How A Golf and Tennis Lesson Booking App Is Coming To A Club Near You
by Ed Shanaphy, CMAA, USPTA, PTR
Uber changed the way we travel. The company broke the stranglehold that the medallion holders in big cities like New York and Chicago had over the taxi business. The upstart waylaid some of the biggest names in the transport industry and broke the back of city governments through fighting legislation. And the ride-share app changed the way we, as a consumer, viewed transport. Could we change the country club business through a similar app?
It’s already happening. Caddies were always a gray area when it came to classifcations as an employee or an independent contractor. Caddies would wait for a loop and sometimes wait all morning without compensation. But the caddie would have to remain on site and at the club to get a loop – that’s a form of control over the worker by the club. The age-old position of caddie master in itself denotes a form of control over the caddie, technically a control disallowed if a caddie were to be classified as an independent contractor. Other issues cropped up with caddies. What if a caddie grabbed a jewel from a golf bag? Club responsible? Should caddies be bonded? It’s been a question since the first caddie slung a bag across his shoulders – well maybe not the first group of caddies in Edinburgh in 1817 – but here in the USA before golf carts became the norm. But caddies are changing the way we look at the club business and staffing.
So, yes, there’s a new game, and app, in town. The caddie app. I am envisioning the direct marketing advertisement right now…
Book your favorite caddie from the comfort of your home the day or week before your regular foursome. And ensure you get the caddie of your choice, not just a caddie who was still hanging out at the caddie shack.
But this is not a fictional, future idea. It’s happening right now. CaddieNow.com is taking the club industry to a new level of service. The caddie accepts the loop and arrives at the appointed tee time at the course chosen by the player. Caddies can now work multiple courses, expanding their revenue sources. The member pays the caddie directly and digitally – no need to remember to stop at the ATM on the way to the club and your fourball – at an agreed rate between the member and the caddie. It’s a whole new world. Imagine, the movie Caddyshack would never have been made. I could have gone without Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield – how nice would that have been. And the caddie? He could have gone all those years without waiting, and possibly not getting a loop and not receiving compensation. Now, the caddie sits at home and accepts or rejects a loop – an option they really didn’t have previously – which again is a form of control over the worker..
UBER Has Arrived At The Country Club – And It’s Not Your Ride, It’s Your Bag’s Ride.
So, why not do the same with fitness instructors, assistant tennis and golf pros? Create the app, approve the professional for independent contracting at the club, let them set their own rate, and collect their own fees – as a true independent contractor would. It seems it would more clearly classify the instructor as an independent contractor. And, if monitored correctly, it could provide even better service to the members and save both the member and the instructor precious time. But even more importantly, it saves the club money. No administrative time to book all the slots – no administrative need to check if an instructor or pro is free.
Covid has changed the spirit a lot at clubs. Many country clubs had not had tee times until 2020. Now, they are a fact of life as rounds on the links have multiplied by the millions as people look to socially-distanced sports like golf and tennis. Members have been trained to book their tee times for their foursomes, their courts for their doubles, and their clinics for liveball all across apps on their smart phones as play has ballooned. And now, the same is happening with caddies. CaddieNow is allowing members to book loops directly with their caddie of choice. It’s soon coming to golf and tennis lessons as well, with key benefits to both the professional, contractor and club.
An Open Market – Adam Smith and the Country Club
For far too long assistant pros have been at the beck and call of the director of golf, tennis or fitness. The directors set the rates, sometimes tell the members with whom they should take a lesson and take a majority of the lesson with a percentage over 50 percent. Granted that this system in the past worked for most clubs, but as we move into an age where technology dominates and time is of the essence, it’s time for a change. Couldn’t there be a better way to expand programming and services. We believe there is. And it’s far more consistent with the classification of independent contractors.
Let the invisible hand of Adam Smith’s economic philosophy come to the club. Allow the instructors to set their own rates and compete for members. Each and every lesson, under a competitive, open-market regime, will mean so much more to the instructor and, therefore, the member. The instructor is only as good as his or her last lesson – marketing themselves and demonstrating their technical merits each time they are on court – to the member they are teaching and to other perspective clients.
And member service? Choice and timings improve. – slots will always be covered by an incentivized and competitive team of instructors. In this age of technology, you could have a two-hour window as an instructor or even on-demand if the instructor happened to be on property. Or, the instructor could choose to work several clubs, expanding revenue sources, and have a longer window of approval once a member requests a time slot. For the members, they are dealing directly with their instructor, lessening the front desk’s workload having not to book times for a contractor (technically illegal under that classification) and saving the club or facility both time and money.
Finance is easier. Payments go directly to the professional electronically through the booking app and the instructor simply pays a rental charge to be part of the app at the club – guaranteed fixed income for the club and a fixed cost for the independent contractor, again something the IRS looks for when classifying independent contractors.
Saving Time and Money For The Club
Not only does this method clearly create and delineate the role of the independent contractor safeguarding the club’s classification of teaching professionals, but it also saves the club heaps of money while expanding all the club’s services and encompassing these services through one website and app. The club’s website becomes a one-stop shop for all members and all services. Dining reservations, spa bookings along with personal training in the gym, lessons on the links, and clinics on the clay. All without the cost of an employee. No health care. No 401k matching benefit. No buying practice balls or professional equipment. No employer taxes. Just a fixed rental income from each and every independent contractor working on property, whether that contractor is popular or not.
In the end, it may terminate the role of a director of tennis, or fitness, or even, golf. But in the near-term, it frees up those positions from the day-to-day task of managing staff, leaving the roles to better manage members and add to member service. Something I feel is lacking at most clubs we work with. It ends the commission-based politics of a middle man, or director, wondering how he or she can get a bigger lump of money from an hourly assistant on the range or on the court.
So Uber and Lyft have changed the way we travel and they are already changing how caddies are compensated and booked to lift our golf bags. But they will also be changing how we shop for lessons and clinics at our club. The app is coming soon to a club near you.
Ed Shanaphy serves as Director of Tennis and Assistant General Manager at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA. Previously he served for 17 years as CEO and Managing Director of Haysbridge (UK) Ltd, a London-based international marketing conglomerate. More recently, he has served as Head Professional at Jupiter Island Club in Hobe Sound, FL, Edgartown Yacht Club and Quail Valley Golf Club in Vero Beach, FL. As President of BeyondTheBaselines.com Shanaphy and his team consult for leading country clubs across the nation.