Camera-based launch monitors, radar trigger golf range revolution

TrackMan

Camera-based launch monitors, radar trigger golf range revolution

Equipment

Camera-based launch monitors, radar trigger golf range revolution

Many golf ranges have offered pretty much the same experience for decades. Buckets or bags of balls, a space to swing, a sprinkling of targets. Conditions vary, but any golfer knows the drill.

Toptracer and TrackMan are out to change that. Using camera-based launch monitors (Toptracer) or radar (TrackMan), the two technology-based companies have introduced shot-tracking systems that promise to disrupt the old routine of hit, scrape in another ball, hit.

Similar to how Topgolf, the owner of Toptracer Range, uses technology to introduce millions of people to hitting golf balls, and just as many tour pros rely on TrackMan launch monitors in their practice routines, the companies can upgrade the range experience anywhere that facility operators are willing to take a flier on tech.

“As soon as people try it, they’re hooked,” said Jeff Ellis, PGA director of golf at Pittsburgh’s Cool Springs Driving Range, which in 2014 installed
a Protracer system (that company was purchased by Topgolf and renamed Toptracer in 2016). “Once people hit balls with Toptracer, they don’t
want to play golf without it.”

Toptracer Range uses mounted cameras that track balls in flight. Shot data is converted into a flight trace, similar to those seen on PGA Tour television broadcasts to track shots. Players hit the ball, then can turn to a screen to watch a virtual ball flight or study their launch data. Similar Toptracer systems are being installed at Topgolf’s new locations as they come online.

Beyond watching to see the shot just hit, the Toptracer Range system offers several games, including virtual reality. Players can stage closest-to-the-pin competitions or play multiple famous courses. In the virtual-game mode, players tee off on the range, but on the screen they are playing Pebble Beach, for example, with their shot data and trace overlaid on holes next to the Pacific Ocean. It’s comparable to simulator golf, but with real golf balls that fly outdoors.

“People really enjoy watching the trace of the golf shot and the statistics that go with it,” Anirudh Mehta, Topgolf’s vice president of corporate development, said of Toptracer Range. “… We designed the software so that it has a little bit for everyone. Serious golfers can practice and track their performance, and beginners or people just looking to have fun can play games.”

TrackMan has approached the range with different technology that offers similar opportunities. The company is famous among core golfers for its radar-based launch monitors, which were introduced in 2003. With its TrackMan Range products, an entire driving range can be monitored by downfield radar units, which provide launch data to users via a mobile app. The system can track which golfer hit each shot, and several games – Capture the Flag, Hit It, and Bulls-eye – came online this summer.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to offer TrackMan to everyone, the first time we’ve been able to offer the technology directly to the consumer,” said Sebastian Eldrup-Jørgensen, business development manager for TrackMan’s Driving Range Solutions. “TrackMan Range is us combining all the learning over the years … and we’re taking it directly to the end consumer.”

Golf technology is now being marketed directly to the consumer. (TrackMan)

Golf technology is now being marketed directly to the consumer. (TrackMan)

While the games and shot-tracking possibilities are an upgrade over the standard range experience for many golfers, the upside might be even bigger for range operators.

Casey Baker, chief operating officer at retailer and range operator Carl’s Golfland, said range revenue is up about 20 percent since the company installed TrackMan Range at its location in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the first North American location to install the system. That sales uptick has happened despite a particularly nasty winter since the system was installed in the fall and the fact that Carl’s isn’t charging extra for using the system in its 50-plus hitting bays.

“We feel like there’s a standard distance that people will drive to hit golf balls, but this is kind of turning into an entertainment or destination setting, so people are driving from farther away,” Baker said of TrackMan Range’s attraction. “We’ve been surprised, frankly, by the number of balls that have been hit with the app on and active. We thought this might take a while to catch on, but about 60 percent of the shots being hit now are with the app active and live. So that’s been kind of cool to see.”

Baker said the TrackMan system also helps with retail sales. Carl’s allows players to demo clubs before purchase, and TrackMan Range benefits their demos.

“It’s eliminated some of the guesswork for our customers and our sales associates,” Baker said.

The systems aren’t cheap. TrackMan, based in Denmark, sells its system and ensuing support to range operators, and although Eldrup-Jørgensen couldn’t provide exact prices because they are dependent on the range, it’s safe to say a typical price tag is more than $100,000. TrackMan Range has been installed at two facilities in the U.S. and four in Europe, and Dallas National became the first private club to install the system in March.

Toptracer offers a lease model to range operators that runs several hundred dollars per month for each hitting bay. About 35 facilities in the U.S. and Europe have installed Toptracer, including several private clubs such as the 1757 Golf Club in Dulles, Va.. Dozens more facilities are in discussions
about installation.

The opportunity to get a jump on technology – and their competition – could be vital for many range operators. Eldrup-Jørgensen said there are about 20,000 range facilities in the U.S., and he wouldn’t be surprised to see half of them incorporate some form of shot-tracking within the next five to eight years. Facilities without such technology could be left in the cold.

Ellis said the eight heated and covered hitting bays with Toptracer at Cool Springs – the facility has 50 other bays without the system – offer the chance to stage parties paying by the hour, and the impact on food and beverage sales has been notable. He said that in all, the Toptracer bays almost double the revenue of the non-tech hitting bays. Cool Springs charges $5 to use the Toptracer system on top of the $15 for a large bucket, and Ellis sees an opportunity in possibly expanding to 20 Toptracer bays.

“It just makes us better than anyone else. It’s just that simple,” Ellis said of Toptracer.  “You either lead, follow or get out of the way with this kind of technology.” Gwk

(Note: This story appeared in the April 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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