By Beth Duckett
Three years ago, Scottsdale entrepreneur Dale Merritt had a vision that one might say was a bit more than modest: He set out to transform the golf industry.
After noticing a slump in customer service at many of his favorite Airpark golf courses during the post-recession haze, Merritt found that many of them were offering discounted green fees.
He calls it “commodification,” a trend that he found troubling.
It also opened the door for him to chase his dream.
Merritt founded Golfpay, a web-based app that allows golfers to reserve tee times and pay for games, even from the convenience of their phones. The app has the potential to fill a niche and alter the industry, he says, capitalizing on the growing demand for online check-ins and fast, easy service.
Merritt says that Golfpay’s business model has the potential to be good for the industry, increasing engagement and the connection between courses and players, and avoiding “commodification” of green fees.
“We got into this business to be good for golf courses,” he says. “And there is major need for a third-party company like ours to fit that role to be good for golf-course economics.”
Created in Scottsdale, Golfpay is optimized for mobile devices, so golfers can make reservations from their smartphones without paying a booking fee.
“From a golfer’s standpoint, it’s very simple to use,” Merritt says. “We tried to focus on creating the best possible frictionless user experience with a lot of accessibility.”
The company also offers a function for those players without a web connection to call or text after hours, or use the Facebook Messenger app, Merritt explains.
For Merritt, Golfpay’s CEO, the benefits of the company extend farther than the convenience of online booking.
His goal is to give golf courses an alternative to third-party marketing channels, the kind that push for discounted green fees without profit margins, he says.
Three years ago, Merritt, a self-described serial entrepreneur, sold other companies he had founded and began to research golf, a sport he has played nearly 30 years. Last fall, Golfpay rolled out its test version before its recent general release.
At Golfpay.com, players can search or use their GPS location to find nearby courses, sorting by categories, such as lowest price or “most likes.” Prices, tee times and locations are laid out in an easy-to-see format, and golfers can even add friends to the booking and split the cost, making it easier to arrange a friendly game.
Players who use mobile check-in don’t have to go inside the pro shop before hitting the links, and most tee times are available as far as two weeks in advance.
Folla Media, LLC, the holding company for Golfpay and other golf brands, also has a family of golf apps available on Apple and Android devices, including FreeCaddie, a GPS-based app for scorekeeping and other needs.
As of mid-January, Golfpay had signed about a dozen golf courses.
In Arizona, partners include Shalimar Country Club, Eagle Mountain Golf Club and Legacy Golf Resort, and the company has joined with courses in other states, too.
By March, Merritt expects tremendous growth for Golfpay. The goal is to sign a few-thousand golf courses in more than 30 countries, he says.
“We won’t be able to roll out every single feature to all of the courses at first,” he adds. “That is the slowest part of the process. Our goal is to have all of those features, including mobile check-in, by the end of the year.”