Standard deviation is a statistical measurement rarely utilised within sport’s often one-dimensional world. The process of say, dividing a deviation of a score from the mean by its standard deviation, a simple procedure known as the transformation to z scores, is generally as alien to sport as an incorruptible politician is to Westminster.
Admittedly, statistics are an integral part of sport’s enjoyment, but the numbers with which we become most familiar are absolutes, be they scrums won, runs scored, corners taken or circuits completed.
A fortnight ago, however, two enterprising young men launched a sports-related business which is underpinned by a measurement of standard deviation.
Fabio Peral and Antonio Conde realised that by applying a straightforward statistical method to the inevitably subjective process of rating golf courses and golf travel packages, they could effectively eliminate bias and rank the golf industry more effectively and objectively. And so, on June 7, Golfboo.com was born.
Ask the likeable Peral how the business name came about and he initially suggests it was because “it sounded young, fresh and funky.” While this might be accurate, there is also a more commercially astute reason.
“When you start typing ‘golf booking’ into a search engine like Google,” he continues, “once you’ve hit the first seven letters, our name comes up at the top of the list and people can click on it without having to finish typing the rest of the word.”
Such linguistic logic could prove a master stroke for a company that has designs on becoming “the golfing equivalent of Trip Advisor”.
In the space of less than a fortnight, the new website is already attracting upwards of 600 visitors a day from across Europe: mostly golfers from Germany, France, the UK and Scandinavia interested in searching out the best offers at a specific club or for a short stay.
The ebullient Perel, the company’s commercial director, describes himself as the organisation’s “front of house” man, while Conde is the software brains. The pair were friends working for different companies in Spain when they came up with their idea. “Specific search engines for hotels and airlines already existed, so we thought, ‘why can’t we do something similar for the golf industry?’”
The two were soon submitting their plans to spreadsheets, constantly fine-tuning the idea to ensure that when visiting their website, golfers could rate courses or golf packages, add photographs and generally enjoy an interactive, club-style experience.
To get their business off the ground and have it properly funded as it grew, the duo approached several prospective investors. “The response was generally very encouraging,” recalls Perel, “and ultimately, we sold a large chunk of equity in return for an initial investment of €300,000.
“All of our programming work was completed in-house,” he says, adding, with a clear sense of pride in his voice that, “we now have four really great programmers on-board.”
While an initial injection of £260,000 provides the enterprise with working capital, the ongoing Golfboo.com business model is based on what might be called a regular internet ‘pay-per-click’ arrangement.
Initially, the company is allowing tour operators and golf courses to list on the Golfboo.com site for free. This gives them an opportunity to test the water, as well as the calibre of responses, before they’re asked for 30 cents each time a would-be buyer of golf travel clicks through to their own website.
As Perel points out, such an arrangement means that, “a golf course or tour operator can have 3,333 prospective buyers directed to their site at a cost of just €1,000.” He enjoys the enviable knack of making it all sound such great value.
There was a time, less than a decade ago, when ‘golf travel’ consisted of little more than a group of guys arranging their annual tour to a venue where access to alcohol was just as important as access to the greens.
Arranging such travel was usually the reluctant responsibility of the person who won the previous year’s tour competition.
Nowadays, golf travel companies can do everything for the tour party and, as margins have been squeezed, tend to charge less than if the tour had been organised by one of the party’s own.
But entry barriers to the market were almost non-existent; anyone could set up as a golf tour consultant (and many did), which ensured that the golf travel industry underwent a spell of consolidation as profit margins narrowed despite sale volumes increasing.
It was notable too that golf clubs that had shed members were making more attractive tee times available to visitors in order to boost revenues, a development which also affected operators’ profit margins.
Earlier this year, however, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) revealed that global golf holiday sales grew by an average of 9.3 per cent in 2012 when measured against (comparatively depressed) activity during the previous year.
The body’s Annual Golf Tourism Report found that IAGTO operators handled travel arrangements for more than 1.6 million golfers in 2012 as the aggregate value of golf holiday sales exceeded $2 billion.
Growth across Europe (the location of almost 60 per cent of IAGTO members) was 9.4 per cent, fractionally above the global average of 9.3 per cent.
Growth in north American sales was a staggering 13.5 per cent, while tour operators in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa reported average sales growth in excess of 20 per cent for the same period.
One of the undoubted beneficiaries of this growth has been Yourgolftravel.com, the company that recently recruited Darren Clarke as an ‘ambassador’.
In the space of just eight years, the company has become Europe’s largest golf travel company and now boasts a client base in excess of 400,000.
It’s turnover which, in 2005, was £350,000, broke the £50 million barrier last year as it acquired five different companies and signed a joint venture deal with the ubiquitous online tour operator, lastminute.com.
Not surprisingly, Spain remains the destination of choice for northern European golfers according to Fabio Perel; the country provides an enviable combination of sunshine and cheap golf.
He says his company plans to eventually expand into the north American market where there are an estimated 16,000 golf courses (Europe has around 7,000). And five years down the line?, I ask.
“Hopefully we’ll sell it to Google. Or Trip Advisor,” he replies. Two organisations which, ironically, would require little in the way of education regarding standard deviation.