Bodo Sieber is the CEO of golf course optimization and pace of play management system Tagmarshal. An experienced solutions architect for software systems, he has been recognized for innovation in golf and has spoken at Golf Business Tech Con, as well as being quoted in Forbes, Golf Digest, USA Today, Compleat Golfer and PGA Magazine among others.
Before focusing on golf, the German national and former rugby player was a successful start-up founder focusing on business intelligence, GIS and process optimization for international logistics and cellphone network operators with extensive international experience spanning over a decade across Ireland, Germany, South Africa and the USA.
With Tagmarshal, Bodo and his team have been bringing extensive data and geomatics experience into golf operations for five years. The company’s focus is on creating the best possible way to manage the on-course experience and flow of golf for improved player satisfaction and increased profitability. The concept behind what is now a ‘golf course intelligence’ data platform, perhaps unsurprisingly started on a 15th hole that had three playing groups backed up, at the end of a long, frustrating round of golf.
Having collected over 1 billion data-points, by tracking over 8 million rounds of golf, Tagmarshal adds value to 8 of the top 10 US Public courses, a number of US and international top 100 private clubs with rapid adoption in the mid tier of the market.
Bodo is 40 years old, married to Amanda, a film director and a father of two young boys.
THE SIEBER STORY —
How I got into golf was as follows: My now business partners played a Saturday round and were stuck on the 15th hole with three other groups – on a beautiful day, on a well-conditioned golf course, playing with good friends. Blood pressures were on the rise, their round was going on 5 hours, with continued waits, scores dropping alongside their play rhythm and they called the club to send a Marshal who was ‘probably on the other 9, or at lunch’. Sound familiar?
In charge of a software engineering business, was then contacted as the resident geek. Could we not think up a system to do on-course golf management better with technology and save everyone’s love for the game. As a golfer, I have barely graduated from TopGolf and my team loves to tease me about this. I am in many ways a personified challenge to the golf industry, married to a talented wife, building a business and raising two kids – in short, strapped for time. The value I bring to the industry is that of an outsider who can see processes and operations differently and apply learnings and experience from industries that are relatively advanced into what is a traditional space.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
I am a builder — driven to build solutions that solve problems and have a significant and continuous impact on how people work and succeed. Software systems with sound efficiencies and data at their core are a fantastic, scalable way to positively impact millions of rounds of golf and millions of people. I am also grateful to be touching on, and working with positive, talented, quality people every day. Helping and watching them grow as part of our journey is highly rewarding.
What was the genesis for Tagmarshal?
The concept behind what is now a ‘golf course intelligence’ data platform, perhaps unsurprisingly started on a 15th hole that had three playing groups backed up, at the end of a long, frustrating round of golf. The company’s focus is on creating the best possible way to manage the on-course experience and flow of golf for improved player satisfaction and increased profitability.
How long from original concept to actual prototype?
Myself, our head engineer Thomas Davies and our team had the advantage of extensive experience in the GIS, data visualization and telematics space. So we were able to go from concept to minimal viable product in the space of less than a year – including multiple iterations and many, many hours of testing of course. We introduced the system at the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show and shortly after that at Erin Hills (US Open 2017 site) signed with us.
In what specific ways does Tagmarshal outperform your competition?
Tagmarshal is a data platform first and foremost and we are the firm authority when it comes to on-course optimization. Our key competitive advantage is the data-power our system unlocks for the operators, and the optimization this brings – to service levels, efficiencies and revenue opportunities. For the clubs to measure, benchmark and improve with an easy to use system that keeps getting smarter, is a true game changer. We also pride ourselves in our service and that we stay close to the market. We work closely with 25 of the top 100 US and 250 other leading clubs globally, so our system and strategies are very much informed by the best operators in the industry. It is a brag list of top clubs we are very grateful for.
What’s the best example — from a club that’s private and one public — in terms of overall cost savings derived specifically from usage of Tagmarshal?
The revenue and savings benefits of data empowered on-course management are material. They range from savings – doing more with less labor, via tee sheet optimization, improved loyalty and repeat play revenue, freed up time and dollars spent in F&B, all the way to maintenance savings. Mike o’Reilly, the Head Golf Pro at 2020 Ryder Cup hosts Whistling Straits says it very well “Our goal is to improve the experience for our guests while maximizing our revenue potential and Tagmarshal has helped us to do both.” – Erin Hills for instance booked $140 000 in additional green fee revenue based on Tagmarshal optimization last season, that excludes the considerable resort revenue from the additional feet.
The private club space has been our fastest growing segment, here the player experience is the number one priority. Good clubs use our system to stay far ahead of the competition and happy members make for improved retention and positive member growth, especially in the time sensitive younger player segment. If a member is worth $12000 a season and a club gains five and does not churn three, that is a bankable $100k budget swing – it is amazing how pace of play is such a highly charged, emotional element of golf and to daily see the management risk and opportunity it holds.
Time spent on a golf course is a key factor for both players and facilities. How does Tagmarshal prompt players to pick up their pace specifically — and how does that translate into reticent clubs actually taking proactive action in identifying the tortoise-like players?
According to Professors Brey and Schoonover’s extensive “Defining the Player Experience” — research presented at the 2019 USGA Golf Innovation Symposium, the most polar – absolute delighted vs extremely unhappy – experience factors in golf, are pace of play and marshall related. It is something golf needs to do much better, if it is to improve retention and attract new players. The time it takes to play, is a big risk to participation.
Tagmarshal’s system gets fed positional data of playing groups by unobtrusive tags or interactive 2Way screen units. The technology materially improves the course flow, both with advanced live data oversight that allows for automated or personal non-confrontational assistance to players who are out of position and, of course, via smart reporting and analytics insights for continuous improvement.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally – what would it be and why?
It is not what I would do, it is what golf needs to do. The traditional marshal and ranger role needs to change. It is the single most negative experience factor in the game. It needs to be turned on its head, away from the legacy, confrontational, policing function by a person that is often not service minded – a role that players hate due to it being based on opinion and limited facts. Here a system like ours can empower positive on-course interactions that players love and the efficiencies it brings speeds up the game and has a material revenue effect on clubs.
Pebble Beach’s pace guidelines stipulate: our team can “identify issues as they develop. As a result, our player assistants are now able to dedicate nearly all of their time to helping, rather than identifying, the groups in need.” An experience enhancer, that allows not only for measurable results and a positive business impact, but management in a non-confrontational, professional way that works and that players truly appreciate.
The major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA Tour, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract new players — specifically from Millennials, women and minorities. If you were counseling them what would you advise they be doing to achieve their objective?
The research is overwhelming in that the industry has an obligation to use flow, time of play and the general on-course experience as a key strategy to delight players and create loyalty, repeat play and optimize revenue opportunities. Golf needs to evolve further. Its willingness to do so will determine its future.
While tradition is part of the undoubted character and charm of the game, golf has shown that it can adopt change successfully. We are in fact working with some of the most traditional clubs on the planet. The stakeholders who shape the game of tomorrow are the players of the future, the girls and boys born in 2005, 2015, 2025. They demand flexibility, fun, high service-delivery levels, accessibility, inclusiveness and for the game to fit with their available spend budgets and , most importantly, time budgets. The future of golf delights its players when it is quicker, mindful of time and a high value experience.
What’s the biggest challenge facing Tagmarshal — short and long term?
We have been growing at 100% or more, year on year, since 2015 and the measurable results our customers achieve, keep building exciting momentum for us. Growth is also a challenge, as operations and service levels need to be scaled in line with demand, so we are expanding our global structures, operational backbone and investing in learning management systems for instance. Our key opportunity is to use the data learnings and power, from millions of rounds of golf tracked, and take them into the future. Overall any business success gets measured on one thing: successful customers that confidently refer their peers. This is always key to our strategies and priorities.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
I could easily quote a few important people in my life, I am very grateful to and some might even be genuinely flattered. However, one of my key teachers has been the game of rugby.
Rugby, they say does not build character, it reveals character. It has been hugely influential in my life and has taught me lessons and values of respect, discipline, teamwork, grit, determination, trust, good basics, hard work, humility, integrity, patience and leadership.
I also learnt there will be no results, greatness or championships without a clear, common goal and purpose. Plus, and I’m just going to leave this here – to create something truly special, it helps to always believe in magic — you should try it.
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