Gary Cohen likes to say he's in charge of a "20-year-old startup."
As CEO of EZLinks Golf LLC, the Lincolnshire resident oversees a company that has grown over the last 20 years to become the largest tee time registration network in the country. But it was the company's partnership with the PGA Tour about a year and half ago that really upped the game for the Chicago-based firm.
"We have a lot of value of an established company: The products, the customers, real revenue," Cohen said. "But we also have great new growth and an entrepreneurial spirit that comes with a startup."
The core of EZLinks Golf over the years has been developing software to manage the business of golf clubs and courses, from electronic tee sheets to managing reservations and point of sale systems. Cohen notes that the Top 10 golf course management companies in the industry -- from the likes of Northbrook-based KemperSports to Troon and Billy Casper Golf -- use EZLinks Golf software. It also runs TeeOff.com, an online tee time reservation system that gives golfers access to tee times from golf clubs and courses around the world.
It was that success that caught the attention of the PGA Tour, Cohen said, which invested in the company to help grow the popularity of the sport.
"They saw our business was good for golf courses but also for golfers," he said.
The Tour's investment into the company helped it build its presence in the industry through acquisitions and organic growth, Cohen said. As a result, TeeOff.com by PGA Tour is now the largest tee time registration system in the industry, providing golfers access to 500,000 tee times daily with no booking fees, in addition to daily specials offered by clubs and courses.
That investment also led to the recent release of the TeeOff.com by PGA Tour app, which is available on Android of iOS platforms. In addition to having mobile access to the reservation system, the app also provide features such as GPS tracking -- which allows golfers to figure out how far they are from the hole -- as well as personal score tracking and other stats. The app also has access to news about the PGA Tour and professional players.
The partnership gives EZLinks visibility on the PGA Tour. In addition to having a permanent link on the PGA Tour website, the company has TV commercials running during the PGA Tour events every weekend.
"That drives a lot of awareness," Cohen said.
And like a Jordan Spieth tee shot, TeeOff.com's success has been fast and true during the past year. Traffic has increased 100 percent year over year, according to Cohen, and staffing has grown from 150 a year ago to 350 today.
"We are growing at a torrid rate at this point," he said.
Cohen notes the app has been exceeding expectations in terms of the amount of tee times people are buying through it, but he points to another key measure as a positive.
"Even at the beginning, we're seeing 4.5 star ratings," he said. "People are using it and they are liking it.
"We took our time in building this. We wanted to do it right. It's got the features that people need and it's got the ability to do transactions, which is pretty critical."
It's that satisfaction that Cohen sees carrying the company into the future. And, while the app is expected to be well used by customers, he notes you don't have to be a tech whiz to connect with TeeOff or EZLinks.
"We still take a lot of calls from people who just want to call up and say 'Hey, what's available?' or 'How can I get on the green today, tomorrow or the next day?" he said.
"You can pick the way you want to work with us and we'll work with you, and that to me is what's important."
Cohen sees the company and TeeOff.com continuing to grow as it continues to expand its network of courses and clubs offering tee times and specials.
"I see this as a big growth industry," he said. "That's also how the Tour sees it, and they are putting a lot of money and resources into this."