By Peter Finch
Orlando -- How'd you like to play golf for 10-15 percent of the usual green fee? That's the pitch from Bid4Golf.com, a new website founded by David Robinson, a former club manager from Canada.
The catch -- or maybe a big part of the appeal, depending on your personality -- is that you'll have to participate in a "penny auction" to buy it. Penny auctions were popularized by the website quibids.com, where people purchase electronics and other items in lively, rapid-fire auctions. Each bid increases by a penny. Unlike eBay, where bidding costs you nothing unless you win the item, in a penny auction you pay anywhere from 50 to 75 cents per bid.
The launch date for Bid4Golf.com is March 1. Robinson aims to start with daily fee courses in Phoenix, Southern California's Inland Empire, Dallas/Fort Worth and possibly Calgary and Edmonton.
The appeal to courses, as Robinson tells it, is that they get help filling their tee sheets at their full green-fee rate. Here's how it works:
1. Bid4Golf approaches a course and buys tee-time vouchers at full price. 2. The site auctions the vouchers online. 3. Bidding starts at a penny and quickly escalates, rising by a penny each time. 4. Bidding ends, culminating with a countdown clock that adds to the excitement. 5. Though the green fee may sell for a fraction of its market value (typically quibids.com items sell for 80-95 percent off), Bid4Golf has made money on each bid -- so it ought to come out ahead. 6. Even if bidding is light and Bid4Golf doesn't make a profit, the golf course does OK because it gets the full green fee from Robinson.
The key thing, from Robinson's perspective, is to get a lot of bidding -- since each increase costs the bidder 50 to 75 cents, depending on how many bids they have pre-purchased. Robinson estimates he'll lose money on about half the auctions, break even on 10 percent, and come out ahead on the remaining 40 percent. And that, he says, ought to be good enough to make it a going concern.
What about people who make a bunch of bids and don't win the auction? Aren't they out the 50 to 75 cents they spent on each bid? Bid4Golf will let them apply that money as a credit toward purchasing a full-price green fee.