An Interview with EZLinks.com CEO Gary Cohen

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ezLogoServing as an OpenTable for golf, Chicago-based EZLinks.com enables golfers both in the U.S. and abroad to book tee times from more than 1,000 courses worldwide everyday. Instead of having to call individual courses to find out what days/times are available, golfers can visit EZLinks.com and access all available tee times from course partners that include the likes of PGA West, Trump National and Wailea Golf Club. In addition to the convenience of booking tee times online, EZLinks.com offers discounts on more 100,000 tee times daily, anywhere from 10-50% off the retail cost. I recently had the chance to interview company CEO Gary Cohen about his start with movie rental monster Redbox, the history of EZLinks.com and what is in store for the future.

Adam: What originally peaked your interest in the online golf reservation industry? Did your experience with Redbox provide a certain level of insight on how to reach out to the general golfing public?

Gary Cohen, CEO: EZLinks Golf peaked my interest for a number of reasons.  First, EZLinks Golf is the golf industry’s business-to-business technology leader.  Many golfers don’t know that EZLinks develops the software and provides the services that power their favorite golf courses.  From developing a course’s tee sheet software to serving as the reservation agent, EZLinks has been at the epicenter of golf course operations for 17 years.  In addition, EZLinks operates the industry’s second largest tee time reservations e-commerce portal – EZLinks.com – offering golfers deals on more than 100,000 tee times daily and the country’s top courses.

My experience at Redbox is a strong parallel to EZLinks Golf as both organizations are powerful business partners, are at their core technology companies and are laser-focused on creating a great consumer experience.

At Redbox, we changed the way consumers rented movies.  Blockbuster was a mainstay and many didn’t believe a kiosk could revolutionize the industry.  However, we built a better way to rent movies, one that made it easy for customers to get the movie they wanted from virtually everywhere.  EZLinks.com is doing the same thing for the golf industry. In an industry in which nearly 70% of reservations are made by phone, EZLinks.com has the opportunity to change the way golfers reserve tee times.  By partnering with golf courses we can provide golfers with access to more tee times and the ability to book their next round from virtually anywhere.

As a partner to golf courses, we will bring them more traffic and more revenue through our technology just as Redbox continues to bring more traffic to local retailers. The parallels between creating the market share leader in DVD rentals with Redbox and paving the way to make EZLinks.com a golfers’ favorite place to book a tee time are many.

What has been the biggest challenge to rolling out EZLinks.com?

Before we talk about the improvements planned for EZLinks.com, it is important to give you a clear picture of our history. EZLinks Golf is first and foremost a software company providing technology to power golf courses. How we became an e-commerce company was less by design than by evolution. In 1999, one of the premier golf course management companies identified EZLinks software as a powerful tool to drive more rounds and improve customer service.

However, the industry leader was not able/willing to pay in cash and proposed paying for the software in tee times. We agreed and our e-commerce business was created as EZLinks sold these tee times directly to consumers.

Today the vast majority of EZLinks’ clients prefer to purchase technology and services with tee times. EZLinks.com was created as a means to monetize the tee times traded for software and services. The site features more than 100,000 tee times daily discounted up to 50% off the course rate.

In addition to offering great prices on great golf, EZLinks.com also features golfer-focused policies – the ability to cancel tee times, same day tee times, singles and a 24-hour tee time reservation line for golfers that prefer the phone. The goal is simple; make it easy for golfers to get to the tee.

Today, EZLinks.com is the second largest online tee time reservation site. We have plans to expand our inventory adding more courses, deals and tee times at the best courses worldwide later this year. This additional inventory will be coupled with a brand new site experience – an easy to navigate search, a quick checkout process and an experience that is centered on the golfer. EZLinks.com will be the only place golfers need to go to get to the tee.

Do you ever see a day when all tee time reservations will be made 100% online?

Reserving tee times online has grown 25% year over year and now accounts for 14% of all tee time reservations booked and played. However, in addition to operating the second largest tee time reservations site, EZLinks also runs the industry’s largest call center – fielding millions of calls a year for course partners. And though I can tell you more business is migrating online, the phone lines remain a popular reservation option with 7 out of 10 reservations occurring by phone. I envision the golf industry following in the footsteps of the restaurant industry. No matter how easy it is to book a reservation online, sometimes it is easier to book by phone. EZLinks.com believes it is important to give golfers a choice and that one size doesn’t always fit all.

What is the benefit for a golf course to provide online tee times through EZLinks.com?

EZLinks.com will provide golf courses with a powerful new distribution channel to offer their tee sheet directly to golfers. Currently, EZLinks.com features discounted tee times provided to EZLinks from more than 1,000 course partners in exchange for EZLinks software and services.

Later this year, our tee time inventory will expand exponentially as we partner with courses to offer their full tee sheets to golfers. Courses will be in complete control of their pricing – raising and lowering prices based on demand – and EZLinks.com will connect courses with millions of golfers annually.

The online reservation market is growing, so what places EZLinks.com above its competitors?

EZLinks.com is well positioned to be golfers’ favorite place to book tee times online. First, we have a running start with more than one million golfers and seventeen years of experience under our belt. Second, we are working in tandem with our golf course partners to ensure their success and that golfers are instantly connected with thousands of courses. And finally, we are focused on creating a great experience for golfers.

To win, we must build a better experience for golfers. EZLinks.com is working to create a site that is simple to navigate, provides access to a wealth of inventory and an easy checkout process. We’ve been working with golfers to understand what they want to see and we look forward to delivering later this year.

What are some of the behaviors you've noticed that golfers exhibit when booking a tee time online?

We see two primary online booking behaviors.

The first type of golfers knows exactly what they want. They know the course. They know the time. They know the number of players. For these golfers, speed and personalization are key. EZLinks.com allows them to reserve their tee times as efficiently as possible.

The second type of golfers are browsers. These shoppers know they want to play golf, but want to make sure they are taking the time to book the right course, at the right time and at the right price. EZLinks.com wants to provide the tools and information to make it as easy as possible for these golfers to browse courses, compare prices and make the best decision.

Anything else you would like my readers to know about EZLinks.com?

EZLinks.com would like your readers that haven’t browsed our tee times to try us. We will be working on our site experience over the coming months, but in the meantime we have thousands of incredible courses to discover from PGA West to Harborside in Chicago to the Diplomat in Florida. You can great deals daily on the country’s top golf courses or on your local favorite. EZLinks.com wants to make it easy for your readers to golf more.

So there you have it. Not only is EZLinks.com quickly becoming a leader in the online tee time booking market, they are also dedicated to helping golfers get on the course more often and at a cheaper price.

We at ChicagoDuffer.com would like to thank Mr. Cohen for his time and willingness to inform our readers of his amazing service. For more information on EZLinks.com, please visit the company website the next time you want to hit the links.