A simulator can enhance customer engagement and create new revenue opportunities.

Golf course simulators offer opportunities

May 15, 2019

Using 'off-course' golf to bump revenue and market share

An oddity of Japan's economic boom in the 1980s was that the millions of people who hit balls at massive urban ranges stood zero chance of playing golf on one of the country's scarce public courses.

America uncovered something similar - recent research showed Americans playing off-course forms of the game exclusively or in addition to traditional green-grass golf, according to the National Golf Foundation, whose 2018 census of "off-course golfers" came to about 23 million (up 10 percent from the previous year).

The trend toward what some call golf entertainment is a big part of the upsurge. Swinging a club at venues like Topgolf and Drive Shack, or pounding shots toward hyper-realistic simulator screens provide stress-free entertainment during manageable timeframes.

With revenue and golfer goodwill, these new entertainment options deserve attention.  As announced in January, Toptracer Range technology developed and marketed by Topgolf, and the best-in-class golf course simulators by Full Swing are now included in the bundle of services GOLF Business Solutions distributes.

"Course operators with a serious interest in the new revenue and a lead position in their local market are asking questions about both these opportunities," says Joe Del Rossi, National Director of Sales, GOLF Business Solutions. "There's no difference in the product or price if you purchase Toptracer Range or Full Swing through us, but we do have alternative payment options, which include trade or cash—even a combination of trade and cash will work well, under certain circumstances."

Enhancing your green-grass practice facility in a Topgolf-like manner is the reason to bring in Toptracer Range. Toptracer Range provides a hardware and software package that tracks the flight of a standard range ball within a camera feed. It then provides real-time 3D ball flight data analytics, such as ball speed, apex, curve, and carry integrated into virtual graphics.

There will be some infrastructure work required for the sheltered bays, but there is also a mobile-based, handheld solution coming soon that will allow uncovered driving ranges to get on the map with Toptracer Range. This option allows customers to download a free app that provides stats on every shot.

"A golf facility can order Toptracer Range in coverage areas of about ten bays wide," says Del Rossi. "Depending on your clientele, you could arrange the space so that some of it is for club fitting and teaching—which the technology supports well—and some is for walk-up use by people who are just curious about the numbers they generate." There's more of that interest all the time, according to Del Rossi. Once golfers see specs, such as ball speed and launch angle, then learn more about what's optimal, they get the bug to compete against their past performance in search of improved metrics.

Using flexible payment options to add a Full Swing Simulator serves a similar purpose, subtracting the full flight of the ball while adding compelling graphic visuals, extended business hours, and protection from adverse weather conditions. "Rain and cold and excessive heat have always been a revenue negative for golf courses," says Del Rossi. "Finally, with today's simulator technology we've got an answer for that. Even on nice winter days in the Sunbelt, darkness cuts your revenue day short, so a simulator speaks to that, as well." Instruction programs and leagues also benefit, since they're entirely dependent on regular scheduling week to week.

When you sketch out a P&L pro forma statement involving one of these add-ons, higher food-and-beverage, club fitting, and instruction income should also be part of the scenario. "That's the core of the alternative golf model," Del Rossi observes, "a jam-packed bar and grill where you also hit golf shots." He tells course partners they could easily find themselves in the birthday party and bachelor party business, just through this one improvement. Meanwhile, at courses and clubs that offer quarterly or monthly range plans, Toptracer Range provides a chance to upsell the practice-oriented player.

It's early in the rollout of both products, especially Toptracer Range, which makes it difficult to assess how competition in a local market will be impacted. "I can sense that some operators might think their competitors don't have it, so maybe they don't need it," says Del Rossi. "But others seem to be thinking, 'Hey, I'll be the only one in town who's got this.' Also, that's going to give them a leg up."

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