High touch, goes high-tech

More and more, the secret to a great member experience is software
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Article by James A. Frank, Club Director, Summer issue, 2024

What does the member expect from a private club? Staff who knows their name and a bartender that knows their favorite cocktail. Golf clubs that magically appear on the range, the golf or tennis pro having time to schmooze with them about improving backswings and backstrokes, a perfectly manicured golf course where play flows smoothly. In short, a seamless operation free of the hassles, harangues and hiccups of everyday life. How does it happen? Software. Private clubs heavily rely on computer programs to manage the member experience, handle reservations, allocate staff, enable communication and oversee countless other hospitality functions. Some software also helps employees, from the maintenance crew to waiters, work more efficiently while ensuring a favorable pace of play and showing committees how to fund capital projects.

And it’s all done out of sight, with members dealing with nothing more than a single app on their smartphone. “Club and on-course software available today does precisely what good software is supposed to do,” explains Bodo Sieber, CEO of Tagmarshal, whose software helps clubs effectively manage pace of play and golf operations. “It’s supposed to allow us to have more and better human interactions. Clubs should be creating emotional connection points for their members, and technology should make the staff’s day-to-day easier, reducing the time they spend making things work so they have time to provide better service and build quality relationships.

Put those together and that’s why people join a private club!” In simple terms, club software can be divided into two types: the one the member sees and interacts with and the other almost entirely behind the scenes, improving their experience without them being the wiser.

What Members See

For many golfers, the only club software they know lets them book tee times. The super-charged programs that enhance the member experience work with tee-time platforms but, more importantly, know where the member is from the moment they drive on property until they leave hours later. “Clubs can track where the players are on the range and on the course,” says Colin Read, CEO of Whoosh club management software. “They can better anticipate when they want to play, know if this person needs a cold towel on the cart and load the cart with drinks. These touch points make the club feel like home.”

More than knowing where the member is, software knows who the member is. “In a high-turnover hospitality environment, it’s difficult for a seasonal employee to know the preferences of 800 members,” explains George Stavros, CEO of Pacesetter Technology. “ personalize the member experience, starting with name recognition, so the staff can see the name, image, and preferences of the member 30 seconds before they walk through the door. For the members, there’s a photo directory. Want to speak to the golf shop? Got that. Call or text your friend and see if he and his wife want to go to dinner tomorrow night? Get a quick answer from the front desk of what’s going on at the club today? Yes.”

The member needs just one app, usually bearing only the club’s name, to perform these “concierge” services. In many cases, turning on “location enabled” on the app alerts the club when someone has arrived on property. Through the app they can let the pro shop know when they want to play and where to take their clubs; tell the restaurant when they want to eat; sign in a guest (eliminating the awkwardness of the guest now knowing who is paying for what) and much more.

Some software can be customized. At Baltusrol in Springfield, N.J. (above), an app unlocks the door to the fitness center. At Dallas Country Club, members can order meat to take home with “Butcher Pack.” At some clubs, the app alerts the valet to bring up the member’s car. All without the constant chatter of walkie-talkies. (“There’s nothing worse than members hearing that!” says Read.) Adoption has been easy. “Clubs thought older members wouldn’t want to use these tools,” says Stephanie Castro, COO of Cobalt Software. “But we’ve found older folks are more tech savvy than we thought while younger members expect everything to be on the app.”

Beyond comforting members, software aids the staff, saving both time and money. “The best member experiences are powered by great staff interactions, and everything we do is about saving staff time,” says Read. “We typically are saving about 20 hours per week per department.”

What Members Don’t See

Among golfers’ hot buttons are course conditioning and pace of play. No surprise, there are software programs that monitor both. On the agronomic side, the major irrigation and turf companies— Toro, SubAir, Rain Bird, others—have apps that let superintendents monitor, program and control the systems from their phones.

But since waiting for maintenance to mow the fairway or water the green can affect the member’s experience—and slow play— knowing where crews are at any moment is important. Some systems do exactly that, while also tracking every group of players on the course, walking or riding. If the superintendent sees a gap in play, a crew can be sent to do some quick clean up. The software also features a heat map that shows where golfers go and don’t go, which can result in major savings in water, fertilizer, and labor to areas not being used. Meanwhile, with the push of a button geofencing can be set up to protect turf and keep players out of specific areas, both faster and more efficient than a crew putting up ropes and signs.

To keep golfers moving, pace of play programs integrate with tee-sheet software. They provide hard data on how long groups are taking, which has proven more effective—and less confrontational— than saddling a ranger with the job of asking people to speed up.

“We also help clubs understand how their course set-up affects time per hole and where the choke points are so they can make better decisions,” says Sieber. “Management can see not only where groups are but who is in the group. If you track and collect data on players, you create player profiles based on pace, which can be used to allocate certain players to early times, others to later times. Doing this based on anecdote or opinion is impossible, but data is pure fact, it doesn’t have emotions.” For clubs that want a better handle on their finances, there’s software to help management—both professional and member committees—know where they are and plan for the future.

“Arguing about what’s being spent on Goldfish crackers at the bar is counterproductive,” says Teri Finan, director of communication for Club Benchmarking. “The benchmarking platform helps boards stay focused on the balance sheet, which directly impacts the member experience, and know precisely where they stand on a range of monthly and annual key performance indicators relative to other clubs their size.”

Who has access to the software and its analyses is up to the club. But once known, sharing it with the members, especially when discussing future projects, can be very effective. Even though many private club members are successful businesspeople themselves, once in a committee meeting, emotions and personal agendas can override good business sense. Again, having data— hard facts and numbers—can make all the difference in keeping members happy.

Read the full article in Golf Director Magazine


Tagmarshal, the market leader in on-course optimization technology, provides courses with full, real-time operational oversight and reporting, giving golf operators the tools to manage pace and flow of play effectively, resulting in enhanced player experiences, increased efficiency through automation, and additional revenue generation.

Tagmarshal’s technology has collected over 1 billion data points from more than 75 million rounds of golf and has relationships with in excess of 600 partners, including Hazeltine, Whistling Straits, Baltusrol, Fieldstone, Bandon Dunes, Serenoa and Erin Hills.

Tagmarshal partners with several golf management groups, private, daily fee, public and resort courses, including 40 of the Top 100 US courses, as well as many $40-$60 green fee courses, which are seeing excellent results using the system.