Facing the Giants

30 Sep 2021

Helping the industry prompted the development of the recently launched search engine Golf Critique

By Crissy Neville  »  Photos by Melissa Souto

Move over GolfNow and third-party aggregator platforms; there’s a new player in town connecting fans to fairways in the Sandhills and beyond, benefitting golf courses, instructors and golfers alike.

In a modern-day David and Goliath matchup, it’s the Moore County-based Golf Critique platform and president and CEO Jeremy Lee versus the online tee time-booking giant GolfNow, owned by the Comcast media conglomerate of NBC and the Golf Channel. Lee’s stone and shield are his unique search engine startup and passion for golf, the ammunition engaged in creating a process he says that “helps the industry as a whole instead of tearing it down.”

The analogy speaks to how third-party golf sites impact the industry by filling open tee times at discounted rates at courses across the country. The packaging is similar to deals in other industries such as Expedia’s online travel shopping site and StubHub and Eventbrite’s concert and event markets. What seems good for the goose— in this case, golfers— is not always so, nor great for the gander — golf courses, the sport or sector.

According to Lee, golfers who book online from Golf Critique’s third-party competitors may not have the best experience redeeming tee times. Why? When golfers purchase online deals, he said, the vast majority of the courses from whom they book do not see any revenue from the purchase, “not a single dime.” This system undercuts the golf courses the players hope to patronize and support, slowly stymieing the very courses they want to play.

Additionally, a study by the National Golf Foundation reports consternation between course owners and operators who are trying to strike a balance between increasing rounds played — growing their course and staying competitive in the digital age — and satisfying customers, particularly loyal regulars who pay a full rate. Often not only bargain fees are up for grabs, but choice tee times, too.

Initially, most golf courses were all in because course owners saw the potential for budget-minded golfers to play more; they enjoyed ticking off tee times in exchange for the marketing received from the aggregator site affiliations. Golf Inc.’s 2019 “Commentary: The future of online tee time booking” concurs: “Third parties can give golf courses a lot of visibility, but this exposure comes at a cost, especially if the third parties are undercutting the value of your course with deep discounts. Operators need to see the use of third parties as an investment in marketing, not an online booking strategy.”

Enter Golf Critique and Lee’s desire to invest in the game of golf he knows and loves as a Class-A PGA Professional— the passion which brought him to Pinehurst. Working in the industry since age 16, Lee has a bachelor’s degree in turf and golf course management from Western Kentucky University. He formerly worked at the Augusta National, Trump National Westchester and Trump National Bedminster courses and as a golf sales rep for GolfNow himself. This last endeavor sparked him to create golfcritique.com and build what he stakes as “the best search engine in golf.”  

So, what makes Golf Critique different? First of all, the circa 2020 platform is free to Golf Critique partners — the golf courses and instructors who use it for marketing their websites, deals and offerings. It acts as a search engine and review site to give every viewer news and updates on golf courses  — some 21,000 searchable courses and 302 green grass partners to date in 10-plus countries worldwide — and 256 instructors and counting. The site also features travel opportunities with a growing directory of resorts worldwide.

What about golfers? All players can utilize Golf Critique to search and review “all these good things,” explained Lee. Golfers can participate as Free Members, but to earn perks, they are invited to become Premium Members for $9.99 a month or $99.00 a year. When a golfer joins, they have access to book rounds, lessons or packages with any partner on the platform, with no booking fees. The complimentary membership allows ingress to online booking directly with over 9300 golf courses, resorts and instructors — using the geo-located Golf Critique search engine to find what they are looking for, where they are or where they want to be. Premium Members enjoy partner-featured special pricing on green fees, merchandise, food, lessons and golf packages, with all perks and favorites stored on personalized dashboards for easy access. Lee’s model gives 100% of the round and perk revenue back to the partner along with any additional revenue generated through their review system.

Golf Critique’s mission is “to give every golfer the latest information on golf courses, instructors and resorts worldwide, all while offering golfers memberships options that unlock a magnitude of perks, experiences and giveaways, sitewide.”

Of his company now four years old since conception, Lee said, “We are an online resource where not only can golfers find golf courses but also instruction which is not readily available online right now; people who want to learn the game can go and find excellent instructors in their area. We also want to be a really good review site where our partners can get good feedback from golfers. And we do this for our partners for free — there are not many marketing companies out there that say to these golf entities, you know I am going to provide you an incredible platform, market your customers, give you a data collection tool, share data with you, completely free to be able to drive your customers back to you frequently. And on the backend, you will benefit those golfers who are loyal to you so that you are rewarding those who come back to your golf courses more often. That is how Golf Critique is designed.”

Golfcritique.com is currently an ad-free website with an office in downtown Southern Pines adjacent to the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. The company has corporate staff, including Lee, and 12 reps working nationwide. Upcoming plans include building a user-friendly app, featuring paid ad space and branching out in other industries. “We have a big announcement coming November 6th,”, Lee shared, “and are focused on gaining partners and building relationships. Subsequently, we will grow golfers — and have the perks they want — on a national or worldwide level. About every two weeks, we add another 6,000 to our now more than 24,000 Free Members and 230 Premium Members.”

Lee is also proud to offer The Swing Shop on the golfcritique.com website, the authorized online specialty retailer for everything from hats and duffle bags to shirts from golf courses all over. Coming soon will be the Golf Critique apparel line, Morning Dew, a lifestyle brand centered around peaceful sunrises, nature and most importantly, the experience of an early morning round on the links. Another site feature not to miss is GolfHub, with content from global partners in the form of blogs, videos, and podcasts — find the top 200 podcasts in golf there now and Lee’s own Golf Nation Podcast.  

Of his Sandhills startup, Lee said, “Having begun the company from Pinehurst, the most iconic place for golf courses in the U.S., is exciting. We are proud to call Moore County home, and have a marketing platform that benefits all parties in golf.

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