Jim Lafferty had a problem many children complain of: He couldn't find anyone to play with. Only, he's 47.
In commercial security sales, he usually works from home in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, putting together quotes as early as 5 a.m. and typically toiling for a solid 12 hours.
"Usually by the end of the week, I'm ready to cut it short," Lafferty said. That's when his thoughts turn to sloping fairways and fast greens — and a problem he often encounters when that happens: His usual golfing buddies are still at work.
When he found himself in such a predicament one day about a year ago, he turned to the internet, looking for a website that would help him find a playing partner.
"All I found were dating sites," recalled Lafferty, a happily married father of three.
He set out to serve his and others' tee-time needs by developing ReadyToPlayGolf.com, a website he launched in January where golfers can place ads detailing the basics — when they want to play, their average score, sex, and age — or search ads for playing companions. As Lafferty works to establish proof of concept, access to the site is free. That will likely change to possibly $10 to $20 a year as use grows. Lafferty said he's been averaging four or five subscribers a day the last month. His goal is 100 subscribers every 10-mile radius, first in the Philadelphia region and then in other cities.
Initially, advertising revenue will come from Google ads on the site and affiliate ads to, for instance, a golf equipment page on eBay, from which Lafferty would collect a 10 percent to 15 percent commission on purchases made. Once traffic to the site grows, he'll solicit his own ads.
Without a fat budget, marketing has been dependent on sheer hustle. Lafferty has dropped off business cards at nearly every public golf course in the Philadelphia region, and at some in Florida and Maryland while on business trips.
With the golf industry never rebounding after the Great Recession — there were 400,000 fewer golfers by 2013, according to a report by the NPD Group, citing National Golf Foundation data — many courses were forced to close. Now, course managers are eager to find ways to get players on their greens. Yet, many don't book tee times for singles, considered an inefficient use of precious course time.
Lafferty said courses in the Philadelphia market have rolled out the welcome mat for ReadyToPlayGolf.com, seeing potential for not only gaining more general players but also participants for charity outings, which have been on the decline.
"Every course I've approached has agreed to put my cards out," Lafferty said. "This can only help them get more rounds."
At Skippack Golf Club at Evansburg State Park, where singles cannot book tee times, Lafferty's business cards have been on the front counter in the pro shop for about a month, said Tim Astheimer, general manager.
"I believe there will be a demand for this product," he said, noting that when he started at Skippack 20 years ago cleaning golf carts "we were doing 8,000 to 10,000 rounds more than we are this year." Courses were "just flooded" with players, he said, because of a then-new professional phenom, Tiger Woods.
"When I first started, it was easy as a golf operator because of the Tiger boom," Astheimer said.
A lasting impact of the economic crisis that struck in December 2007 and didn't let up until June 2009, Astheimer said, has been fewer golf outings put on by businesses for fund-raising or morale building, contributing to a string of course closings, some for development. Skippack, established in 1960, is leased from the state, he said.
"I think it's a great idea that he came up with," Astheimer said of Lafferty. "It helps from a golf operator's standing if we can get people out on the course."
Sustaining his own enthusiasm for the game has never been a problem for Lafferty. Golf has been a passion since childhood. His grandfather Angelo "Ange" Paul was a pro at Jeffersonville Golf Club, the course closest to Lafferty's childhood home in Trooper. His parents, also golfers, started Lafferty playing by age 12. As a teenager, he worked at a local gas station where a regular early-morning player at Jeffersonville would stop and give him his receipt, which allowed the bearer unlimited play on that day.
Lafferty, however, made baseball his priority, pitching for Methacton High School and Kutztown University, where he majored in television production with aspirations of working for ESPN. An unpaid internship opportunity there held no appeal, so he went on to do audio/visual work before settling on commercial security sales 17 years ago. His clients include two sizable Center City properties: Centre Square, the 1.76 million-square-square-foot complex consisting of a 36- and 43-story tower, and the 58-story Comcast Center.
Not that Lafferty sold off his golf clubs. He kept playing and now has a 12 handicap.
Last September, his problem finding people to golf with worsened when his reliable go-to, nephew Anthony Spinozzi, 37, moved from Pottstown to Manahawkin, Ocean County. It's been about as fun as landing in the bunker for Spinozzi, too.
"I kind of have been unsuccessful so far," Spinozzi, a civil engineer who works in Mount Holly, said of his efforts to find a golfing partner in New Jersey. "It's a whole new area, a whole new set of courses. I'm two hours away from all my golfing buddies back in Montgomery County, Pa."
His experiences getting matched up with strangers when he arrives at a golf course alone "can be kind of a mixed bag," he said.
"I like to have a six-pack on the course. I'm there to have fun," said Spinozzi, a 14 handicap. "I might be paired with someone who might be a rules stickler. You have to make sure your ball etiquette is on par, not ruffle feathers."
Once, he left a group he was assigned to because they were playing too slowly "and they weren't necessarily good. I don't mind if someone hits it into the woods. Just … not have a scavenger hunt to find the ball."
All that is what Lafferty wants to help players avoid with ReadyToPlayGolf.com.