Putting 'Big Data' to work for golfers
A climate scientist has created Sensible Weather, a company that will reimburse golfers for bad weather during their rounds – even before it starts raining.
Dr. Nick Cavanaugh, CEO and founder of Sensible Weather of Santa Monica, California, has, in effect, created technology that takes on the risk of inclement weather events and relieves golf courses of the burden of issuing rain checks.
Since its founding in 2019, the company has worked with theme parks, ski resorts, hotels and campgrounds to offer similar inclement-weather guarantees, its founder said.
The PGA of America partnered with Sensible Weather several weeks before the 2023 PGA Show in Orlando was held in late January. The partnership plans to gradually roll out the insurance program to PGA-affiliated golf courses in the near future, the PGA said.
The idea behind the company’s business model is straightforward: A golfer booking a tee time online through a golf course website or a third-party platform such as EZLinks or Golf Now is offered a chance to protect that tee time against the chance of inclement weather by buying a weather guarantee for a 10 percent added charge.
“The concept is, we process an awful lot of data on the back end to understand the chances of your particular tee time getting rained out, so we can build a policy and capture those odds in real time,” Cavanaugh told Alabama Golf News in an interview at the 2023 PGA Show.
“You’ve gone to Pebble Beach and you’re looking forward to it for six months and we know you’re there on that particular day for a particular tee time, and if it’s raining, we can say, hey, you have this policy and we’d like to refund your greens fee,” Cavanaugh said.
“You can continue to play, as long as the course is not closed,” he said. You can takew the refund and go home or “you take the refund and can play in the rain,” he said. After all, you’ve waited six months, so while the experience won’t what it might have been, the refund takes some of the sting out of the experience, Cavanaugh said.
Sensible Weather: Refunds before the skies open up
Refunds can be offered even before it starts raining if the forecast shows enough rain is coming to turn your day on the course into an unpleasant one, Cavanaugh said.
“When you have this moment, it’s a negative experience, not what we’re looking for, so can we make that negative experience a positive one by offering some sort of refund,” he said.
More on how much rain is too much rain in a moment, but the same sort of guarantee can be offered a golfer booking a tee time in Palm Springs, for example, with a refund should the forecast show it will be too hot – say, more than 100 degrees, Cavanaugh said.
The win-win implicit in the contract is that if inclement weather is forecast even before your Pebble Beach Golf Links or Palm Springs tee time, you’ll get a refund plus the option play in the rain or the heat, if you choose.
In the case of Pebble Beach, where a stay at a Pebble Beach lodging property is required to get a tee time, the weather guarantee could be limited just to the value of the tee time or it could include some fraction of the cost of the hotel stay, Cavanaugh said. The bottom-line goal of the insurance program is to structure the refund policy so the consumer goes away happy and will come back, he said.
How Sensible Weather defines ‘inclement weather’
What constitutes an inclement weather event varies based on the local climate.
A tee time in Scotland or Ireland, where it rains a lot, might not qualify for a rainout refund if the forecast calls for two hours of rain in the four-hour window of your round; but that same forecast of two hours of rain might trigger a refund in a place like Arizona, where that much rain isn’t as common.
Cavanaugh conceded that while weather forecasting is getting more accurate and more granular, forecasts are a little sketchier in mountainous and some coastal areas. Fog is especially hard to forecast, he said.
The data behind Sensible Weather Guarantee
As to how Sensible Weather decided on a 10 percent surcharge, “Ten percent is where we can structure our coverage so we can provide a compelling proposition to the consumer,” Cavanaugh said. That amount is less than the cost of traditional trip insurance. Refund policies could be pegged to a higher percentage cost if they involve more variables.
Underpinning the Sensible Weather business model is a massive database of historical weather data and daily and hourly forecasts contained in easily accessible sources, which is an enormous amount of information – petabytes of data.
How much data is that? A petabyte is 1,024 terabytes, which is 1,048,576 gigabytes. That kind of computing in real time has to happen in the cloud using Amazon World Services servers, Cavanaugh said.
EP Golf Ventures, a new investment partnership created by the PGA of America and Elysian Park Ventures, the private-investment arm affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group, made the strategic investment. This is alongside a partnership between Sensible Weather and the PGA of America
Eliminating traditional rain checks
The PGA’s innovation team reached out to Sensible Weather. Arjun Chowdri, PGA of America chief innovation officer, called the Weather Guarantee “an all-around winning formula.” The service is designed to streamline operations for PGA members, increase golfer satisfaction, decrease last-minute cancellations, avoid “rain check” issuance, and generate incremental revenue for golf facilities, the PGA said.
Cavanaugh began work in climate science following work at University of Pennsylvania, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of California at San Diego, where he earned a PhD. His work has been backed by a National Science Foundation grant and $34 million in funding from various venture capital companies. Time Magazine named the Sensible Weather guarantee to its list of the best inventions of 2022.
GDan Vukelich is the online editor of Alabama Golf News
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