With tournament golf temporarily on hold, Rory McIlroy is finding time to focus on business off the course. The world’s top-ranked golfer is among a group of investors to infuse Golf Genius Software with millions of dollars in equity capital to help grow its tournament management software and global reach.
The Golf Genius software streamlines the process of managing golf tournaments, thus easing the burden on golf professionals and improving the golfer experience through mobile apps and live scoring. The company’s flagship product, Golf Genius TMS, is distributed in the U.S. by the USGA, which also engaged the company to build, maintain and host the new centralized handicap system in the U.S. that was launched in January. In addition, Golf Genius, which has been recognized by the National Golf Foundation as one of the top 100 businesses in the industry, provides software products to help golf professionals manage their golf shops.
McIlroy is investing in Golf Genius through his Dublin, Ireland-based Symphony Ventures, which joined private equity firm MVP Capital of Radnor, Pennsylvania, in the $5 million initial round of financing. Golf Genius was founded in 2009 by Michael Zisman, who until now has provided almost all of the capital invested in the profitable and growing company, which serves more than 9,000 golf facilities and associations in 52 countries worldwide.
“By broadening our investor base, we will accelerate our growth strategy both organically and through acquisition,” said Zisman, who has a background in enterprise software as well as building and managing successful businesses (Soft-Switch, Lotus Development Corporation and IBM IBM +2.5% among them).
McIlroy was introduced to Golf Genius through his involvement with NBC Sports’ digital platform GOLFPASS, which provides members with golf perks and discounts, including tee-time credits at over 9,000 courses. Golf Genius is similarly involved with NBC Sports, with a strategic relationship covering a number of initiatives.
“I want to help the timeless game of golf transition into the digital era,” said McIlroy. “Innovation is vital to the future of the game and Golf Genius is the market leader in competition software, making golf more fun for golfers of all ages.”
When McIlroy met Zisman in January in Dubai, he took note that it was at a facility that was using Golf Genius software.
“What’s interesting about Rory is what he’s I call, ‘born on the web.’ From the time he was 4 or 5 years old, the world wide web was there. To him, this stuff is all extremely natural,” Zisman said. “So, he’s very focused on what he calls the digitization of golf and sees Golf Genius as great example of that.
“As we look at some new product opportunities we’re getting into, being able to bounce ideas off of him and getting some candid advice will be very, very helpful.”
Zisman and MVP Capital’s managing partner, Bob Brown, have been friends for almost 50 years and share a hometown connection in the suburbs of Northwest Philadelphia as well as a shared love for golf. The two met at Wharton Business School in Philadelphia in 1972, when Brown was an MBA student and Zisman was a manager in the data-processing department.
In addition to two previous investments within the golf industry, this is the second time Brown has thrown financing support behind a company founded by Zisman, having invested in Soft-Switch in the early 1980s. Zisman’s first company, Soft-Switch developed software that allowed different email systems to communicate, helping to accelerate the widespread adoption of email.
While Zisman played golf in his youth, he didn’t start playing again until around 1988, with Brown getting him back into the game and getting him a lesson. Brown later sponsored Zisman’s membership at Merion Golf Club.
“We view Golf Genius Software as a proven innovator, with a strong management team and an exciting vision,” said Brown. “Mike has a passion for golf and a proven talent for leading fast-growing companies, which makes this an exceptionally attractive investment opportunity. We’re delighted to partner with the Golf Genius team and Rory McIlroy to enrich and grow the game we all love, at a time when we need it most.”
When the coronavirus pandemic really hit the U.S. in March and more than half of golf courses nationwide weren’t open for play, Zisman said he didn’t expect to see much business until things settled down. What he discovered was the opposite.
“We’ve had great success in the past couple of months in signing up new customers. Why? Because they’re all focused on contact-less golf, and the key thing in contact-less golf is live scoring,” Zisman said. “We had lots of customers using our products for live scoring, so that means you don’t need the scorecard. This is going to be a huge acceleration of that.”
Even at a traditional club like Merion, members use an online app for tee times and, more recently, for restaurant reservations.
“I can’t imagine a world where you have to call the golf shop and get a tee time,” said Zisman. “When I joined Merion, that’s what you did. Now you just log in and do it. People would never want to go back to the old way of doing things. They’re doing the same thing with dining reservations. And now we’re seeing the same thing with running tournaments with live scoring and things like that.
“Hopefully we’re going to get to a day in the next year or so where you’re not afraid to touch the flagstick, where you’re not afraid to be in an outing with people you don’t know,” said Zisman. “But until that time, lots of people are building tools to make contact-less golf a reality.”