The use and diffusion of information and communication technologies (ICTs), in transforming society in general and commercial organisations in particular, have given rise to so-called “information societies” [1
]. Consequently, research on adopting ICTs has aroused great interest among scholars in various fields, especially business [2
]. To date, such studies have shown ICTs’ contribution to the competitive advantage of organisations that have implemented them in terms of their productivity [5
], internationalisation [6
], performance in the labour market [8
] and ability to continue being competitive [9
Hofacker and Belanche [11
] have argued that a top reason companies use the internet and social media networks in their marketing strategies is to enhance their contact with clients and provide an important source of information to them. ICTs also provide organisations with better access to markets, both nationally and internationally [12
], because e-commerce, by eliminating the geographical barriers at play in traditional commerce, reduces transaction costs and facilitates worldwide connections between users [14
]. For those reasons, implementing ICTs is pivotal for organisations and companies in general, even in the tourism industry.
Against that background, we analysed the online presence of all golf courses in Catalonia that operate websites, as well as the maturity of their e-commerce, for two major reasons. The first reason is the tourism industry’s importance to the economies of Spain and Catalonia. According to the statistics of Tourist Movements at Borders [15
], Spain received an annual average of more than 60 million tourists between 2004 and 2018 and, in 2018, welcomed a record of more than 82.6 million. That year, receiving 19.1 million of those tourists, Catalonia was the premier tourist destination in Spain. Moreover, during that same 14-year period, as revealed by the Tourism Expenditure Survey [16
], the annual spending of international tourists in Spain slightly exceeded €57,000 million on average and reached €90,000 million in 2018. As a sector, tourism contributed €178,000 million to Spain’s economy in 2018 and thus accounted for 14.6% of its GDP, according to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council [17
The second reason is the importance of golf courses to tourism, particularly in Spain. According to Aymerich and Anabitarte [18
], Spain has 359 golf courses, 40 of which are in Catalonia, and each year welcomes nearly 278,000 golfers. In turn, employing more than 11,000 workers, golf in Spain has an overall annual economic impact of €2.07 billion. Worldwide, the market for golf tourism is worth more than USD 17 billion, according to the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, and the number of people who play golf each year stands at 56 million. Of them, an estimated 10% travel abroad each year with the main objective of playing golf, for an international golf tourism market encompassing approximately 5.6 million players [19
For people who engage in sports in general and for golf tourists in particular, websites are critical tools for accessing logistical information before arriving at sporting facilities [20
]. Consequently, it is important for researchers to elucidate how golf courses communicate information about the services that they offer and about accommodations, transport services and other tourist resources in the area [21
]. It is even relevant to study an aspect as current as the communication of sustainability policies in golf courses [22
]. Meanwhile, for the golf courses, having an optimal online reservation system is essential to providing more competitive prices and differentiating the attraction’s service offerings from those of competitors [23
Considering all of the above, we recognised the need to investigate golf courses’ use of the internet and e-commerce, especially in the context described, and analyse their use of ICTs and thereby identify the chief factors that determine their online behaviours. Thus, our study’s overarching objective was to analyse whether golf courses in Catalonia, as demonstrated by their websites, are taking advantage of the internet’s full range of possibilities. As exploratory research, our study was expected to help us to determine the extent to which such facilities currently use their websites. Despite the value of that knowledge, few studies have involved examining those aspects in such detail in the golf and sports tourism sector, especially not from a marketing perspective.
With that overarching objective in mind, we established three subordinate objectives. First, we set out to propose an integrated model for assessing the online presence of golf courses in four content-related categories (i.e., information, communication, e-commerce and additional functions) and, using the extended model of internet commerce adoption (eMICA), analyse the maturity of their e-commerce. Second, we aimed to use the proposed model to analyse the websites of all golf courses in Catalonia with an online presence. Third and last, after analysing their use of ICTs in marketing and communicating with clients on their websites, we wanted to provide practical recommendations for how the golf courses can manage their online presence more efficiently.
2. Golf and the Tourist Industry
Modern tourists demand more active experiences on their vacations and in their leisure time, largely due to growing interest in personal health and well-being and the enjoyment of outdoor activities such as sports in natural settings. Therefore, promoting that type of sporting activity can generate important tourist resources for particular destinations [24
]. In that context, a major tourist activity is golf tourism, defined by Hudson and Hudson [26
] as golf played by tourists away from their primary residences for noncommercial purposes. Golf tourism involves services provided by travel agencies that specialise in planning and providing golf tourism products [27
Of course, golf tourism involves not only visiting golf courses away from one’s primary residence but also participating in other leisure activities at the destination and visiting local tourist attractions [28
]. In literature on the subject, a widely examined element has been the destination image surrounding golf courses [27
]. Meanwhile, some researchers, especially in segmentation research, have focused on identifying the characteristics of golf tourists [33
], whereas others have focused on identifying their behaviours. Among them, Humphreys [37
] observed that participating in golf tourism is driven by satisfaction and positive experiences, whereas Stebbins [38
] found that attitude is an important predictor of engaging in that type of activity.
In other work, Kim and Ritchie [39
] differentiated three types of golf tourists: intensive golfers, golfers with multiple motivations and golf companions. The first are tourists whose primary purpose in travelling was to play golf and who often purchase specific golf-oriented packages. The second group are tourists who participate in nongolfing activities. Last, the third category, as the description suggests, are tourists who accompany golfers and sometimes also participate in the game. By some contrast, Hennessey et al. [33
] have categorised golf tourists by frequency of engagement—as dedicated, moderate or infrequent golfers—each of which exhibits significant behavioural differences based on how often they play the game. Those findings on golfers’ motivations and behaviours reflect the general conclusions drawn by Gibson and Pennington-Gray [40
], who used role theory to describe and explain the behaviour of sports tourists, particularly golf tourists.
Like most tourists, golf tourists are subject to a series of factors that influence their decisions to travel and their selection of specific destinations [41
]. Regarding the latter, Humphreys [37
] has identified six such factors: vacation design, emotional travel rewards, total expenditure, related services and facilities, the characteristics of the golf course and the reputation of the destination.
Despite literature on the mentioned topics, few studies seem to have been conducted on golf courses’ online presence and internet use. Among them, a study by Powers and Tabibzadeh [42
], conducted to analyse the online marketing of golf courses in the U.S. state of Kentucky revealed that, though the vast majority of courses have some sort of web presence, their websites play a primarily promotional or informational role. Similarly, in a comparative study examining golf courses in Portugal, Spain and the United States, Afonso and Martínez-López [43
] analysed their internet use for promotional purposes. Meanwhile, García-Tascón and Pradas García [44
] studied the transparency of golf course websites in Andalusia, Spain. By contrast, Park et al. [34
] conducted a content analysis of South Korean golf tourist blogs to identify attributes associated with seven destinations in mainland China.
In other work, Brooksbank, Garland and Werder [45
] have shown that good strategic marketing planning that includes digital media can improve the long-term viability of golf courses. They defined strategic marketing as an ongoing, organisation-wide, customer-led planning approach that facilitates optimal organisational responses to the environment. After investigating 10 basic strategic marketing practices and their relationships with competitive business performance, those authors discovered that although most golf courses had adopted strategic marketing, higher-performing ones had placed far greater emphasis on each of the 10 practices [45
]. As other authors have shown, strategic marketing planning typically consists of five steps: conducting a comprehensive strategic situation analysis, developing marketing objectives, formulating a marketing strategy, organising for marketing and using strategic control procedures [46
]. In somewhat related research, Pereira et al. [47
] analysed promotional texts on golf-related websites as sources for identifying brand personality traits.
Given golf tourism’s impact in Spain, the changes and needs of modern society and the importance for organisations to manage their websites, it is valuable to understand what type of online presence golf courses in Spain have and what use they make of the different digital marketing elements available online.
An organisation’s website plays a fundamental role as an organ of institutional communication and is key in representing the organisation as an entity. Together with other elements, such as social media, online video and email, it is also a principal part of the design of digital communication campaigns [48
]. Therefore, developing a methodology for identifying and evaluating the characteristics that websites should possess to be ideal means of communication with clients is of great interest to researchers and practitioners alike. However, as several authors have affirmed, no universally accepted methodology for evaluating websites is currently available [49
If we focus on analysis, many studies refer to a set of indicators that can be grouped into four large groups: technical, commercial, content-related, and design-related [53
]. In turn, we adopted a perspective focused on market orientation, from which websites are evaluated according to their focus on users as potential customers. In that way, evaluators pay special attention to aspects related to the promotion of activities, online transactions and both product and service characteristics [56
The model proposed in our work combines the eMICA and web content analysis (WCA) adapted for golf courses (Figure 1
). The variables used to gauge the adoption of e-commerce by the golf courses’ websites were adapted from the eMICA and selected based on our literature review. In turn, we decided that, in moving between levels and to consolidate their positions, the websites had to exhibit a minimum number of attributes [56
]. Thus, the sites advanced to the next level if they contained all of the variables at the previous level. The scale was dichotomous for all variables.
Our analysis focused on the websites of golf courses in Catalonia. To fulfil the proposed objectives, we analysed the websites of all golf courses that are members of the Catalan Golf Federation. After discarding the three golf courses without websites, 37 sites remained for analysis—27 courses with 18 holes and 10 courses with 9 holes—meaning that 92.5% of golf courses in Catalonia have an online presence. The main objective of our work was to analyse how they use that presence.
3.1. Web Content Analysis (WCA)
We conducted an exhaustive review of the literature with the aim of developing a dimensional model for structuring our WCA for the golf courses [50
]. The model was designed to highlight the resources that golf courses offer on their websites to help users obtain the information that they need and to foster client–company interaction, whether to carry out e-commerce activities (e.g., selling products and contracting services or lessons) or to discuss issues on a secure platform that complies with website quality standards.
Our proposed website analysis model is structured in four blocks: information, communication, e-commerce and additional functions (Table 1
). Each block comprises characteristics subjected to evaluation, and the evaluation indicators for the different dimensions are listed as well.
As mentioned, to achieve our overarching objectives, we evaluated the websites from a marketing perspective. After identifying the online content and services offered on the websites, we analysed the informative content and interactive services considered to be useful or attractive to users [56
]. The items were chosen from the literature review, and new elements were added to them to accommodate the context of golf courses.
During field work, conducted in April and May 2019, we used the proposed model to prepare a template containing the various aspects chosen for examination following the literature review. Ultimately, the template consisted of 46 indicators (i.e., items) for analysing the dimensions of the information, communication, e-commerce and additional functions of the golf courses’ websites.
Content analysis from a quantitative perspective was performed to assess the online presence, level of information and interactivity of the websites [54
]. Following Neuendorf [64
], our content analysis involved eight steps. First, to formulate research questions, we considered that the websites that had adopted e-commerce to a more advanced degree would make greater use of different web-based possibilities. Second, we identified variables related to the information, communication, e-commerce and additional functions afforded by the websites. Third, we defined categories and units of measurement for analysing all of the websites, which involved identifying the unit of analysis (i.e., the golf course in Catalonia) and defining the categories—that is, the different items that determine the web presence of such golf courses. Fourth, to create the coding scheme, we produced a code book containing the categories and how they were measured. All items were included in the four mentioned dimensions (i.e., information, communication, e-commerce and additional functions). Fifth, for sampling, we selected websites belonging to golf courses in Catalonia. Sixth, the code book was tested by two trained coders who evaluated the websites, and seventh, coding for the sample was performed independently with reference to the code book. Eighth and last, data were analysed by evaluating the presence or absence of certain characteristics and aggregating the data in tables and graphs.
3.2. Extended Model of Internet Commerce Adoption (eMICA)
Burgess and Cooper [65
] developed the model of internet commerce adoption (MICA) while studying the metal fabrication industry in Australia. The MICA maintains that when developing commercial websites, companies usually begin with a simple webpage and that their online presence becomes more complex as it incorporates new processes due to increased experience with and knowledge about ICTs. Representing three levels of business processes, the model consists of three corresponding stages: (a) web-based promotion, (b) the provision of information and services and (c) transaction processes. Those stages provide roadmaps that indicate the level of the development of e-commerce applications in various business sectors—in our case, golf tourism. Beyond that, acknowledging that websites continually evolve, the MICA postulates different stages of development, from inception (i.e., promotion) through consolidation (i.e., provision) until reaching maturity (i.e., processing). It also includes levels of website complexity and functionality that reflect the evolution of companies as they develop from having a static presence online to having a dynamic website, usually by increasing levels of interactivity, incorporating value chain integration and hosting innovative applications that add value in terms of information management and functionality [66
Since its creation, the MICA has been applied in sectors other than manufacturing, especially in the tourism industry [68
] but also in sports facilities management [55
]. In the process, as improvements to the model were made and several layers of sophistication added, the MICA morphed into the eMICA to accommodate new virtual environments and the particularities of the internet (Table 2
). In brief, the eMICA prescribes a phased evaluation that allows websites to be assessed from the promotional level to higher-level transactional processes. The model does have its limitations, however. As Schmidt et al. [76
] have argued, the eMICA tends to reduce the complexity of research, and it can position websites at two developmental levels at the same time or at no levels whatsoever. Nevertheless, because our goal, after adapting the model, was to assess the maturity of the golf courses’ websites, the eMICA was deemed suitable because it contains the logical dimensions that a website, as a technology platform, should have: information, communications and transactions [77
In using the eMICA, we considered that companies in sports tourism, despite being important tourist resources for their destinations, do not always take advantage of all possibilities offered by ICTs [78
]. In our case, as studies have indicated, the websites of golf courses rarely incorporate advanced functions that maintain relationships with customers and are not used for communication, which precludes the possibility of enjoying greater client–company interactivity [79
3.3. Integration of the eMICA and WCA
After applying the two methods, we extracted the results of the proposed integrated model—that is, we combined the items of the eMICA and the dimensions of WCA. Again, our aim was to establish and compare the golf courses’ web content and technological maturity or, in other words, to compare the overall experience and complexity of the websites. First, the relationship between the levels of the eMICA attained and the means of the items of the WCA dimensions were calculated. To do so, we compared the means by type of golf course determined by an analysis of variance (ANOVA). Once the relationships between the levels of the eMICA and the dimensions of the WCA were analysed, the ANOVA was complemented by a principal component analysis (PCA), a multivariate method of interdependence analysis applied to a dataset with numerical variables. PCAs are useful for reducing the set of variables to a small number of synthetic components or factors with minimal loss of information. In our analysis, the variables were the sum of the items (i.e., frequency) of each dimension of the WCA and the levels of the eMICA for each golf course’s website. SPSS version 20.0 was used for all analyses.
This section synthesises the results of applying the WCA and the eMICA in a bid to examine the websites of golf courses in Catalonia. Focusing first on the WCA, we observed that, as far as disseminating information is concerned, the golf courses have met the basic conditions for informing potential clients about their golfing and other facilities. For one, results in the dimension of communication suggest that businesses in the sports industry generally make limited use of interactive online tools to establish a dialogue with users. However, that dialogue would provide the golf courses with better knowledge of their clients and, thus, improve the services offered.
For another, although interaction is critical to the online presence of any company or organisation [82
], our results indicate that the golf courses have significant work to do before they can take meaningful advantage of the possibilities offered by the internet. At the same time, the companies do have a presence on social and other media, which act as major veins of communication. By type, of course, 18-hole courses in our study were generally more active online, although their nine-hole counterparts have made it easy to share content with friends and contacts.
Next, concerning e-commerce, great differences emerged depending upon the type of golf course. Whereas the majority of websites for 18-hole courses had online reservation and payment systems, sites for nine-hole courses did not. Those results are consistent with previous findings concerning web content provided by golf courses [21
Last, regarding additional functions, the presence of quality certifications on the websites was poor, and only sites for the 18-hole courses showed environmental certifications, if any. Of course, as research has shown, results in other fields such as gastronomy and social economics and even findings of snow sports facilities have been similar [55
]. In any case, a minority of facilities represented by the websites that we assessed have reported information on environmental or quality certifications.
In all, applying the eMICA has shown us that golf courses in Catalonia have not reached maturity in their e-commerce activities. Meanwhile, according to the WCA combined with the eMICA, the online presence of most of the courses is at an intermediate stage of development—that is, used primarily as a tool for communication. The use of the full range of online business possibilities is thus clearly underdeveloped among the courses, especially the nine-hole ones.
Because ICTs bear great influence on sports organisations in general and on the golf industry in particular, the management and marketing of golf courses have to adapt in order to take advantage of the benefits offered by the internet in all of its dimensions.
The research undertaken revealed that the websites of golf courses present high levels of communication in all aspects related to static information, meaning information about location, facilities, access routes and lessons, among other things. However, the degree of communication is far lower for indicators that offer nonstatic information and functions, including weather conditions, content-sharing applications, links to blogs and social media. That type of information can be very useful, however, for it enhances the perceived credibility of organisations and the trust that clients feel towards them [84
Golf courses exert a high touristic and economic impact on their localities. However, in Catalonia, the opportunities offered online to promote golf and its associated facilities are not being fully exploited. Many websites for golf courses neither provide information in multiple languages nor publicise local tourist resources, both of which can be key decision-making factors for tourists when selecting or booking travel destinations. Beyond that, environmental sustainability policies are not being publicised, either. Nevertheless, environmental policies can be decisive for clients, many of whom are increasingly aware of sustainability and climate change.
Our results also show a differentiated degree of online presence depending on the type of golf course. Websites for 18-hole courses have higher interactivity, offer more information and are better adapted to conduct transactions and provide internet security than the websites of the nine-hole courses, which are far behind in all stages and at all levels analysed.
From the standpoint of methodology, we have additionally demonstrated that our integrated model is usable and can help to systematically and reliably assess content and the degree of e-commerce adoption, which provides an understanding of the stage of development of golf courses and what aspects need to be introduced or improved.
As for managerial recommendations, golf course management should first of all be aware that their market segment is technologically advanced, has high purchasing power and is accustomed to immediate responses [85
]. Their company websites are often their potential clients’ first contact with the organisation and thus key to image formation. Golf course managers should take the proposed model into account so that their websites can match the expectations of the golf-playing consumer profile, which stands to greatly increase visitor and booking numbers and client–company interaction. In turn, they should also create synergies with tourist destination managers; they might carry out joint promotional campaigns to position the area as a specific destination for golf tourism. After all, golf courses can be important poles of attraction that can create large tourist flows by offering an attractive complementary activity to others offered by the destination. At the same time, the results show that only slightly more than half of the golf courses analysed have mentioned data protection laws on their websites, which is of course highly recommended in order to communicate that the company complies with the law.
A limitation of our study was that we conducted our analysis at a specific moment, and because websites for golf courses may change at any time, the results from one moment to the next may change as well. Another important limitation was the number of websites analysed. Although they represented all golf courses registered in Catalonia, it is necessary to expand the number of websites analysed. A proposed future line of research would thus be to extend the analysis to golf courses in other regions and countries to collect more data and compare the results. In addition, personal interviews might be conducted with golf course managers to identify the chief barriers that they encounter in advancing their online presence and improving their interactivity with clients.