Topgolf has been the big innovation in story in the industry in recent years. So we decided to see it for ourselves.
In February last year we took a group of golf operators from Australia to the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. As an NGCOA member, this was Andrew’s second trip to the USA for the NGCOA annual event - an event that brings together golf owners and operators in the USA and is coupled with the huge Golf Industry Show as well as the annual conference of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).
You can read more about the trip, and its role in starting the Golf Business Forum, here. Our tour group was also keen to see the phenomenon that is Topgolf USA first hand.
Delivering on expectations
Topgolf is a big deal. In person, even bigger. Topgolf is a purpose-built multi-level 100+ bay driving range with high-level hospitality services and gaming technology built in. Range bays are shared by a group (anywhere from 1 to 6 people), surrounded by couches, free golf clubs are provided, and drinks are served by attentive staff. Balls are tracked on landing in the multi-targeted outfield, and high-def TV screens track progress through multiple game formats. Sites are purpose-built with multi-million dollar investments required by the company for every build.
But such a description doesn’t do it justice, for it’s not just what you do there that’s really interesting to us, it’s who is doing it:
- More than 250,000 visitors a year at individual sites
- The majority of participants are not “golfers” as we define them, some nights more than 60% of guests are new to the game
- It's not a man's world: Topgolf sees up to 40% female participation
Topgolf’s own vision is not small as they aim to be:
It's not just groups of Australian golf industry people and the expected groups of guys drinking beer. We saw families, girls' groups on their regular night out, kids, and older generations all having a ball. The broad demographic was in stark contrast to Saturday morning at the local course.
The takeaways: fun, friendly and easy to join in
Good food aside, the takeaways for us were simple: make it fun, make it friendly, and lower the barriers to entry. When you do this, golf remains aspirational, the challenge of that little white ball can (and does) still appeal. Whilst not the antidote to all golf's challenges as a sport, it's refreshing to see the game reimagined with compelling success.
Will Topgolf translate directly to the Australian market? Time will tell, our sports bar culture is different, and lacks the nightly content and broad appeal of sports broadcasting in the USA - but there is plenty we can learn from its success. We’re seeing exciting new innovations in driving ranges already, designed for the Australian market: Sydney’s Moore Park Golf installed a jumbo-screen in their outfield (Friday night footy and a bucket of balls, anyone?). Parkwood International continues to enhance its range with couches and hospitality on offer, and Thornleigh Golf Centre’s artificial outfield offers plenty of things to aim at. These are just a few of the examples we have seen here in recent years.
Topgolf is rolling out sites in the USA rapidly, stay tuned for the inevitable international expansion and in the meantime, ask your local range when they’re serving cold beer.
Want to know more? Let Topgolf themselves explain: