"We snuck on the golf course at Pebble Beach in 2000... I’ve got media credentials this year. The USGA has been great. We cover all the amateur events, and they appreciate that.”
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Carlsbad, Calif. (PRWEB) May 18, 2010
Web years are more like dog years when it comes to lifespan; few make it to double digits. So don’t be surprised to see amateurgolf.com founder Pete Wlodkowski howling at the June moon over Pebble Beach at the U.S. Open, the official 10th birthday of his profitable golf news, tournament and membership portal for avid amateur players.
Wlodkowski and amateurgolf.com have announced plans for a very public celebration throughout the month of June, with giveaways, special offers and the introduction of new features and content. These may be accessed by registering at the site, and also by becoming a fan of amateurgolf.com’s Facebook page. Any of amateurgolf.com’s Facebook likers who posts a picture wearing one of the company’s very first giveaways – an amateurgolf.com cap most likely distributed from an SUV parked at the Pebble Beach Golf Links during the 2000 Open – will receive a replacement cap from Wlodkowski.
Ten years later, Wlodkowski is understandably a little bit sentimental about those hats, though they represented just a small piece of the $250,000 he invested to lift amateurgolf.com off the ground in a turbulent year for dot-coms.
“I would change a lot of things, but not those hats,” said Wlodkowski (pronounced laud-COW-ski). “And not the $50,000 it cost to have the site designed, by a company I’m still working with (Media Bits). In those days, I was given outrageous quotes for the web site – one of them $1 million!
“I haven’t had a $1 million revenue year yet. But the great thing is that I’ve been a home-based, virtual entrepreneur. If you asked me, ‘Pete, how many jobs would you have had in the last 10 years,’ I’d say I’d have had three jobs, minimum, and I’d have had a period of trepidation with unemployment. Instead, my 9-year-old son, Lawson, thinks we’re huge.”
Before Lawson came along, there was indeed a huge plan for amateurgolf.com. Wlodkowski had collected a small windfall from stock options in Inktomi, where he was a regional sales manager. (Inktomi was acquired in 2003 by Yahoo.) He put a down payment on a house, paid off some bills and started looking for business ideas that mixed golf with the internet.
Like, for instance, online tee times.
“I approached a friend who founded Ticketweb (the first online seller of concert tickets), and he hired me to explore the idea for that company. That didn’t go anywhere. But while I was there I started searching for domain names. I would have liked to have had golf.com. My second choice was amateurgolf.com – and when I saw it had just expired and become available, I registered immediately. I didn’t even have my wallet with me, I drove home two or three miles away and drove back and was able to register it before it got away. It was still on my screen. No auction, markup or red tape – I think I paid about $70 that day.”
A Sneaky Beginning
Then, what to do with the domain name? In January 2000, Wlodkowski started working on an informational web site for top and single-digit-handicap amateur players, telling them about upcoming tournaments through a comprehensive database and then reporting on results. The soft launch was ready by spring for the venerable San Francisco City Championship and Alameda (Calif.) Commuters tournaments; by the time Tiger Woods launched his assault on the U.S. Open record books in June, the game was on.
“We snuck on the golf course at Pebble Beach,” Wlodkowski said, chuckling. “We had an SUV with big ‘amateurgolf.com’ decals parked between the 15th and 16th holes, where (Sun Microsystems co-founder) Scott McNealy had a house. We gave a hat to anyone who gave us an email address – those were the days when people still gave a real address – but I didn’t really have access to the tournament.”
Wlodkowski’s big plan was to start strong and fast with a staff, and catch a quick million or two from investors – the common strategy of the day. “April of 2000 changed everything, when it became exponentially harder to raise that money,” he said. “So the ‘plan’ changed to a company that would need to grow organically without wasting the money spent already. We needed to find some quick revenue streams and run a few tournaments, as well as offer web and media services for other tournaments.
“I’m convinced if we had gotten two or three million from outside investors, we wouldn’t be in business today. It was the best thing that never happened. The big crash of April 2000 throttled me back.”
Tournaments take off
Amateurgolf.com introduced its tournament series in 2001, with 120 players signing up for the Monterey Bay Championship at Bayonet Black Horse on the Monterey Peninsula. Wlodkowski was elated. “The site was going, I picked a good weekend and a top-rated course with no established annual amateur event, and the General Manager, Joe Priddy, gave me a reasonable rate. I followed the formula that Casey Boyns (Pebble Beach caddie and top amateur player) used for the Christmas Classic: He gave camaraderie as much importance as the score. He had a scratch and net division, and I added senior to every event, for 50 and over, to allow more people to participate.”
Today, the amateurgolf.com Tournament Series includes 15 Northern California events and another in Southern California that are all part of their regional associations’ player points systems. Boyns passed the baton on the Christmas Classic to amateurgolf.com over five years ago, and that event is now the top draw, with as many as 200 players each December at Del Monte and Pacific Grove Golf Links on the Monterey Peninsula. While it is now officially the “amateurgolf.com Christmas Classic,” longtime players still refer to it as “Casey’s.”
Another revenue component developed in 2005, when amateurgolf.com redesigned the site and sought paid members. Deep breath, big change: That’ll be $45 please, to access the tournament database and results/rankings details or to create a resume, with 16 complimentary issues of Golfweek on the way.
“It took five years just to believe that it wouldn’t make our traffic go to zero,” Wlodkowski said. “The first month, we had 250 members pay. I actually had people email me to say, ‘You should have done this a long time ago.’ “
Today, the membership numbers about 5,000 at $45 a year, with a steady flow of 125 to 175 new signups every month. There’s an email list of 15,000, and traffic, Wlodkowski said, continues to run at about 500,000 page views in summer months, with 40,000 to 60,000 unique visitors. “There’s still a lot you can surf on the site for free,” he said. “We’re more like a portal and less like a magazine.”
Sponsors like the avid golfer
As for the longstanding, original revenue component, sponsorship, Wlodkowski notes, “The lineup has changed a lot over the years.” Tough economies haven’t helped; what has, however, is amateurgolf.com’s demographic of avid golfers playing at least 100 rounds a year. Titleist bowed out in 2009 due to budget restrictions yet returned in 2010 – and Wlodkowski said, “They let us know that our target market had everything to do with why they returned.”
Lamkin and True Temper are also primary sponsors for 2010; Golfweek is a partner publication, and additional sponsors include Hot Stix Golf, SKLZ, Amino Vital, Prize Possessions, 1st Tee/10th Tee Energy Bars and Ocean Honda. All of these sponsors appeal to amateurgolf.com’s core/avid/tournament golfer demographic.
“One of the things we’re able to do for sponsors is compile data from our membership profiles,” Wlodkowski said, noting that member profiles generally include a rundown of what’s in the player’s bag. “We’ve only begun to tap the potential of that.”
Amateurgolf.com’s most profitable year – with sponsorships, memberships and tournaments thriving – was 2008. Then the “great recession” began to knock amateurgolf.com off the fairway.
“Tournament revenue slipped the most – players couldn’t take time away from jobs, even if they were the boss, when there were layoffs,” he said. “And ad revenue, that was the surprising. I got a little blindsided in 2009, but, still, no debt. And by the end of 2009, new mid-tier sponsors, like Hot Stix Golf, SKLZ, and Amino Vital were finding us. 2010 is looking really good.”
Golfweek Magazine and amateurgolf.com are in their second year of a partnership that began in February of 2009; the two organizations have joined forces on the “Golfweek/amateurgolf.com Men’s World Amateur Rankings,” for which amateurgolf.com compiles the data. The international nature of the rankings combined with the internet brought amateurgolf.com members from all over the world.
In March 2009, amateurgolf.com added a selection of blogs: the first by noted sports psychologist Dr. Glen Albaugh; another by putting and short game instructor Pat O’Brien; and most recently a player’s perspective with longtime San Francisco amateur standout Randy Haag.
There's more to do
Even during the 2009 economic slowdown, memberships continued to grow. “Pete’s site is unique,” said Steve White, a plus-1 handicapper from Jackson, Wyo. “He seems to be the only outlet for comprehensive amateur golf coverage. There’s a lot to cover.”
Over the years, amateurgolf.com has dispersed information and results from thousands of tournaments around the world. Wlodkowski’s team of five includes a tournament coordinator, handicap administrator, content editor and rankings guru, but his own golf game slips as he struggles to find time to play with fellow men’s club members at Torrey Pines and at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, where he has maintained his out-of-town membership. A plus-1 in 2000, now he’s in the 3.5 vicinity: “I’m not just out to play golf every day,” he said. “I know how to maintain a decent golf game, but my goal is to build and accelerate this business. I’m looking for the opportunity to spread amateurgolf.com nationally and internationally. I’m looking for key leaders, maybe to do franchises or supplement their income, take over Texas or Florida (his top markets after California).
“Of 25 million golfers, 5 million have a handicap. Our target is probably 1 million of those.”
His big hope is that one in a million shoots low at the U.S. Open this year. Because he won’t be sneaking onto the course this time.
“I’ve got media credentials this year,” he said with a grin. “The USGA has been great. We cover all the amateur events, and they appreciate that.”
Judging from the resilience of 10-year-old amateurgolf.com, still swinging for the greens as a virtual geezer, the USGA is not alone.
Pete Wlodkowski, 48, captained the golf team at Middlebury College (Div. III) in Vermont and graduated in 1984 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. He then embarked on a successful career in sales and marketing that took him to California and allowed him to pursue his dream of establishing his own business blending golf and technology. He founded amateurgolf.com in 2000 to centralize news and events for top amateur golfers. The enterprise grew in 2001 to include amateurgolf.com’s own tournament series, including the Two Man Links Championship each spring at Oregon’s famed Bandon Dunes. Gradually, the web site developed layers that could be accessed only by amateurgolf.com Premium Members, and a partnership with Golfweek was formed in 2009 to provide the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com Men’s World Amateur Rankings for the magazine and its web site. Wlodkowski lives in Carlsbad, Calif., with his wife, Lee Ann, and their son, Lawson.
Media interested in exploring all of the features of amateurgolf.com are invited to request a complimentary membership by going to amateurgolf.com/trialoffer and using offer code 'media'.
Phone number: 510.507.3249