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Advertising comes to a golf cart near you: Indiana courses channeling new revenue stream

July 31, 2006

Advertisements beamed to golf carts are showing up at Hoosier courses courtesy of an Arizona firm that's delivering a new revenue stream for courses and a wealthy demographic for advertisers.

Eleven Indiana courses, including Heartland Crossing Golf Links and Brickyard Crossing Golf Club, have purchased the system offered by ProLink Solutions LLC.

Golf carts at those courses feature a global positioning system that displays course information and advertising.

Larry Bain, ProLink president and CEO, said his company can deliver a predominantly male, college-educated audience with a six-figure income.

"What you're getting here is a very specific target, and that's what advertisers will pay for," said Bob Gustafson, a Ball State University professor of advertising.

The ads, which Bain said are tasteful and don't detract from the playing experience, take up about one-third of the screen until the cart gets near the green. Then the ads go full screen. They don't contain any video or audio elements.

"We don't want to do anything that will slow down the pace of play or distract the players," Bain said.

Players' recall of the brands advertised through the system is about 60 percent, he said, a number Gustafson called impressive for any advertisement.

Indiana has become a robust market for ProLink Solutions LLC, with one South Bend golf club pulling down $100,000 annually from advertising sales.

ProLink launched its golf cart GPS system in 1994. The 7- and 10-inch digital screen mounted in carts tells golfers how far they are from the hole, where the water and sand is, and their pace of play. It even allows golfers to order food from the club's restaurant and seek assistance from the local golf pro and staff.

The system works through a proprietary mapping program with information beamed through a series of satellites. The same system allows ProLink to beam national ads to numerous golf courses simultaneously. As golfers move around the course, they see a variety of local and national advertisements.

The advertisements were started earlier this year as a means for courses to afford the GPS system, Bain said. The system costs the average course with a fleet of 75 carts about $5,000 per month on a lease deal. ProLink, which has GPS systems installed at 600 U.S. golf courses, sells the advertising and gives courses a cut.

Officials for Citizens Bank, which has 14 locations in Johnson, Hendricks and Morgan counties, said the bank began advertising shortly after ProLink began offering advertising at Heartland Crossing in Camby.

"People who play golf tend to be more established and looking for opportunities to save and invest their money," said Kari Mann, Citizens director of marketing and business development. "It's just a terrific audience for us to be in front of. And it's very efficient."

Advertising on a single hole on a single course costs about $5,000 per year. The typical Indiana golf course will get 15,000 to 30,000 golfers coming through per year.

There are only two other U.S. companies offering a similar GPS system in golf carts, and industry observers said Pro-Link is leading the rollout of advertising.

Bain said once advertising revenue projections are more consistent and predictable, clients will get a front-end payment essentially allowing them to install the GPS system for free.

ProLink has already signed deals with Cadillac and Home Box Office along with a slew of local and regional advertisements for consumer electronics retailers, banks, auto dealers and others.

Bain said Indianapolis, along with Chicago, Cleveland and Cincinnati, are key Midwest test markets.

Tim Firestone, former general manager for the Blackthorn Golf Club in South Bend, left that post to head up ad sales for ProLink.

"The advertising component is critical for system expansion," Firestone said. "And as the system grows, it becomes a more powerful advertising tool."

With a glut of courses fighting for players and revenue, Brickyard Crossing golf pro Jeff Schroeder said the ProLink advertising program is coming at the right time. "The golf business is very tight right now, so any new revenue stream is a big plus," Schroeder said.


This ProLink GPS display for golf carts features an ad in the lower-left corner.
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