In 1744 the game of golf was created in Scotland. Today, 450M people consider themselves golf fans, either attending competitions, occasionally playing the game, or watching golf on TV.
Golf stands in the 9th position in terms of global sports popularity. In the United States (US) alone, golf’s complete economic activity totals €227B, an increase of 20% since 2016.
However, golf has also had its challenges and experienced a decline in global activity in the years between the financial crisis and 2020. The coronavirus shutdowns then gave golf a burst of popularity as courses were seen as an oasis for people to get out of their homes.
Now, with membership prices and green fees increasing more than ever, clubs have difficulty retaining members . Others struggle to attract new golfers because of the poor availability of tee times. On top of that, the industry is battling to attract a broader mix of demographics to play.
For most golf operators, the problem lies in poor capacity planning and a lack of insights into what drives player satisfaction. Both need data.
Players 1st is a software company founded by Jacob Buksted Poulsen and Morten Bisgaard that provides a customer experience (CX) and business intelligence (BI) solution designed specifically for golf courses. The company collects data on golf players through surveys and helps golf club operators optimize key revenue drivers via business analytics and benchmarking data.
Players 1st’s USP is for operators to gain insights into players’ experiences, identify pain points, and optimize their operations to boost customer satisfaction, retention, and profitability.
“We believe that Experience Management is all about controlling the customer journey, and if golf club operators put players first, listen to their feedback, and adapt services to their needs, they will reward them with loyalty.” – Morten Bisgaard, CEO and co-founder.
The player journey starts with booking a round. The golfer then plays a round at the club, after which Players 1st send out a survey to the golfer. The survey is completed, and the numbers are worked on to explore key findings, then for the manager to make improvements.
The analytics provide benchmarking, where clubs can compare performance to understand their position in the market, actionable insights to see what drives each player segment, and real-time notifications for managers to react quickly and resolve issues.
The system integrates with leading club management and tee-time booking software for automated surveys. The clubs can either manually send out surveys or use one of Players 1st’s integrations for automatic send-outs.
The data is then transformed in real-time on Players 1st’s dashboard as the questionnaires are completed. They generate scores for each service area and all its questions. With these scores, Players 1st is able to create a priority map that shows the operators the most important improvements they can make in their club.
The surveys all have a base of locked questions that must be asked to ensure high-quality data and questionnaire format. These locked questions enable operators to benchmark up against other clubs in their country or enterprise. Operators can also customize the surveys and simply toggle additional questions on/off or create their own questions. All surveys have been designed in cooperation with experts and unions/federations.
Demonstrated value-add to the clubs:
New member experience effect on churn: In a Danish study of 6,551 responses from new club members across 150+ clubs in 2021, it was shown that the lower the NPS score (new members’ experience at the club), the greater the churn of new members in year one. This is demonstrated below.
Member experience linked to revenue:
In a Finnish study of 27 clubs with financial data from 2015–2018, it was investigated whether members’ experience had an impact on the development of club revenue. It was shown that satisfied members stay at the club, recommend it to others, and drive higher revenue. This is demonstrated below.
10M+ surveys have been created over time, and more than 3.5M golfers have used Players 1st. They have more than 125M data points and receive around 10K responses per day, so every new club that joins the platform naturally has a lot of proven survey templates to choose from.
Entry survey — gives operators insights into why new members chose their club and assess their experience at the club.
Exit survey — helps operators prevent future churn by giving them insights into why members leave the club.
Member survey — informs operators how they can make the member experience as good as possible and whether members’ experiences match their expectations when they first started in the club.
Guest survey — targets club guests to convert them into paying members and helps operators see the guests’ relationships with other clubs.
Event survey — measures the experience of participants at events.
Range survey — measures the experience at the driving ranges.
Players 1st’s mission is to grow the game of golf by empowering club operators to recruit and retain players. The company’s vision is to have all golf experiences in the world measured through its platform.
With the Scale Capital investment, the company is geared towards accelerating growth in the US, the world’s largest golf market, and reaching 4,500 golf courses. Gaining a strong foothold in the U.S. market is a crucial part of realizing the company’s vision.
Players 1st is currently building their organization in the US with help from Scale Capital and is gradually expanding their reach, course by course. In Europe, most countries now use the Players 1st solution in some format or another. In the end, we think making a great business out of elevating the game of golf is not such a bad idea.
Players 1st is a Danish software company providing a customer experience and business intelligence solution designed specifically for golf course operators.
Joachim Schelde is a Senior Associate at Scale Capital, a danish venture fund investing €1–3M in Nordic and German B2B tech startups at Seed and Series A, and helping them win in the US.