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April 2024

Revolutionizing Your Range

Could This Technology Boost Your Course's Bottom Line? 

By Doug McPherson

Back in 2021, Clark Burckle acquired a driving range in Louisville, Kentucky.
Burckle, CEO of Golf Management Group, which owns and operates public driving ranges and golf practice facilities, says the range was already popular (customers hit 4.7 million balls there in 2023) but it just needed “a bit of love and innovation.”

He also began to think about how he could create more “hittable days” each year for his customers.  
“Whenever it rained heavily or got cold, our business went to zero,” Burckle says.
 
In the summer of 2023, he decided to invest in 10 covered hitting bays―but not just any bays―bays with Toptracer, the technology that allows golfers to see their shots and other data on nearby screens or their phones.

Burckle, who expects to open the bays this spring, says his thought process behind adding Toptracer to his range had three components:

1) To increase business by offering more hittable days

2) To invest in proven technology, such as foreUp (point-of-sale and tee-sheet software) and Toptracer, that can increase top-line revenue and generate valuable data

3) To add more fun with a wider variety of options that addresses all levels of golf.

He adds that he didn’t have any investors, so he knew roll-out would be slower than he would have liked “But this phased approach really helped generate curiosity and traffic around the property,” he says.

“Also, it helped going to the NGCOA’s Golf Business Conference and PGA Show conferences and hearing about what technology other operators had invested in. This made the risk of investing feel less risky, with existing blueprints already out there and proven. So, in the end, it was more a question of how much to spend, or how elaborate the improvement should be.”

Vendors used in the renovation include: Toptracer, Cover the Tees, Wittek, Fiberbuilt, Range Servant and Callaway.

“Honestly, each vendor has been great―responsive and understanding. One example is that we had a few permitting issues with our buildout and Toptracer and Cover the Tees were both beyond understanding with delays. That's not too common, and it's something I'm very grateful for, especially when these companies are growing and managing many customers in addition to us. We use a limited list of vendors, at least for now. This is more by design than anything.”

Burckle says the practical lessons he learned in adding range technology were:

1) Be patient – “Change takes time, especially if you plan to charge a premium. Change can upset people, so communicate early, frequently and clearly. This in combination with a premium product can make the change more understandable.”

2) Build it right – “Use the expert vendors. Ask lots of questions and do your research and you’ll find the premium vendors.”

3) Communicate – “Support your technology investment with a good digital and social media approach to make sure people are aware of the property and innovation.”

Burckle adds that he believes demand for range technology is growing and that technology will be a must in the future, that golfers will expect it.

“Technology may not be a must for elite clubs, but outside of these clubs I do believe it will be necessary because most facilities will have it,” he says. “I also think it will become a great tool for golfers working on their game as well as just having fun, so it truly addresses the golf market. I also think that beyond shot-tracing technology, more ranges and small courses will hone in on the use of software to optimize operations and sales. I'd like to roll this change out on a broader level within the learn-to-golf and golf-practice markets, so I'm a believer.”

On the topic of range technology leading directly to more golfers on the course, Burckle says he believes there’s “a positive correlation.”

“For our facility, I like to believe that kids will come out for a birthday party and the gamification of the sport will lead them to want to learn and play more, leading them eventually to the course,” he says. “In addition, with more options around golf, and lower barriers to entry for the game, more people can afford to start the sport.” 

Got more questions about range technology? Burckle says he’s open to helping other owners. His email is ccburckle@gmail.com.

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