DISRUPTORS INNOVATORS & RISK-TAKERS
GOLF HAS NEVER BEEN EXACTLY STATIC. (HIT A FEATHERY WITH YOUR MASHIE LATELY?) BUT NOW, THE PACE OF CHANGE IS MORE INTENSE THAN EVER. FROM EQUIPMENT TO CONDITIONING TO COUNTRY-CLUB MEMBERSHIPS, HERE ARE THOSE WHO CAN’T BE BOTHERED WITH THE STATUS QUO.
We’re at a pivotal moment in golf ’s history. Advances in technology, a booming economy and Tiger Woods’ popularity lifted the game to new heights in the 1990s and early 2000s. But now that momentum has stalled, or at least slowed. Where does golf go from here? Some argue for following the path golf has always followed, believing that the game’s tradition is its greatest appeal and its only salvation. But others – we call them The Disruptors – aren’t so sure about that. Unwilling to sit passively, they’re looking for new and surprising ways to increase participation, to make courses more appealing and eco-friendly, to engage with fans and customers, to help golfers learn the game faster and more easily. They’re amateurs and professionals, course owners and employees, accomplished players and choppers. Though they might not make everyone happy, they’re shaking things up. Which might be just what golf needs.
If conventional golf is dressed in a suit, Topgolf is the game in a T-shirt and shades. It’s a popular look. There are 10 Topgolf facilities in the United States, up from four just three years ago, and the company plans to reach 49 within three years. Its most prominent board members and investors are executive chairman Erik Anderson, Callaway CEO Chip Brewer and Dallas-based investor Tom Dundon. Together, the three are exploiting a void in the market, and business is booming.
Topgolf is technically a driving range, but it’s more like a real-life video game. You can play at your pace, with as many friends as you want, in a party atmosphere.
It’s no surprise young people are flocking to it. Topgolf in Austin, Texas, one of the most popular locations, stays busy from 9am until it closes at 2am.
Dundon, who sits on the PGA of America’s grow-the-game task force, says Topgolf “can help accomplish exactly what the PGA has in mind.” Anderson adds that Topgolf isn’t trying to compete with traditional golf. He thinks of it as complementary. “Golf is very linear,” he says. “You play holes one though 18, then head to the 19th hole. Topgolf isn’t about travelling in a straight line. It’s about playing in whatever way you want.”
TOPGOLF RANGES ARE BOOMING IN THE UNITED STATES. A MICROCHIP IN EVERY BALL ALLOWS TOPGOLFERS TO PLAY SEVEN GAMES, ALL OF THEM SCORED ON COMPUTER SCREENS IN THE HITTING BAYS (STORY ON PAGE 56).