Embracing the latest simulator and shot-tracking technology and bringing it under cover is helping club facilities attract new customers and generate extra year-round revenue—from F&B as well as golf.
SUMMING IT UP
• Whether winter shuts down a golf course or in-season days are washed out, new technology can help clubs generate revenue year-round.
• Data provided by simulators and shot-tracking technology appeals to golfers of all skill levels.
• While revenue generated by the use of technology on its own may be modest, the related increase in F&B can be substantial.
As fall turns to winter, golf courses across the northen half of the U.S. have begun their months-long hibernation. Thankfully, though, technology is providing these course owners and operators with myriad options to help keep revenue flowing while the grass isn’t growing.
Golfers want to emulate what they see on TV. And while the vast majority will never bomb a 350-yard drive like the pros, the new technology brings the appeal to players of all ability of still being able to hit balls, and enjoy the same images for their own shots, that track the flight of the tee shots they see every weekend.
Dome Sweet Dome
The Mistwood Golf Dome, in Bolingbrook, Ill., has now brought that technology to the masses. With the installation of a Toptracer Range, the Chicagoland facility provides its guests with a wealth of information about the flight path of the golf ball along with other valuable shot data—including distance (carry and total), ball speed, launch angle, height and more.
Conceived by Swedish entrepreneur Daniel Forsgren in 2006 to enhance televised golf coverage, Toptracer is a camera-based system that tracks ball flight and adds on-screen graphics to make trajectory and shot-shape visible to viewers.
Andy Mickelson, Director of Golf at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville, Ill., as well as for the Golf Dome operation (both are operated under the same ownership), said the process started three years ago at the 2016 PGA Show, when he approached a company called Protracer to discuss ball tracking in a dome setting. Shortly after that, the company was purchased by Topgolf.
“Fast forward to this past January, when an old acquaintance, Matt Vinge, of what is now Toptracer, reached out to discuss this new avenue and thought Mistwood would be a neat setting for it,” Mickelson says. “Dan Bradley, [Mistwood GC’s General Manager] and I went to the PGA Show with the intent of finding something that could differentiate our dome from others, like having launch monitors at each station.
“We then met with Matt and the Toptracer team and I think instantly we knew this would be the perfect fit,”
Mickelson adds. “The technology is industry-leading, the multiple game applications were great, and the structure of the deal lent itself to minimal long-term risk.”
Mistwood set the end of September as the target date for the Toptracer team to begin installation. On top of other improvements made, the Toptracer team spent about 8 to 10 days on site.
“It was operational quickly,” Mickelson says. “Prior to opening, it was on us to help with camera calibration, by hitting as many balls as we possibly could and to adjust lighting where needed.”
In total, all 30 hitting bays and two teaching bays at Mistwood now utilize Toptracer, qualifying Mistwood as Toptracer’s largest project to date in the United States, as well as the first dome in the country to install the technology.
Toptracer says it will work to tailor solutions based on a facility’s resources and available space. There are no upfront charges, and hardware installation is included. Operators pay a monthly license fee per bay.
Mistwood’s cost structure is simple. Weekdays are $30 per hour, per bay and weekends are $35 per hour, per bay. Seniors pay $22 per hour, per bay from 9 a.m. to noon on weekdays.
The technology should appeal to golfers of all skill levels, Mickelson believes. “It helps us engage a larger customer base,” he says. “Applications like ‘What’s in the Bag’ or ‘Virtual Golf’ will engage the avid golfer’s needs with incredible accuracy. Then applications like ‘Points Game’ mimic Topgolf games and can be incredibly fun for those trying golf for the first time.
“We are now a very attractive option for a great night out with great warmth and comfort all season long within the dome,” Mickelson adds. “Our largest gains should come via food and beverage, where I would expect [what’s] consumed in the dome to double in year one.” Overall, he expects about a 25 percent year-over-year return on investment.
In addition to Toptracer, the Mistwood Golf Dome offers a full-service bar and restaurant (McWethy’s Sports Bar) and retains six LPGA/PGA professionals who are available daily for lessons. Also, Mistwood Golf Club’s Performance Center clubfitting operation is moved to the Dome during the winter months.
While plans for the future are fluid, Mickelson says Mistwood Golf Dome’s partnership with Toptracer will cover the next four seasons.
“Every single year we do improvements to our dome, and Toptracer also continues to innovate,” he adds. “Beyond Toptracer, we don’t know what will happen in the next few years, specifically with golf technology. But I do know we’ll continue to be a leader and investor in golf entertainment.”
Zintel Creek Golf Club in Kennewick, Wash., has also added a popular golf option—an indoor simulator—for members and guests to use when the weather isn’t cooperating for a traditional round.
The process of choosing a Full Swing golf simulator took approximately eight months, reports Clint Ables, Zintel Creek’s General Manager and Head Golf Professional. But it was something he had thought about for more than a year.
“At the beginning we did some ‘research and development’—we went and played on several different simulators from different golf clubs [and] to a Topgolf facility,” Ables says. “Once we settled on [Full Swing], I put together 11 of our 20 owners to finance [its purchase].”
“Our simulator is two paces from our bar and the simulator room has a dedicated server for all food-and-beverage needs,” Zintel adds. “With that being our main focus, we can still perform lessons and club fittings when asked to do so.
“[So] the club will simply pay the investors back from the proceeds of the simulator, while the club still gets the benefits of the food-and-beverage sales,” Ables explains. “Once the investment group is paid off, the club will receive all the financial benefits.”
Installation of the simulator took two days, Ables says, and one day was set aside for training. He’s hoping to recoup the $50,000 investment plus 10 percent in the first eight months (not including the F&B).
The single-player rate at Zintel Creek is $35 per hour, with levels up to $65 per hour for a foursome that (divided four ways) works out to $16.25 per hour. Zintel Creek members receive a 20 percent discount off the rates.
The club also sells season passes and punch cards for the simulator. A single season pass costs $400, while a family season pass goes for $600. Punch cards are offered in 3-, 5- and 10-hour increments, ranging from $90 to $275.
Plans for continued improvement at Zintel Creek don’t stop with the simulator, Ables says. The increased attention the new technology has drawn, he feels, can help generate momentum for other advancements for the club.
“We have millions of dollars of improvements we want to do, but I think the next thing on our list we hope to complete in the next 12 months is a remodel of our deck dining area,” he says. “We have the best view in the Tri-Cities, and we want a patio to match it. Some preliminary thoughts have the deck with a nice fireplace and bar area overlooking the golf course and the Cable Bridge on the Columbia River.” C&RB