The History of Play Golf Kelowna

After 17 golf seasons of being one of the central contributors to the Play Golf Kelowna collective, one of the biggest surprises to people is to learn that Play Golf Kelowna is not a business, or any kind of legal entity at all.

In the fall of 1998, the concept was born when I sat down with two other golf course General Managers in Kelowna: the very recently retired Dan Weddell (Shadow Ridge), and the long since retired Neal Stead (Sunset Ranch). We wanted to simply save a few bucks on marketing by not fighting with one another, and to introduce some flexible, multi-course golf packages for the Kelowna golf market.

We started as ‘Golf Kelowna,’ but we started without Sunset Ranch as they changed their mind on being part of it. The original group of three courses was Kelowna Springs, Shadow Ridge and Shannon Lake. No employees, and no bank account. We were just three independently, locally owned golf courses who agreed to try some creative marketing together – we had no formal business plan, and no measurable expectations. We ‘winged it.’ We sold $58,000 of packages that first season, and each course had ponied up $10,000 to get the marketing ball rolling. The return on investment was not looking stellar.

For our first few years, we used simple, paper ‘punch cards’ to track the play… as an example, the original ’10 pack’ included 3 rounds at each course, and 1 ‘flex’ round you could play anywhere. Even with no technology, our sales grew quickly – it was evident people liked the idea of getting fair green fee rates at a variety of courses.

Our first breakthrough came in about 2004 when we found an on-line, multi-location gift card partner – Gava Systems out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. This allowed us to use a common ‘portal’ and gift card technology to link our independent businesses for tracking and accounting purposes. We introduced the slogan ‘you pick where you play’ and annual sales rose into the $500,000 range quickly. This technology is common now, but it wasn’t at the time. The only other options were to use the large credit card companies, but they would charge us a fee for every transaction. With Gava, we had a predictable, flat annual fee. This let us keep the attractive green fee rates as low as we reasonably could.

Our next big change came in 2011 – Sunset Ranch & Two Eagles brought the golf course count to five, and we also added some local driving ranges as well for additional redemption options. We re-branded ourselves Play Golf Kelowna because we gave the Golf Kelowna web domain to Tourism Kelowna.

By this time, our annual sales had grown to more than one million dollars each season. Our primary product lineup had stayed the same since we introduced the ‘you pick where you play’ access. Our 1999 original ’10 pack’ had become the Now & Again Golfer Value Card, our original ’20 pack’ has been called the Frequent Golfer Value Card, and the original ’40 pack’ has been dubbed the Addicted Golfer Value Card. Our marketing has constantly dangled the simple question – which golfer are you? Now & Again, Frequent or Addicted? We wanted to have a package to suit everyone’s golfing habits!

In 2014, we introduced a 5% price guarantee to all of our products – the goal was to give total confidence that buying a Play Golf Kelowna Value Card was the best way to buy golf in Kelowna if you were not a Member of a course. If we undercut the green fee rate you signed up for, you would get it for 5% less.

In 2017, we are introducing a product that was four years in the making. Play Golf Kelowna’s Unlimited Access Pass includes unlimited access to all five courses – with options to walk or ride. Check it out here. Gava, our tracking software partner, has evolved with us – they are now EngageApps, and they did some custom work for us to track the new Unlimited Access Pass.

If you’ve used our products over the years, we owe you a tremendous amount of thanks. We have sensed a great and loyal following of golfers through this program over the 17 seasons (so far!), and we appreciate each one of you. Will Play Golf Kelowna still be going in another 17 years? Can’t say for sure, but stay tuned, and enjoy the ride. Happy golfing.

Ian Robertson, General Manager

Play Golf Kelowna