Retiring and spending your time playing some of the best courses in the world sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? Certainly Manish Goel thought so when he decided it was time to end the 9-5 rat-race and spend more time on the golf course.
But he found there was one problem with this plan – in the US it’s pretty hard to get access to many of the greatest courses. Manish explains, ‘I immediately went to the "lists", and to my dismay, realized that most of the courses were private and my personal network didn't extend to them. As I dug into the path of playing these clubs I felt that all the options were either unattractive, expensive, or required inordinate effort’.
For those of us in the rest of the world this is a problem we rarely face. Of the 43 world's top-100 courses that are in the US, 33 are not open to visitor play. Of the 60 courses in the rest of the world, only 7 are impossible to play without a member.
Manish wasn’t to be deterred though, and Thousand Greens was born. The idea is disarmingly simple – create a community of golfers who are members at private clubs and willing to invite others to play with them, offering a way in to clubs that may otherwise be impossible to access.
The kernel of the idea came from Manish’s own experience. He says, ‘As a member at a northern Californian private golf club I had occasionally hosted referrals through friends or colleagues and had never had a bad experience. Golfers who belong to similar style clubs, and are willing to travel and play with other people, tend to share a certain easy-going nature, and a pleasant personality’.
The last few years have shown that people are willing to let strangers into their homes through AirBnB or jump into a strangers' cars with Uber, but would they be willing to have someone join them for a round of golf at their club?!
The answer is an emphatic yes. Manish has been delighted with the uptake, ‘I initially harassed all my golfing buddies to join. The idea has continued to spread through word of mouth, and we just crossed the 1,000 member milestone. We have 1070 members from 750 clubs from 15 countries around the world in the network, and are adding 1-2 new members a day.’
When you register on the site, your club is tiered according to its ranking. You are given three credits when you join and you earn a credit when you host someone and spend one when you are a guest.
Ranking the courses is probably the most difficult part of the experience to manage, but it is important. Manish explains, ‘There is the inherent asymmetry of desirability and demand. We needed to ensure that the members from the highly desirable clubs did not get inundated and get scared off'. In order to manage that, the rules state that you can only ask for a game at a course of the same or lower ranking to your own, unless the host has opened invites to all.
Manish is also keen to point out that this needs to work for the clubs as well and not be perceived by them as a threat. ‘The model needed to fit within the country club culture and ethos, and hence was designed strictly as an introduction mechanism without any commercial benefit to me, the host or the guest - just two golfers from similarly attractive clubs getting introduced to each other and agreeing to play together.’
It seems to be working. About 1 in 3 requests are being matched and 1 or 2 games are taking place every day with new connections being made all the time.
The standard of courses on the site is very high, with many of the world’s top 100 courses represented. Remember those 33 courses in the USA you couldn't play unless you were with a member? Well 19 of them have members on the Thousand Greens network.
However, it is not just for the uber-high end. Even if you don’t have access, through your status, to one of the very top courses, it's a great way to meet new people when you are travelling anywhere in the world and fancy a game. Even if the course you want to play is one you could play as a visitor, playing with a member brings a new perspective to a course, and normally a cheaper green fee too!
I have been a member of Thousand Greens for a few months and have hosted 3 people at my club now. One of the great side benefits is that I now have connections at three great courses - Mid-Ocean, Walton Heath and Woodhall Spa - and look forward to visiting them for a return match at some time. It’s a great way to make new friends and build new golfing relationships.
Manish is quite rightly delighted with the progress to date, ‘This has exceeded my wildest expectations. It started as a crazy idea over a glass of wine, and now we have a 1000+ strong community of like-minded golfers who are all exchanging rounds and building friendships.The spirit of camaraderie that exists in this community is such a special vibe. In a zen like way, it makes my world a happier place. I feel fortunate’.
It really is a great initiative and I would encourage you to consider signing up at www.thousandgreens.com. Manish may not have got the quiet retirement he was looking for, but the service he is providing to the golfers of the world through Thousand Greens is very welcome!