WANTED: Banter on the golf course, Cheeky9

Golf is not just for rich old men, jokes Cheeky9 co-founder Nick White. It’s for rich old men AND women.

There’s definitely something to that, he says. Rich old men and women tend to enjoy a good round of golf, and a lot of these types have become rich by making great choices. Nick isn’t necessarily saying that playing golf will make you rich – wait, is he?

Golf is a unique sport because it encourages conversation. In rugby, you’d have to exchange short-breathed sentences between attempts to retrieve the ball from beneath a writhing pile of sweaty men. In cricket, you’d need a megaphone or several walkie-talkies to catch up with mates while avoiding fast-moving balls that are very, very hard and could inflict serious damage. In general, sports games with many fast-moving parts make inconvenient conversation starters, but golf is more relaxed.

It’s about building networks and long-lasting relationships with your peers. The game is unique because it’s one of the few environments where combining business with pleasure is acceptable, and for this to be an exclusive privilege granted only to those who have aged 25 years more than us is an injustice to say the least.

Cheeky9 agrees.

“Like T20 is to cricket, Cheeky9 is Gen Y’s answer to the traditional game of golf,” Nick White says.

“We’re connecting all keen or would-be golfers through a national team based competition tailored to suit all skill levels,” he continued. “Our slick, easy-to-use format and scoring system allows golfers to get out for a quick, competitive, banter-infused round of golf, one evening a week over 10 balmy summer evenings.

“Players enjoy a post match beer, sponsored prizes, and debrief with team mates and opponents up at the 19th. ”

It’s an ambitious idea. Using software to revolutionise an industry happens often in b2b markets, but when it comes to sports, Cheeky9 is somewhat of a pioneer. While most SaaS applications create value by offering more efficient ways to do business, the team behind Cheeky9 has created a platform that promotes not only the game itself, but the enjoyment and camaraderie that surrounds the golf course too.

Part of the the app works by acting as an efficient scoring tool, Nick explains, enabling one person per match to record scores and stats in a streamlined fashion. While the C9 team does not endorse excessive use of cell phones on the course, an exception is made for the score keeper.

All data entered by the score keeper goes straight to the leader boards, which are updated immediately upon match completion. Teams are split into pairs to take on their opposition, so the app also works as a crucial means of communicating progress between teams through a live overall team score feature.

Outside of the match, players can log into their “team room” where they’ll find a few very entertaining features, but Nick can’t tell us what’s in there. “What happens in the team room stays in the team room,” he says. No exceptions.

The app is more than just a score-keeping application; it’s a platform that caters to and encourages this lifestyle. You work hard, but you play harder.

There’s features like the inter-team messaging platform and the Cheeky9 gossip column, both of which encourage participants to frequent the team room “on the reg,” Nick says, adding that this is normally done outside of working hours.

James, Nick, Charles, and Angus in 2003

Cheeky9’s story is as reliant on New Zealand culture and ingenuity as the proverbial number 8 wire, except it’s an example of what happens when a group of Kiwis introduce those iconic values to the 21st century.

“We reckon there’s no better escape than a golf weekend away with your mates, full of banter and good humour,” Nick says. “Giving folk the pleasure of this banter on a weekly basis was the inspiration. Much like the weekend away, Cheeky9 is as much about the pre-round hype, mid-match chat and post-match bragging as it is about the golf.”

The co-founders met as “4 scrawny 13 year olds” while attending a school golf team meeting at Wellington College some time around the year 2000. Their team was admittedly the youngest and least talented, Nick says, but this just meant that, to be competitive, they had to stick together.

A decade and a half later, Nick White, Charles Thompson, Angus Newsam, and James Speight were on their Whangamata golf chapter, where they conceived the idea during a post-match brainstorming session.

The 4 co-founders began developing Cheeky9 the next day, but like almost a million other Kiwis, they wanted to see the world too.

When you live on an island for most of your life, you feel an inexplicable urge to see the rest of the world. Teenagers express their wanderlust on social media, while a more independent generation takes trips to Bali and London. Seeing what else is out there is as much a part of Kiwi culture as is Pavlova and Mr Whippy, so it’s no surprise that soon after starting Cheeky9, the team went their separate ways to explore other countries and continents.

“Speighto” was lost to the big OE, Nick says, while the other 3 founders have continued to run the business and keep in touch using the power of the interweb.

Technology helps the company’s co-founders stay in touch, and it’s also what makes this platform so powerful. It’s built for Gen Y by Gen Y. Golf may seem like an unusual sport for millennials to engage in, but that may be simply because the barriers to entry were previously set too high for a younger demographic.

“Our market research did tell us that the high cost of memberships and one-off rounds was a barrier to both people getting into golf and those wanting to play more, particularly for Gen Y,” Nick said. “We’ve tried to break down this barrier by including it in our main objective – to get people playing more golf, more often, at an affordable rate.”

The pricing structure is simple. Each player within a team pays $20 per round, and this is shared with host courses to cover their green fees.

“It needs scale to become commercially viable,” Nick says, “hence we have big plans to take the game global. One of the reasons that the Cheeky9 concept is taking off is that the traditional game in most developed countries is under pressure, so there’s a lot of enthusiasm to introduce an innovative short form of the game that will attract future generations and keep clubs at the grassroots financially viable.”

In fact, international expansion is one of Cheeky9’s biggest goals for the next year. “Apart from the fun and banter, Cheeky9 caters to golfers’ extreme competitive tendencies, so we intend to implement regional, national and international finals series in great golfing locations for teams to aspire to,” Nick says.

“We will also be pursuing a professional made-for-TV series and introducing a standalone corporate event model.”

Golf is no longer a privilege that’s reserved for old men and women. Get out there. Get golfing. Get cheeky.

Edit: The Cheeky9 app itself was built by Latch Digital.

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