Aston Oaks is one course that benefited from the exposure.

"We don't have much of an advertising budget," said director of golf R.J. Foltz. "This was a great idea. The Web site attracts people who are interested in golf, and there aren't too many courses in the west side."

Hobby subsidized

The project met Goodman's initial goal of financing his sports habit, but didn't generate a profit.

"It was like a hobby, and a way for me to play some golf and have some fun," he said. "I knew I'd eventually figure out a way to make money from it."

As the season drew to a close last fall, inspiration struck.

Goodman and golfing buddy Steve Juran hit on the idea of a book containing monthly coupons from the golf courses linked to CinciGolf.com.

"The concept was that each coupon would have a different value," Goodman said. "For instance, in April, you could have a two-for-one coupon. As the courses get busier in the summer, a coupon might be good for a few dollars off, or 'buy three, get one free.' In the fall, the values get better again."

In January, Goodman and Juran got on the phone to their network of golf courses and sold the concept. Most signed on for all seven months of the coupon book. The books were ready in March, priced at $29 each.

The offers - totaling more than $4,000 in discounts by Goodman's estimate - range from free rounds to free buckets of balls at driving ranges to discounts at sporting goods stores.

Said Goodman: "If you use just one coupon in the book, you're ahead. If you use two coupons, you're way ahead. If you use three coupons, you're way, way, way ahead."

A win-win-win

The books initially were sold through the CinciGolf.com site, with payments handled by PayPal. Then Goodman linked with nonprofit groups and booster clubs, allowing the organizations to sell the coupon books and keep a portion of the proceeds. Each nonprofit is given a page on the CinciGolf.com site and each purchase from their supporters via that page is credited to the group.

As Goodman likes to say, it's a win-win-win.

"Golfers win with more golf for less money; courses win by filling empty tee times and getting new faces to their courses, and it's great for the nonprofit group. There's no inventory, no delivery, no upfront money, and no collecting money," he said.

Coupon book sales have pleased golf courses. The staff at new Buck Point golf course in Brookville, Ind., says the coupon book has been as effective as any advertising it has done. And courses can measure results through redemption of the coupons.

"We've had a lot of those brought in," Foltz said. "There are a growing number of people going to the site. Early in the season we had 'buy one, get the second one half-off' coupons. During the heavy season we changed to a $5-off-the-green-fee coupon. It's not as big a discount, but it's still enough to get golfers to come out here."

"We've sold extra rounds, which has increased our income," said Mark Lammi, director of golf at Shaker Run. "It also allowed some folks, for whom Shaker Run would normally be cost-prohibitive, some opportunity to play here. Hopefully they saw how beautiful it is and they'll come out again."

Dave Goodman offers these insights about the success of his enterprise:

1. In order to generate income, I determined that the money would have to come from the golfers and not the golf courses (with the state of the economy and the golf industry).

2. The key is good relationships with the golf courses. We put the golf course's interest first.

3. We formed relationships with nonprofit groups to sell more of our books and help them raise money.

4. Although the book is worth much more than $29, we decided to sell our first book at that ...price to be sure to get it off the ground.

5. We drive traffic to our site and create great word of mouth advertising by giving away hundreds of rounds of free golf.

To learn more, call 697-6270 or visit www.cincigolf.com.

E-mail jcallison@zoomtown.com



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