Keeping It Real

By | May 1st, 2018

Destination Kohler (Wis.)

More properties are finding that by providing players with golf simulators that offer the next best thing to actually being elsewhere, they can generate tangible new revenue streams and member/guest benefits for their own locations.

If your budget or your schedule won’t handle a trip to St Andrews in Scotland, how great would it be to play the legendary course after only a short drive to your hometown club? If Pebble Beach is too far away and the nearly $500-a-round-cost busts the budget, how about a quick trip to your club to play “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea in the world,” for far less than the Pebble Beach caddie fee? If your game needs some tweaking and your favorite teaching pro isn’t available, wouldn’t it be handy to get instant digital feedback after every swing on whatever “smart” technology you prefer?

SUMMING IT UP

• Golf simulators can be a particular boon to clubs and courses in cold-weather regions, giving members and guests another reason to come by, regardless of the conditions.
• Simulators can simultaneously bring more enjoyment, and precision, to instruction and clubfitting.
• The upfront cost of simulators can be justified by their long-term appeal to younger generations of players now drawn to Topgolf-like experiences.

Golfers can do all of the above today on any of a variety of electronic simulators. More and more clubs are adding some type of simulator to their member and customer amenities. The high-tech systems are a particular boon to clubs in cold-weather regions, giving members another reason to drop by the club, regardless of the prevailing conditions.

The simulators are a built-in revenue stream as well, with individuals or leagues gathering to “play” the selected courses while also enjoying a little food-and-beverage refreshment. And while many of the simulators on the market are a bit pricey to justify as an addition to the family den or garage, a club, course or resort can bear their expense as an incentive for new memberships or increased customer traffic.

Simulators may also be a tough sell to older members on club Boards—but there’s no denying their appeal to the younger generation, as well as to serious golfers who want to work on their game when the course is closed. Combine those factors with the boost in club sales that frequently comes with simulator-based technology, and the proposition looks more appealing. And if space and resources are available to add food-and-beverage service for a mini-Topgolf experience at a tiny fraction of the price, so much the better.

Winning Over Winter
Destination Kohler is not only a luxurious resort and part of one of the country’s first planned communities in the village of Kohler, Wis., but also home to four spectacular golf courses (two each at Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits). In addition to extensive visitor traffic, the courses are host to the private Riverbend Golf Club’s 300-plus members. But regardless of the quality of the world-class courses, it being Wisconsin, none of them are open year-round.

Claremont CC seized upon the construction of its new golf shop to add a simulator, along with a launch monitor and clubfitting system, in two new hitting bays. Head Golf Professional Jay McDaniel says the simulator has proved to be especially helpful in showing members the difference between their existing golf clubs and the potential of a new set.

“We were trying to extend our season, so three or four years ago, we put in About Golf simulators and developed all of our golf courses for year-round business,” says the resort’s General Manager and Director of Golf, Dirk Willis. “The use of those simulators is part of our golf package. We can also use them for instruction, and use of the simulators is part of the Riverbend Golf Club membership.

“We run leagues in the winter from November to April with 150 participants, and that’s been a home run for us,” Willis adds. “Most of those people play in afternoon leagues as well, and we also have up to eight-person groups booking the simulators, at a rate of $35 to $50 an hour.”

A Reason to Party
When the Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, N.C., bought its SkyTrak simulator system online in February of 2017, General Manager Josh Paris says the original plan was to charge members for its use—but that has since changed.

“At first it was for profit, but now it’s just an amenity for members. We no longer charge,” Paris says. Members make use of the simulator in a variety of ways, from group contests to birthday-party attraction to game instruction and practice.

“We had our coldest March this year, and [the SkyTrak system] got a lot of use,” Paris reports. “We’re consciously trying to improve and grow the game of golf, and the simulator is great for beginners to practice on by themselves. They can do that with no pressure, and track things like launch angle and spin rate. We also have a lot of couples come in—it’s kind of a ‘date night’ for them.”

The cost of the SkyTrak system, mat and space conversion for where it’s been set up came to around $15,000, Paris reports. But there are essentially no staff costs involved now that it’s in place, he adds. In fact, in an effort to make sure the system is as user-friendly as possible, the club printed out the operations manual and leaves it next to the PC that runs the simulator. And the system can also run off a member’s iPad.

The Full Swing simulator company, whose investors include the fast-growing Topgolf driving range/entertainment company (pictured above), has formed a strategic alliance with ClubCorp to provide golf simulators to a number of the management firm’s facilities.

Joining Forces

ClubCorp, the largest owner/operator of private golf and country clubs in the U.S., and Topgolf, the fast-growing golf driving range, F&B and sports entertainment dynamo, have partnered to offer reciprocal benefits to their respective members at each other’s facilities. Additionally, while Topgolf’s Toptracer Range technology brings high-tech digital feedback to select ClubCorp driving ranges, the Full Swing simulator company, whose investors include Topgolf and Tiger Woods, among others, has formed a strategic alliance with ClubCorp that will provide golf simulators to a number of ClubCorp facilities, allowing them to offer year-round entertainment, teaching and practice opportunities.

ClubCorp members will also receive preferred access and other benefits at Topgolf venues during off-peak times. In return, Topgolf’s Platinum Members will be offered the chance to play in exclusive Topgolf-hosted tournaments at ClubCorp facilities.

For members who want the Topgolf experience but on a more intimate scale, ClubCorp plans to open an eight-bay driving range and entertainment center on one end of its flagship Brookhaven Country Club’s driving range in Dallas. The bays feature Topgolf-style games and technology, along with entertainment and F&B offerings. Members can book the bays with preferred pricing. Called “Drive Zone,” the concept is believed to be the first to be offered on an actual driving range.

With Topgolf extending special benefits to ClubCorp members at its facilities and offering its Toptracer technology at the initial ClubCorp club driving ranges, ClubCorp also began to consider ways to amenitize the available new simulator technology indoors at clubs, for use during bad weather, winter months or at night. ClubCorp was already working with Full Swing, one of the leading simulator providers, when Topgolf made its investment in that company, and both companies are continuing to take steps to fully leverage the technology.

“We are intrigued with the indoor-simulator opportunity,” says Mark Burnett, ClubCorp’s President/CEO. “We have them in four of our clubs and are going to add another six. Members can use them for practice, they can help our pros teach serious golfers, and members can play a number of famous courses.

“We also will create leagues and fun events for members,” Burnett adds. “That pilot effort, if it goes well, may lead to an ‘indoor golf club’ concept. We could make it members only, or offer preferred pricing, with access to non-members.”

A Great Fit
At the Chicago Highlands Club in Westchester, Ill., two simulators from Foresight Sports now act as an added draw for the club’s 250-plus members who want to still visit the club during the harsh extended winter of the Windy City region. Once there, the club’s younger members, in particular, amuse themselves playing a variety of golf-oriented games on the simulators, while the more serious golfers hone their swings or check out various equipment lines.

Members carry a key fob to activate the simulators and can use them at any time as an amenity. And Director of Golf Patrick Crow reports that the simulators pay their way not only as a teaching aid, but also as a boost for golf club sales.

“In terms of clubfitting, we’ve seen an uptick in the winter,” Crow says. “It’s so easy to [use the simulators] to compare and contrast new clubs with the member’s current set, and it makes the clubfitting decision so much easier and quicker. We have a lot of successful people at our club, and this gives them the type of data they’re used to working with.”

Chicago Highlands converted four platform tennis courts into its two simulator hitting bays, which are approximately 22 feet wide and 30 feet long. The simulators can also be moved to the outside tees in warm weather. Each unit cost approximately $10,000, Crow says, with another $4,500 to map and input the club’s course into the simulators, and a bit under $5,000 for additional software.

More Realistic Results
In Oakland, Calif., Claremont Country Club seized upon the construction of its new golf shop to add a Foresight Sports simulator, launch monitor and clubfitting system to service two hitting bays. Jay McDaniel, the club’s longtime Head Golf Professional, says the club demolished two old sheds to create the two bays, one of which is accessed from the new shop and the other entered from the rear of the bay.

Like many others who have access to simulator systems, McDaniel appreciates how they can help show members the difference between their existing golf clubs and the potential of a new set. “It’s one thing for them to go to the driving range and watch balls and think they’re going better, but another to see the difference on the simulator,” he says.

Claremont is currently experimenting with the best ways to take advantage of the new simulator technology, in addition to McDaniel’s use of the system as a teaching tool. The club presently charges members a fee for a 15-minute rental session, with sessions monitored by a staff member. The club is also considering an expansion of the system to include more Topgolf-style games and add food-and-beverage service, McDaniel reports.

Dirk Willis, General Manager and Director of Golf, Destination Kohler

Simulator School
Highland Golf & Country Club in Indianapolis, Ind., has gone big with its golf training program, creating a $1.6 million Highland Academy, thanks in part to an annual use fee from nearby Butler University and a major grant from a club member. Trackman launch monitors and software to power two simulators in four indoor-outdoor hitting bays are now key components of the Academy’s instruction offerings.

The Academy, which opened in March, features a 3,200-sq. ft. putting and chipping area, faux sand trap, four hitting bays and a teaching bay, two simulators, a bar and lounge area, conference room and lockers. The simulators feature courses from around the world, and while Butler officials hope the Academy will give the university’s golf team a recruiting advantage, the club is excited about its appeal to new members. “There has been a lot of buzz around the Academy, and membership growth is improving,” says General Manager Greg Sabens.

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