Toptracer Range targets ‘thousands of locations’ within 5 years

A Toptracer monitor hangs in a hitting bay Toptracer

Toptracer Range targets ‘thousands of locations’ within 5 years

Golf Life

Toptracer Range targets ‘thousands of locations’ within 5 years

If you have not yet been able to go to Topgolf, chances are Topgolf will be coming to you.

The fast-growing entertainment company is opening about 10 locations annually, but even if there’s not one scheduled to open in your hometown, you’re likely to see a scaled-down version called Toptracer Range coming to a practice range or golf course near you.

Topgolf’s Toptracer division outfits existing practice ranges with the screens and equipment that allow golfers to play Toptracer games and use the system’s launch monitor. Topgolf acquired Toptracer, best known for its use in TV coverage of professional golf, in 2017.

Ben Sharpe, president of Toptracer Global, said the concept of rolling out the product to ranges was little more than an idea a year ago. Now it’s spreading quickly.

By year’s end Toptracer Range will be in more than 100 locations in about 15 countries, and Sharpe said the pace of expansion will accelerate in 2019. He said that will include a new product line suitable for grass-tee ranges, complementing the version now sold to indoor or covered ranges.

Ben Sharpe Headshot

Ben Sharpe – Toptracer

“If you look at the real commercial opportunity and how we can scale this business and, more importantly, grow this global gaming community,
it’s where golf is strongest: North America, Europe, Japan and Korea,” Sharpe said. “Those four markets are where we’re really going to focus our attention.”

He said he expects Toptracer Range to have 300 to 400 locations worldwide by end of 2019, adding, “I’d hope for more.”

Toptracer installs the equipment at no charge to the ranges, then leases it at prices starting around $180 to $190 per bay per month, depending on the configuration.

When Mistwood Golf Dome opens Nov. 1 in Bolingbrook, Ill., it will have 30 bays newly outfitted with Toptracer, according to general manager Dan Bradley.

“All we needed to show was a 10-percent increase in revenue and it would pay for the lease,” Bradley said. “We’re projecting above a 30-percent increase on the low end, so for us, it’s a very low-risk investment.”

Vitense Golfland in Madison, Wis., has had 18 Toptracer units in its eight golf suites for two years, predating Topgolf’s acquisition of Toptracer. Joel Weitz, owner of Vitense, said he has been impressed with the support his range has received from Toptracer’s headquarters in Sweden, where technicians are able to monitor the range remotely and make tweaks if necessary.

“One of the greatest features that helps lengthen the stay here is the virtual golf aspect,” Weitz said, noting that Toptracer recently added Pebble Beach Golf Links to the roster of courses that golfers can play. “We have a league that plays on Wednesday nights during the winter. They play nine holes and they have a great time.”

A screen shows a Toptracer game.

Here’s a glimpse at what a Toptracer game looks like. (Toptracer)

Sharpe sees big opportunities to create global, virtual-golf competitions, with thousands of golfers, for example, playing the same course or competing
in closest-to-the-pin competitions.

“We really do like the idea of linking our sites together and getting people to play in these competitions,” Sharpe said.

Anyone who has visited a traditional Topgolf knows that the clientele is different than what is found at a typical golf course – more women, more children, more minorities. Sharpe said that same dynamic seems is playing out at Toptracer ranges.

Weitz, a former Wisconsin PGA president who is interested in expanding participation, said Toptracer has had that impact at Vitense Golfland.

“The demographics of people who visit our facility is much more broad than the traditional golf market,” Weitz said. “This has really increased the variety of customers who will come and use the system, just because of the gaming.”

Sharpe said this kind of consumer excitement for the product has personal appeal to him. He spent nine years at TaylorMade-Adidas Golf, ultimately rising to CEO in 2014 before leaving the company in 2015.

While he loves golf, he said he debated whether to return to the industry because “the macroeconomics don’t look great.” But he saw Topgolf and Toptracer as “the solution that drives massive participation. We’re ‘game-ifying’ the sport, bringing screens to golf, we’re bringing fun to golf, we’re creating a new way to practice and play.”

He expects Toptracer to be in “thousands of locations” worldwide within five years, introducing the game to millions of new players.

“Think about how many screens we’ve got and how many people per day are going to be hitting balls,” Sharpe said. “That’s going to be tens of millions of people going through Toptracer Range. That is incremental growth of the sport, and we will convert some of those people to play on golf courses.” Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the November 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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