By Ken MacLeod
Golf industry analysts are paying close attention to the success of Topgolf and competitors such as FlyingTee, the first of which is located in Jenks with new locations to be announced soon.
The numbers of golfers, particularly the desirable millennial age demographic, utilizing the facilities brings hope that perhaps they will be the first step in convincing those out for fun on a Friday night to become true golfers playing golf at a public or private course.
An intermediate step may be to turn driving ranges and practice facilities throughout the U.S. into places where golfers are able to play many of the same games, track their shots and get feedback from sophisticated ball tracking technology.
To that end, both Topgolf and FlyingTee made significant announcements last week at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. FlyingTee introduced FLITE, which will enable third parties to build and operate their own entertainment venues. Topgolf rolled out Toptracer, which utilizes Protracer ball tracking technology to add games and ball tracking to driving ranges or other facilities.
Interestingly, Protracer was a big component of the original technology rolled out by FlyingTee and is used in all of its games and practice modes at the Jenks facility. Topgolf purchased Protracer in May of 2016 and will use its technology in the games it offers at driving ranges and will also begin using it at some of its locations, although not yet as part of its games, which utilize chips embedded in golf balls rather than ball tracking technology.
John Vollbrecht, managing director of FlyingTEE, said the company has been approached by numerous groups to license their technology platform and that FLITE will be used not only by traditional driving ranges but by new facilities coming online that may not be as large as the traditional three-story range of a Topgolf or Flyingtee but ones interested in combining golf entertainment with food, drink and fun.
“There’s a lot of demand out there to enhance the driving range facilities and experience,” Vollbrecht said. “This can be a revenue enhancer for them. We’ve had interest from full 60-bay facilities to some that might want to do a 20-bay facility. Ranges can scale it up and down from all their bays to 5 or 10.”
Toptracer is envisioning installing computer screens at ranges that could be removed at night for safety, while FlyingTee sees golfers bringing or checking out a tablet that would go on a stand next to their practice area.
In either case, both companies plan to integrate technology, games and competition into the typical range experience, which usually consists of trying to figure out why you can hit a ball solidly on the range but not on the golf course.
“The business model of driving ranges hasn’t dramatically changed in recent memory, and the result is that profits and usage have remained stagnant,” said Topgolf International and Toptracer Range President Troy Warfield. “With Toptracer Range, we’re providing operators a platform to quickly and easily improve their bottom line by engaging golf’s latent demand of 38 million people interested in the game. At the same time, players benefit from the incredible social, interactive experience for which Topgolf is best known.”
Vollbrecht said FlyingTee would soon be announcing the first partners that are going to use the FLITE technology.