The installation of Toptracer technology is giving the humble driving range a new lease of life in Australia.
Our intentions are good. We go to the driving range because we want to get better, to groove some kind of repeatable swing that will hold up under the pressure of a Monthly Medal.
It’s our way of justifying that we’ve ‘done the work’ necessary to believe we should be playing to our potential come Saturday. But if all you’re really doing is bashing balls into a wide-open paddock with no consequence for the sniping 30-metre hook that came out of nowhere, what are you really achieving?
What if every shot you hit on the range was measured, recorded and downloaded into an app to be easily digested at a later date? How would that impact the way you practised every time you bought a bucket of balls? Four driving ranges in Australia have transformed one of golf’s most basic and reliable businesses into a multi-dimensional offering simply through the installation of Toptracer Range technology.
Owned by Topgolf and working with Nick Cutler, owner of Australian Golf Digest, to help launch the product in Australia and New Zealand, Toptracer Range utilises the same technology used to track Bubba Watson’s high cut on PGA Tour coverage to provide instant, accurate feedback to the everyday golfer for the first time.
Never guess what distance you hit a 6-iron again; after just a few uses of Toptracer and its ‘What’s In My Bag’ feature, you will have mapped out on average exactly how far you hit each club.
“Toptracer can be a real eye-opener because you get legitimate feedback about how you’re practising,” says Kieran Fankhauser, director of business operations at Yarra Bend Golf in Melbourne where 28 bays are now Toptracer enabled.
“By using ‘What’s In My Bag’, they can run a gap analysis, look at their dispersion over time and whether it is improving and really get an accurate understanding of how far they hit every club. My suspicion is that it will lead people into seeking out lessons with a PGA professional in order to help them improve even more.”
Peter Hopkins has been the professional at Whaleback Golf Course in south-eastern Perth since it opened in 1981 and believes Toptracer will assist in the transition of part-time golfers into regulars. Recognising the need to provide a new offering in order to revitalise flagging driving-range revenue, Hopkins has already seen a change in the behaviour of many who visit Whaleback.
“I certainly saw it as something that would appeal to the younger generation,” Hopkins explains. “It was a way of trying to get them interested in playing golf a bit more rather than simply smashing balls as hard as they could. For the guy who just comes to the driving range and hits it as hard as he can with little care for where it actually goes, now they take a much greater interest in the direction the ball goes.
“The long-drive competitions that we run through Toptracer only register on the fairway, so that’s helped to control golfers and encourage them to hit it straight as well as hard. Once they start to hit some iron shots and maybe take part in our closest-to-the-pin competitions, you’ll start to get them out onto the course. If you can expose them at some level on the driving range, eventually they’re going to go out and play golf.”
A Taste of Topgolf
An entertainment juggernaut in the United States, Topgolf found a way to take golf to the masses: come for the party, stay for the swings.
Since opening in mid-2018, the first Topgolf venue in Australia, Topgolf Gold Coast, has continued to draw a vastly more varied clientele than that found at the majority of golf facilities across the country. In addition to a wonderful game-improvement tool, Toptracer Range also provides the scope to open up the game to many who might never have picked up a club.
Renowned for the innovative ways in which it has engaged golfers and non-golfers alike, The Range at Curlewis Golf Club saw immediate synergies with their approach and what Toptracer offers.
Serious golfers have begun to frequent Curlewis to take advantage of the technology and while they wait are more than happy to avail themselves of the hospitality on offer.
“Since we’ve had Toptracer installed it can be an hour wait for a bay on the weekends,” says Jamie Brigden, general manager at Curlewis, where 18 bays now feature Toptracer.
“We’re probably more similar to the Topgolf experience than other ranges because we have got that core hospitality range there as well. People seem happy to wait and generally if they’re waiting, they’re not sitting there doing nothing. They’re grabbing a bite to eat or having a drink at the bar, so that is obviously translating over.
“We don’t feel as though we’ve even scratched the surface with it yet. There’s so much more upside to it and many more things we plan to do with it that we’ll roll out over the next couple of months.”
Working within the digital advertising department at NewsCorp prior to joining Yarra Bend, the digital integration offered by Toptracer is of great appeal to Kieran Fankhauser. He has no doubt the experience at the range complemented by the mobile app will open up markets golf has traditionally struggled to engage.
“We saw this instantly as the future of driving ranges,” Fankhauser says. “This is where all driving ranges will go in time and we wanted to be at the forefront of that and be first to market. What we’ve realised in a short space of time is that there is really a significant opportunity to grow the game within segments that have been historically hard to engage.
“Toptracer is where all driving ranges will go in time.” – Keiran Fankhauser
“The digitisation of Toptracer makes it super-appealing to young kids. They’re absolutely enthralled in the technology. We see that there will be a synergistic effect between adventure golf and bringing kids down to try golf at the most basic level and then providing a pathway to the driving range through the engagement of Toptracer and then into junior programs.
“Because driving ranges tend to be very, very attractive businesses, the industry has been slow to look at technological improvements. But now that this step has been taken, it opens the door to look at really innovative ways to improve golf through technology. It’s really exciting to see where that might take us.”
It is anticipated that another five or six Australian driving ranges will have the product installed before Christmas and a further eight to 10 in the first half of 2020.
The future of driving ranges has reached our shores and it can do nothing but help the game.