As part of my recent week-end in the Capital City, I popped into TopGolf to see what all the hype was about.
I was only there for around 15 minutes but what I witnessed changed my whole perception of the golf industry. Here is what I took away,
Golf can be cool.
As soon as you enter the modern reception, the young, hip vibe is noticeable. A growing queue of customers stretches from the booking desk to the door. To the left, the bar area is packed with big screens showing the Liverpool v Manchester United game. It is 4pm on a Sunday afternoon – graveyard hours for golf clubs across the country but this place is rammed.
Move to the bottom tier of the range and every bay is filled.
At least 3 or 4 players mill among each of the heated playing areas, switching between their beer, burgers and hitting balls. Upstairs the pattern is the same – groups of 20 to 40 year old’s together with the odd family group laughing, eating, drinking and having fun. Computer screens keep a track of the tenpin bowling style scoring and pop music plays above the active hubbub of noise.
Golf has found its T20.
This is certainly golf but not as I know it. This is a leisure pursuit rather than sport. Its players are not really golfers. Nobody has brought their own clubs, wears a glove or traditional golf clothing (although flat-brimmed baseball caps seem common). The American Golf store has little interest from the customers – why do they need to buy equipment when it is all provided? The attached pitch and putt course lays sad and empty as a contrast to the bustling range. It would seem that very few of the customers have any interest in golf beyond this specific game.
And yet it is utterly brilliant. Forget Powerplay Golf (remember that?) and GolfSixes because right here golf has its answer to crickets T20. This is a safe, fun and exciting environment for young people to hang out. It is quick, competitive and social. You can bring your Grandad and younger brother and still enjoy the experience.
The model works and should be copied.
It is clear that TopGolf has its business model sorted. Based in the US, there are but 3 sites in the UK at present all of which are around London. It is clear, however, that this model could be rolled out to any City or large town that contains a high percentage of 20-40 year old’s among its population.
I would suggest that the traditional model of the stand alone golf driving range is in grave danger. Mostly cold, concrete laden sites for serious golfers only, their place is under threat from a younger, much cooler sibling. Whilst traditional established golf clubs are likely to be able to maintain a profitable range area where silence is expected, for the off-course locations things have to change.
Here are the 6 key factors of the TopGolf model that should be copied before it takes over this side of the industry completely.
Comfort. With heated bays and relaxing seating areas in the vicinity, this is an activity that can be enjoyed in warmth and comfort throughout the year.
Technology. A simple scoring system that allows all levels of player to compete against each other and more importantly to keep the interest levels is a crucial ingredient. Look out for the addition of TopTracer technology soon to add another level of fun. Free WiFi allows the Insta crowd to share their photos instantly.
Food and Beverage. Decent quality fast food and beer is a great margin maker and keeps customers at the venue for longer. Families can enjoy the game and eat at the same time. It has to be a better experience than McDonalds or Weatherspoons right?
Equipment. Literally nobody brings their own clubs to TopGolf. But the provided equipment is not some bent 20 year old ex-demo club but fully branded basic but adequate clubs that store easily into each bay.
Atmosphere. This is not an environment where silence is expected. Music mixes with chatter and laughter to create a relaxed and modern feel.
Marketing. Take a gander at the TopGolf website and you will see people in normal clothes smiling and making a funky golf swing whilst with their friends. There is no mention of archaic rules or dress codes. You do not need an official handicap or to know the Club Captain.
Is it for me?
I will be visiting the Driving Range this week-end. I go in order to improve my game. I will be on my own and expect those around me to respectfully hit in quiet in order that I can concentrate.
I love it. I forget about all the stresses of life and enter my own little happy bubble.
So, for me TopGolf would not be a choice that I would make unless I was going out for a drink with friends. But that is not the point. TopGolf is a crucial part of the future of the golf industry. It’s market is young, non-golfers. Those for whom the bug bites hardest will seek out further golf experiences and tuition. TopGolf is doing its bit. It is up to the next level in the pathway to step up to the mark and reproduce the fun elements that will create lifelong students of this great game.