Toptracer Range’s setup turns bays at driving ranges into a social gathering spot. (Courtesy Toptracer Range)

Editor's note: This is a longer version of the story that appeared in the September issue.

Toptracer Range aims to hit the sweet spot between improving a golfer’s game and creating competitionnwith friends or other players around thenglobe, while landing more green for rangen operators.

The nascent company, part of the Topgolf Entertainment family, claims to be boosting revenue for the ranges by increasing time and money spent hitting golfnballs at the range. It doesn’t bring the nightclub environment of Topgolf’s nearly 60 locations in the U.S. and U.K., which feature music, DJs, dancing and mingling players hit golf balls at targets to Range looks to replicate some of that activity and make a trip to the driving range less of a tedious practice session and more of a social outing while gamifying golf — allowing players to see and track their shots on a video screen and compete with other golfers.

“If you look at the Toptracer Range consumer, it’s a slightly different consumer (than Topgolf’s), a more discerning golfer, but we want to widen the funnel of people coming into the game,” said Toptracer’s new president, Ben Sharpe, in one of his first interviews since taking the helm. 

“We’re making hitting golf balls more enjoyable,” Sharpe said, pointing to Topgolf’s success as a blueprint for Toptracer million people come through the door every year,” he said. “What we’re doing with Toptracer Range benefits the range owner, golfers and the golf industry in itsentirety.”

The platform also powers Topgolf Crush events, where golf “courses” are set up in Major League Baseball parks and other sports venues. And a sister company, Topgolf Swing Suites,   installs permanent virtual bays in luxury hospitality venues and premium areas of facilities such as Philips Arena in Atlanta and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (The Swing Suite product does not use Toptracer’s technology platform.)

The Toptracer Range setup has a small footprint, two mounted cameras plus a monitor, and Sharpe said it can be hooked up platform’s game options include long-drive and closest-to-the-pin competition, analytics to improve the user’s swing or touch and the ability to tee it up on virtual courses, including the recently added Pebble Beach course. There’s also an app that charts players’ progress, remembers results, locates Toptracer Ranges and shows golfers their ranking on the leaderboard.

Sharpe adds “in terms of the outlay, if (a range) wants to sign the contract, there’s nothing to pay the first day. It’s a lease model, a per-bay contract.” He did not give the revenue share breakdown.

Toptracer says early returns have been positive for venues including the Golf Center of Arlington in Arlington, Texas, which reported a tripling of revenue in bays using Toptracer in its first few months with the technology.

The Fairways and Greens Golf Center in Knoxville, Tenn., has also carded gains since  Toptracer Range to six bays this spring. Britton Spann, a PGA professional and general manager facility, said, “Revenue has increased as a result of Toptracer Range, and not just for bay rentals, but we’re seeing growth in food and beverage sales, as well as more memberships being purchased. We’ve found that Toptracer allows us to attract more people who have never visited the facility and  what we have to offer.”

Spann notes that the facility operates on a subscription-based model but is now charging its members and non-member visitors a premium fee for the Toptracer bays. “We charge somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 to $49 an hour per bay,” which covers up to four players and varies depending on time of day and membership status, he said.

The Toptracer technology inspired the Del Mar (Calif.) Golf Center to become more Topgolf-
like: obtaining a beer and wine license and expanding its food and beverage area.

“The addition of F&B revenue will make the Toptracer system very well worth the investment,” said the center’s general manager, PGA professional Matt Clay, adding, “The revenue from one Toptracer bay equals nearly two traditional bays.” He plans to eventually expand Toptracer beyond the current six installations, which were added a year ago, to more of its 72 bays.

If Toptracer’s technology looks familiar, you just might be a golf fan. The shot-tracking platform is used by networks broadcasting PGA Tour and other pro events. Giant Toptracer Tournament screens are also set up on the driving ranges at host courses for tournaments, including this summer’s PGA Championship.

While the underlying technology has been around for a dozen years for TV and was tested at a few ranges, the Toptracer Range product formally debuted in January at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. It’s now found at facilities in 19 U.S. states and seven other countries, but Sharpe said the company was not even on the front nine in addressing its potential market: “I think we’re still on the practice grounds,” he said. “When you experience Topgolf and Toptracer Range, it’s hard to think in a few years time you wouldn’t want to play them.”

Sharpe is optimistic that offcourse golf is the best way to grow the game, and recent figures from the National Golf Foundation seem to bear that out. The number of traditional golfers is down by about 25 percent from record highs in 2003, but off-course golf including Topgolf and its offshoots has boosted the totals the past two years.

Sharpe himself knows a thing or two about this decline. He is taking something of a golf
career mulligan in this role with Toptracer Range after spending 16 years on the now shrinking golf equipment business, including a brief stint running Adidas Taylor-Made Golf.

He asserts that more fun and instructive time spent on the range can create more golfers over time. “There’ve been lots of initiatives — bringing more kids in, 15-inch cups, two flags on the green — but we are bringing a new and wider audience to the sport (and) if we deliver against our objectives, there will be 10 million people using Toptracer in the next few years.”

“I think (for) the people who want to really grow their business and grow the game, which is the holy grail of everyone who works in golf, I think we really are the solution that does that,” he said.