Two North Carolina golf courses hosting PGA events – Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, home to the Wells Fargo Championship, and Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, home to the Wyndham Championship – will have the opportunity, and the challenge, to open retail sportsbooks when online sports betting goes live in the Tar Heel State.
Opening a retail sportsbook at a golf course comes with a steep price tag and may only account for a small percentage of sports betting revenue for the course and the sportsbook. However, industry leaders see a vital “boots-on-the-ground” angle in creating brand recognition.
North Carolina has given eight venues the opportunity to open such retail sportsbooks when NC online sports betting goes live some time between Jan. 8, 2024, and June 14, 2024. Those eight venues are:
- PNC Arena in Raleigh
- Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte
- Charlotte Motor Speedway
- North Wilkesboro Speedway
- Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte
- Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro
- Spectrum Center in Charlotte
- WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary
In-arena sportsbooks are a costly first point of contact for new customers
Sports fans attending a live sporting event represent a captive audience for sportsbooks. Speaking in May at the SBC Summit North America on a panel titled, “In-arena Sportsbook: the driver of omnichannel?”, Todd Simms, vice president of sales for the Americas at SuzoHapp, described in-arena sportsbooks as something of a skeleton key for customer acquisition.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to capture new sports fans and turn them into a sports bettor,” Simms said. “There’s no better time than when you go into an arena when you have all the excitement. It might be your first time going to a sporting event, and that’s a golden opportunity to capture a new customer.”
At the moment, few legislatures, including North Carolina’s, have included the option for in-arena sportsbooks. So far, in only three jurisdictions – Ohio, Arizona and Washington, DC – have retail sportsbooks opened on or adjacent to sporting venues. Only one, Arizona, has done so at a golf course.
These retail betting venues often pair with bars and restaurants to provide thorough fan engagement and offer much more than a simple sportsbook experience. As such, they don’t come cheap.
David Grolman, senior vice president and chief retail sportsbook operator at Caesars Digital, identified this financial tradeoff when speaking to the SBC panel.
“From a branding standpoint,” Grolman said, “they’re fantastic. But when you look at the costs, you have to look at the entire product. You have to layer it into the mobile app, and they’re expensive to build because you’re trying to build a small casino in a building that was not designed to be a casino.
“I don’t think people really thought through that, you need a cage, security, and surveillance and all this stuff that’s already built into a casino and we’re building it into a building that was not designed for that.”
In some cases, multi-level retail sportsbooks with branded restaurants, kiosks and luxury seating can cost in the millions to develop.
TPC Scottsdale sportsbook provides only current golf course comparison
The DraftKings Sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale, host course for the PGA’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, is the only golf course currently offering a retail sportsbook on-site.
Speaking to the SBC panel, Scott Warfield, the vice president of gaming at the PGA Tour, emphasized that the retail sportsbook on-site has created a new revenue stream for the public course that facilitates 90,000 rounds of public golf a year.
“The WM Phoenix Open is our most well-attended event,” Warfield said. “It’s unlike anything else, and people call it the People’s Open, so it is the perfect fit for something like this. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to wake up and see a sportsbook at every PGA Tour event.”
Warfield’s statement is a promotion for retail, on-site sportsbooks and a caution against investing too quickly in them.
For anyone who’s watched the WM Phoenix Open, the 20,000-seat stadium green at the 16th hole is unlike anything else in golf, and the DraftKings Sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale sits at the front entrance to the Stadium Course.
Between the hundreds of thousands of fans who visit to watch PGA golf or the golfers who flock from all over the world to play a round at the prestigious public course, TPC Scottsdale is well-situated to provide a substantial retail sports betting venue.
The same can not be said for many other PGA venues, including Quail Hollow and Sedgefield.
Golf course model is not a sure bet for all markets
TPC Scottsdale is such a successful setting for a retail sportsbook largely because of its large-scale public layout. The iconic 16th hole, with its roaring gallery laser-focused on a handful of golfers at a time, invokes all the drama of major team sporting events.
The title “the People’s Open” is also no hyperbole. Over 700,000 people attend the WM Phoenix Open every year, making it the most well-attended golf event in the world.
The fact that the course is public, in a state that consistently ranks among the top in the country for golf, and in a city, Scottsdale, that is home to several PGA golfers, puts TPC Scottsdale in a class by itself.
By comparison, Muirfield Country Club in Dublin, Ohio, designed by Ohio native Jack Nicklaus and home to the PGA’s Memorial Tournament, received approval to open its on-site sportsbook when sports betting went live in Ohio on Jan. 1.
At this point, Muirfield, a private club with reported $100,000 initiation fees for new members, has made no plans to open a retail sportsbook on-site.
While attendance numbers from this year’s Memorial Tournament, which took place in early June, have not been announced, they are in the tens of thousands, a fraction of those at TPC Scottsdale.
Despite the Golden Bear’s influence, Ohio’s short golf season and Muirfield’s steep membership costs make a retail sportsbook less attractive for the club or BetPARX, the tournament’s sportsbook sponsor.
Quail Hollow and Sedgefield, both private courses, have more in common with Muirfield than with TPC Scottsdale.
Quail Hollow’s initiation fees are reported to be the same as Muirfield’s, while Sedgefield’s are much lower ($2,500-$10,000) though they require a $5,000-$10,000 annual fee.
Both the Wells Fargo and Wyndham Championships host around 100,000 fans throughout a PGA tournament weekend, well under the amount going through the doors in Scottsdale.
These factors may sway both Quail Hollow and Sedgefield away from rushing into opening a retail sportsbook on or near their venues. However, the retail presence at two prestigious PGA events may have its own value.
As Jeff Lowich, vice president of retail operations at FanDuel, explained to Sports Business Journal last December,
“It’s kind of the same reason banks still open branches,” Lowich said. “It’s that physical brand where you can actually go. Even if you never go, just knowing that you could go kind of goes a long way sometimes. It builds up that brand trust and brand loyalty and brand awareness.”
Image Credit: Ross D. Franklin / AP Photo