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Editors note: With installations at more than 700 golf properties around the globe, ProLink Solutions is the world's leading provider of GPS golf course management systems and on-course advertising. Thanks to ProLink, GPS is no longer considered a novelty, but a must-have for courses looking to enhance the golfers experience, streamline operations and boost revenues. A quick glance at ProLinks roster of installed courses tells the tale ' they include past Ryder Cup host sites the K Club (Ireland) and Valderrama (Spain), plus scores of prestigious U.S. properties such as Amelia Island Plantation (Florida) and Westin La Cantera Resort (Texas).
 
Lawrence D. Bain has served as President and CEO of ProLink Solutions since January 2004. During Bains tenure, the company has posted record earnings, substantially increased its base of international course installations, and launched a highly successful national advertising program through its ProLink Media division. Clearly, Bains experience in the financial sector -- with such companies as True North Advisors, Dean Witter Morgan Stanley and E.F. Hutton ' has served him well at ProLink.

 
A Conversation with Larry Bain, President and CEO, ProLink Solutions
 

ProLink Solutions
ProLink Solutions
Casey / Q:
How important are patents to your business?
 
Larry / A:
We went out and patented the technology we have and its everything from the location of where the equipment is mounted to mapping technology to software technology. Its an important part of the business but its really not the most critical part of our business. The way we view the patent portfolio is, somewhere down the road somebody is going to step up and realize the value of a GPS product and realize the value of the business we built and theyre going to want to acquire us. The patents may or may not be important to them at that point but in any event it is important that we have them in place and we do.
 
Casey / Q:
But the patents arent that critical to your business from a competitive standpoint?
 
Larry / A:
This is an expensive business to get in to. It costs a lot of money to build a quality product, it costs a lot of money to support a quality product and we think we will win on a level playing field out there and continue to control market share without having to prosecute patent infringements. Currently we enjoy about 70% market share of the installed market base. So, theres probably somewhere around 1200 golf courses in the world that have GPS and were sitting at a little over 750 systems. I consider that a strong share and as long as we continue to have that share and continue to grow at the rate we are growing Im not going to use my patents to prosecute other companies that might be infringing. You know, we send letters and say dont violate, but at the end of the day our business position speaks for itself and I am comfortable with our market share.
 
Casey / Q:
What is your distribution like?
 
Larry / A:
We are in fifteen or sixteen different countries right now. We are at approximately 750 golf courses worldwide and that represents somewhere around 45,000 individual GPS units of ours in use today. In the United States units run about 72 per course and outside the United States the number of units per golf course is usually less because the cart fleets tend to be smaller.
 

Casey / Q:
How does the technology actually work?
 
Larry / A:
The system is based around the GPS universe. The GPS universe is a ring of satellites 12,000 miles above the Earth that collects way points from where you are located on the face of the Earth. So like any GPS system in a car it triangulates your position between three to five satellites and pinpoints you on the face of a map.
 
Casey / Q:
Then how do you make that work on a golf course?
 
Larry / A:
What we do as a company is we go out and map a golf course through a special proprietary patented technology that develops the frame of a map that tells us exactly what the hole looks like; the topography, the distances, various longitude and latitude way points. And then as you advance your golf cart down the hole the GPS antenna triangulates your position through the satellites and by beaming the signal to the satellite and back and measuring the speed of that signal tells the GPS unit on your cart exactly where youre located on the hole. With that information we are able to convey to the golfer by way of the screen all the details of their position on the hole. How far they are from a hazard, a sand trap, lay up yardage for their next shot, distance to the pin, etc. So really, with the information our system collects, the golfer can find out the distance to any part of the hole they want to know about. And its critical information as you well know, Casey. Knowing how far you are from any part of a golf hole that may affect your shot selection and how you play a shot is going to help you play better golf.
 
Casey / Q:
What are some of the other features your GPS system offers?
 
Larry / A:
Our system also provides what we call pro tips so there is a narrative on the hole that the head pro of that course has written. And who better to offer advice on how to play a hole than the pro that calls that course home? Other features of the system include electronic scoring, food and beverage ordering, as well as assistance and aid. Assistance and aid comes in handy for communicating to the pro shop for things like lost or found golf clubs on the course. But more importantly, and something we are very proud of as a company is, our system helped to save six lives where people had a medical emergency out on the course and people in the group hit the 911 button on the GPS screen and we were able to dispatch EMS (Emergency Medical Services) directly to where they were located. And thats pretty cool.
 
Casey / Q:
How do you look to innovate your products and services?
 
Larry / A:
Next month we launch our sports ticker which is going to be a lot of fun. When youre out the on a Saturday afternoon and you are worried about what Ohio State is doing against the Gators you will be able to see sports scores rolling across the bottom the GPS screen. It will keep golfers a little more connected without being obtrusive or interrupting their game.
 
Casey / Q:
Where did this idea come from?
 
Larry / A:
The sports ticker is actually the number one request coming from our golf courses. Just about every golf course that we have using our system has a survey that comes up on the screen between hole one and hole two that asks how was the golfers check-in experience so the golf course can monitor the service and try to improve the service if necessary. And there are a series of those survey questions that can be asked during the course of the round or when the round is finished. And the number one ranked bit of feedback we have gotten is that golfers want to know sports scores while they are playing golf.
 
Casey / Q:
You have two primary models: ProStar and GameStar. How do these systems differ from one another?
 
Larry / A:
ProStar is our latest and greatest version. Its our latest technology; it has the new 3-D graphics and a little faster micro-processor and motherboard so the computer is that much faster. It was launched in 2005 and it is the model we will continue to sell to new installations between 2005 and probably up to 2008 or 2009 when we release a newer version.
 
Casey / Q:
And GameStar?
 
Larry / A:
The GameStar is the version we made up to 2005. We dont manufacture that new anymore, however, as leases mature off a golf course if a golf course wants to they can take their existing GameStar equipment and extend their lease or they can upgrade to the new equipment and the other equipment ' the certified pre-owned GameStar equipment ' will go back on the market and might be leased by a course that cant afford the newest equipment we offer but still wants to offer GPS to their golfers. So GameStar can be a win-win for everyone. Its not quite as fancy of a GPS system but it is still a very high quality product and one we are proud of.
 
Casey / Q:
How do you get the word out to golfers and golf courses that GPS is the way to go?
 
Larry / A:
Our main target is the golf course. Thats who we market to. Golf courses are our customers. We have 16 sales people strategically located around the country that only sell our hardware and software. They are company employees of ours not independent reps. With the managers there are a total of 18 people in the sales department. Their job is to talk to every single golf course in their respective regions and to introduce those golf courses to the value proposition that is GPS for golf.
 
Casey / Q:
What are the benefits to golf courses using your GPS systems?
 
Larry / A:
We have a very comprehensive ROI tool and our selling model is really driven on the return of investment for the golf course. A typical golf course will enjoy a little over 200% annual rate of return on a GPS system. And this comes from a number of different influences out on the golf course. Things like pace of play. With a GPS system at a golf course youll see rounds pick up the pace by about 30 minutes. GPS systems usually increase the food and beverage sales at the golf course by just over 30%. Typically a golf course will raise their green fees just slightly by adding GPS because golfers see GPS as a wonderful amenity. GPS systems reduce the need of marshals out on the golf course because the GPS system can show the pro shop where the problem spots are and can then dispatch a marshal to that part of the golf course. So marshal or player assistance duty on the golf course becomes more efficient. So there are a number of great ways that having a GPS system at the golf course improves the golf courses business model.
 

Casey / Q:
There is the whole promotion side of the equation as well, correct?
 
Larry / A:
Most definitelythe system lends itself to promotion and marketing, not only the content that a golfer is seeking but alternative marketing as well. For example, if the pro shop is running a special on Callaway equipment or Titleist equipment, or a food and beverage special of some kind, they use the GPS screen to convey that information to the golfer. We also see situations where other businesses in the community are getting their message out to golfers by showing messages on the GPS screenrestaurants, car dealerships, clothing stores, etc. And these establishments are paying the golf course to use the GPS devices as a vehicle to market their message. This kind of incremental revenue is very material to a golf course and if it is done in an unobtrusive way we believe that it will accelerate the adoption of the GPS product in a dramatic way.
 
Casey / Q:
How did the USGAs decision to allow distance devices affect your business?
 
Larry / A:
It took away one more barrier where the typical golf pro who was a traditionalist and was saying you cant use this device because it isnt legal; it took that position out of the equation. Which is great. Frankly, its a great endorsement to have the USGA ' the rule making body in this game ' realizing that technology has a place in golf. And lets face it. Golf has been using technology to improve the playing experience for a long time now. How long have we been using graphite shafts and oversize golf club heads that help us play better golf? So how is that technology OK but measuring your distance to the hole with GPS or a rangefinder not OK? Well, I think the games governing bodies finally realized the answer to that question and the answer they came up with is the correct one.
 
Casey / Q:
What does your ScoreCast Tournament software do?
 
Larry / A:
The ScoreCast system was developed and designed in conjunction with the PGA of America and it is currently being used in approximately 30 of the sections in sectional events. It is a robust scoring module that is on board in every single computer and it keeps scores with golfers handicaps and it communicates the score back to the pro shop during play. Then when the round is over it prints the score out on a scorecard. Where this is particularly attractive is in tournament play because what it affords the golf pro is the ability to take a spreadsheet that a tournament sponsor would provide with all the names and all the handicaps and you just download that spreadsheet in to our software and it automatically populates the tournament and makes the set-up for the pro a ten minute event versus a two hour event. The tracking of the tournament is infinitely easier as well and lets the pro make on-the-fly changes for players. The really neat thing is that on board the golf cart the GPS screen displays a rolling leader board. For the golfer it feels like a PGA experience because you can see where you stand in the tournament in real time. You can see where the leaders are, you can see yourself move up the leader board and you see not only the gross scores but the net scores as well.
 
Casey / Q:
Are you optimistic about the future of GPS in golf?
 
Larry / A:
We love the golf industry. We think the golf industry continues to make good traction. Even though it appears that rounds are flat we see the industry coming off great years in 2005 and 2006. We think the golf industry is becoming more and professional with each passing year. It is an industry that is really just beginning to hit its stride in terms of enhancing the guest experience. We think that GPS does exactly that ' enhance the guest experience.
 
Casey / Q:
And your own business?
 
Larry / A:
We continue to have record years in our business. Weve grown from $10 million in revenue in 2004 to $24 million in revenue in 2006. We installed 153 golf courses in 2006. We did 56 golf courses in the first quarter of 2007. Business is robust and we couldnt be more excited about what the future holds for us.
 
Casey / Q:
Any last thoughts?
 
Larry / A:
The thing that is important to us is this is a growing industry and GPS is a growing segment of that industry. We feel quite proud of our commitment to the service and support of our customers. Over 50% of our employee base is dedicated to service and support of our system. We think thats a very big part of any technology business. Certainly this is the case with the GPS business. Making and selling the technology is fun but the real bread and butter of success comes from making sure the equipment is reliable, dependable and continues to work properly on a steady basis. It is really the key to this game. We hope that the industry as a whole has that same type of big commitment to being reliable and dependable. This is certainly what we try to do as the industry leader in golf GPS. Our investment in service and support is second to none and nothing is more important to us than making sure the golfer has a wonderful experience.
 
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