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November 2021

Technological Disruption at Core of McConnell Golf Growth


By Scott Kauffman

John McConnell knows a thing or two about the value of integrating innovative technology solutions as well as anybody in the golf business.

At least that’s one way to describe the chief executive officer/founder of McConnell Golf, who made a fortune disrupting the healthcare technology landscape not only once, but twice in his 40-year entrepreneurial career. The first time McConnell proved to be a technology titan was 1982, when he helped develop Medic Computer Systems Inc., an information management software company that he took public 10 years later in 1997 and sold for $922.8 million.

Then, after being named Chairman/CEO of A4 Health Systems, another Raleigh-based tech company that provided electronic medical record solutions, McConnell sold that private company in 2006 for another $272 million. After acquiring his historic hometown Donald Ross-designed Raleigh Country Club out of bankruptcy in 2003, McConnell’s golden touch quickly translated to golf.

Indeed, what began merely as a preservation effort to save Ross’s  final course design from extinction has turned into a Southeast empire, with McConnell Golf now controlling 15 private club properties in Tennessee and the Carolinas, including Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro that annually plays host to the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship.

And to be sure, the cornerstone of McConnell Golf’s impressive rise as the largest owner of private courses in the Southeast is a longstanding belief in adopting cutting-edge technology tools and information systems. In fact, McConnell, 71, says one of the first strategic decisions his Raleigh-based company made when it got knee deep in the golf business was acquiring club management software company ClubSoft North America.

McConnell not only saw significant value in integrating ClubSoft within his own upstart golf club network, but huge growth potential in offering this advanced technology to the rest of the private club market.  The glaring opportunity McConnell quickly recognized in golf clubs was in many respects the same thing that helped him make a fortune in healthcare: the common practice of having disparate non-integrated software systems that ultimately create more inefficiencies and costs.

“I thought at the time healthcare was somewhat backwards; then I realized country clubs were in the stone age compared to using technology,” recalls McConnell, who was inducted into the North Carolina Entrepreneur Hall of Fame in 2017. “I think probably what we were innovators in and learned in healthcare was we integrated all of our products. We may have built some; we may have bought some, but the bottom line is we provided a totally seamless integrated product.”

So the acquisition of ClubSoft, which mastered the “back-office parts” of the business from accounting to point-of-sales to tee times, was further developed for a few years before McConnell merged it with Club Essential that “brought the marketing side/website design piece” to the system,” he says.

After naturally integrating the two systems and marketing them together as Club Essential for a couple of years, McConnell flipped his first golf technology company to a private equity firm about five years ago for an undisclosed sum because “we felt like they had other products they could hold onto and it would be even better for a part of the industry to have an even bigger player.”

To this day, McConnell Golf is still using the Club Essential platform, saying he’s one of their primary customers. McConnell’s company also is a big proponent of e-commerce and doing everything it can to make club life as simple and easy as possible.

“We get a lot of input on their future development because we think, with all of these clubs, we now have our background and can offer value to their technical staff and try to keep them abreast of where these products are evolving,” McConnell adds.

To this day, McConnell marvels at how inefficient the private club business world seemed to be from a technological standpoint.

“In the country club side (of golf) you had guys that had the back-office stuff,” McConnell says, “Or you had people selling tee times and then someone else maybe selling (F&B) systems, but none of that stuff was automated or integrated. What seemed to amaze me was some of these very successful clubs we’d go see and they’d let the pro buy his tee-time system. And they’d let the banquet manager buy their product and then you’d sit back and go well, they don’t talk to each other.  And why’s this a good idea?

“So you’d run into a typical club and they had plenty of spreadsheets but none of the data was talking to the other so that was the thing we focused on (with McConnell Golf and ClubSoft). And because we owned the products, we could develop a much more unified integrated solution and that certainly helped us as we moved out and bought more clubs because you know you can’t have enough spreadsheets. I mean we own 14 clubs today so I can’t imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have the total product that talked to everything.”



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November 2021 Issue


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