Gary Cohen is the CEO of Chicago based EZLinks, golf’s number one online tee time booking engine. Before joining EZ Links, Mr. Cohen was an executive with Redbox and was a founding managing director at Six Degrees Capital Management, a Chicago-based hedge-fund company.
A pioneer in online reservations and tee time services, EZLinks was founded in 1995 and currently operates the world’s largest golf reservations network as well as the industry’s highest-volume tee time call center. The company provides tee sheet management software, 24/7 live customer support, custom online booking technology, golf course web development and integrated point-of-sale, email marketing and social media tools for the golf industry. EZLinks also operates EZLinks.com, an ecommerce site connecting golfers with great deals at more than 1,000 golf courses worldwide.
Interviewer: Walter Lis. Running Time: 21:26
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WL: Why don’t we start from the beginning here and kind of explain if you could to Chicago golfers who may not be aware, just what EZLinks does and how it could help them.
GC: Sure. Well, from the golfer’s perspective, you know, we are a technology company that focuses on supporting the needs of the golf industry. And one of the things we do is we have EZLinks.com, which is a great ecommerce platform that offers golfers access to more than a million discounted tee times at almost 1,200 courses throughout the world. How’s that?
WL: Terrific. Now, I want to follow up on the first thing you said, supporting the needs of the golf industry. So how can you explain that a little bit further?
GC: Yeah. I don’t want to confuse the golfer side, but we really have two sides to the business. We also provide technology to the courses themselves. We provide the electronic tee sheet, the point of sale system, and a few other services. And so, that’s one side of the business. The other side is, you know, this ecommerce portal that has these great courses, and there’ve got to be about 100 or so in Illinois that are available for our golfers at great, you know, at great prices.
WL: Okay. Well, I think that helps out a lot, because I think from a golfer’s perspective I’m not sure they always connect the pairs, you know, the fact that you are helping the courses as well as the golfers themselves. And I would think that most of the golfers who are familiar with our podcast and have been to our website have probably used EZLinks because they’re technology savvy enough to access your site.
Can you give us some background then, basically of the 1 million or so golfers in the Chicago land area, do you have an idea as to how many are, sort of, what you call technology type people who could go, or would go, to your website, or is there a limit to that?
GC: No, I think it’s a simple site to use, you know, you simply have to choose the date, the general location you want to choose from, and in the Chicago area you can pick either from Downtown or North Suburbs, Northwestern Suburbs, South Suburbs, West Suburbs, and pick the date. And we’ll show you a listing of, you know, more than 100 courses.
Then, you know, if you pick the North Suburbs you might see something like Thunderhawk or Winnetka Golf Course, Brae Loch. You know, downtown you’d see Harborside. Out in the South you might see George Dunne. You know, up in my neck of the woods you’d see potentially, up in Northwest Suburbs, you might see like Lincolnshire. It’s really all over the place, Oak Brook, Orchard Valley out in the West.
WL: So how long has EZLinks been around then, when did the product start?
GC: Yeah, so the company’s been around for about 17 years, started in, 17 years ago, in, I think in ’96, so that’s not 17, is it? ’97, yeah, ’97. So that’s about right. So around 17 years, we just celebrated our 17th birthday, and we’ve been selling tee times to consumers for well over a decade at this point.
WL: Okay. So I think then the next logical question is, for somebody with your type of a background, you’ve done a lot of different things. You recently were with Red Box, and AOL properties, and started businesses, raised a lot of money, did a lot of different things. What attracted you to join EZLinks last year?
GC: Well, I like, I really like building companies, so that’s really exciting to me, because it is a great basis here at EZLinks, but I really like companies that are consumer focused and provide the great value to consumers. Red Box is a great example. It was a great company focused on the consumer, providing a great value to the consumers. EZLinks is very similar. It’s a company that has a great product that is provided to consumers at a very fair price, and we are constantly putting the consumer first.
And, you know, we match, you know, the course’s playing regulations, so if there’s a cancellation we, the course, we enable the cancellation. If a course is closed for rain, we don’t, we refund the money. If a course is willing to refund the money two days out, we do the same thing. So we match the course’s rules, and we really put the consumer first. And that to me is a great way to run a business, so I was happy to become able to become part of this.