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November 2018

Think ‘Transformative’ when Envisioning the Future

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By Jay Karen, CEO, NGCOA 

The 2018 Golf Business TechCon just wrapped up, and naturally my mind is on the future of the industry. At the event, we had an evening of fun at Las Vegas Topgolf. It was a typical Thursday night, and the place was jam-packed. NGCOA member Debbie Jeffries, owner of RiverRidge Golf Complex in Eugene, Oregon, shared an interesting observation with me about the patrons at Topgolf. She noticed all the “golfers” playing in the bays were deeply engaged in the metrics and data being captured, such as swing speed, ball flight, distance to the targets, etc.; while the “non-golfers” couldn’t care less about that info, and were just having fun swinging hard at an inanimate object. But, both crowds were imbibing, eating and spending money just the same.

Pivoting back to our conference, we had many technology companies in attendance, offering their expertise and services with the aim of helping course owners solve problems and unlock opportunities. In most cases, their solutions promise to improve operations in many ways, small and large. But “large” is a relative concept when thinking about change and improvement. To one operator, a large improvement could simply be having easier software to work with. To another, large could mean unlocking $80,000 in net income through dynamic pricing technology. 

But, when I think “large,” I’m thinking transformative. I think most small businesses would appreciate finding new net income in the margins and tweaking of operations and strategy — $10K here or $5K there. But what would it take for the $1.2M revenue facility to realize $1.8M? Or the $2.5M facility to realize $3.4M? We are an industry that’s just hanging on to 23M customers and one that is continually beat up by weather, all the while Topgolf reigns as the darling of the golf industry. Let’s connect the dots, folks!

Some may call me obsessed with the concept, but I believe the key to transformation will be to create the golf course that is open for business under the sun or the moon, and when the weather is fantastic or terrible. I believe the golf course of the future will be indoor and outdoor, if only we can find ways to embrace virtual reality and gamification of golf, which includes simulators (like GOLFZON) and other high-tech concepts (like NextLinks and Toptracer Range). A business case has to be made more clearly for the value of installing multiple simulators at a typical golf course and the ongoing costs must be presented in a way to lower the risks borne by a typical course. The business plan for revenue must be simple to apply. We must find a way to make this ubiquitous among the existing 14,000+ golf facilities around the United States. If we don’t, mark my words, we will see it pop up in retail and other non-golf locations all across the nation. If that happens, we will have lost the opportunity to be the center of gravity for this transformation. And no, we shouldn’t wait around to see how many “Topgolfers” will migrate to the green grass.

In 2001, with the introduction of the iPod and iTunes, I’m sure many people looked at Steve Jobs and thought, “What the hell are you doing getting into the music business?” But had Apple not sought transformation, they might have disappeared into oblivion long ago. I like the looks of the golf course of the future.

 

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