The winter weather has not been kind to UK golfers – again. Courses are closed the length of these Isles. So what do you do when you can’t play golf for weeks on end?
Cold, wet golf is the new fun
I went down the local range last week. They had recently invested in TrackMan on all 26 bays. Smart move. I have never seen a range so busy in winter. I waited 15 minutes to get a bay, and in that time, it was great to see so many people, of all ages and golf abilities, many of them kids, having a great time on a cold, wet Sunday. Winter golf had suddenly become fun. Is this the future of golf?
It wasn’t the first time I’d been to a launch monitor range. I’ve visited a few others during the past year, equipped with either Trackman or Toptracer, and they were equally busy with everyone having a great time.
And because launch data is linked to on-screen games, they are competitive. Players want to improve their game to win. They’re going to need a pro for that. Or will the tech go further to analyse a player’s swing and then use AI to suggest swing improvements in real time and suggest practice drills?
Growing new golfers
For golf to grow, the industry and governing institutions have to attract new, young golfers to try golf, love it, and sustain their enthusiasm for golf for life. A good range with launch monitors and touchscreen virtual golf games with practice modes can help do that – making golf fun, inclusive, and accessible for anyone who wants to give it a go.
For the more serious golfer, you can nail your club yardages and get as much swing and ball data as you can cram into a phone apps memory.
There are currently about 150 Toptracer and 50 TrackMan ranges in the UK at the time of writing. It’s a serious five-figure investment for a range owner, but from what I saw, they’ll get their money back with interest: golf interest from a new young audience that’s far larger than just the keen improvement-minded golfers like me. And best of all, ranges earn much needed cash when their green fees dry up in wet, icy weather. That’s good business.
Enforced team fun
When I lived and worked in the USA, I was fortunate enough to travel the country for meetings and conferences. Guess what was one of the most popular team-building social activities after a hard day’s PowerPoint? Topgolf.
What’s not to like about Topgolf? Whacking balls at different targets down the range, monitored by Toptracer and linked to onscreen team games. Its a friendly competition all mixed with a good serving of food and drink in a modern purpose-built multi-deck leisure facility. No prior golf experience needed and the dress code is very casual. There are 80 Topgolf US locations, 3 in the south of England and a new one in Glasgow with more planned.
Tech + golf = fun
Mixing technology and virtual game play with traditional golf skills must be the future of attracting new, young players to the game. It may even become a competitive golf variant with its own set of professionals, tournaments, tours, and leagues. Rory and Tiger have made business moves in this direction by founding TMRW sports and recently hiring Topgolf’s Chief Technology Officer. Do these guys see the future of golf?
What about putting?
It’s all very well hitting balls down a range with a beer in hand, but what about getting the ball in the hole – the whole purpose of the game? The tech is already here.
Using indoor greens with laser projected putting lines and green elevation contours enhanced by stroke and ball path analysis, pros like Justin Rose and Bryson DeChambeau are already putting better. They use PuttView to help improve their green reading, speed, and lines when they can’t get on the course. Trackman also has a detailed putting analysis application when used at green level.
With these developing putting technologies, it can’t be long before golf ranges add putting monitors and greens to their longer hitting range experiences.
Are these tech toys proper golf?
Golf traditionalists might grumble that TrackMan or Topgolf ranges are only toys and not really ‘proper’ golf. I disagree. These golf-tech options are highly popular because they are fun, inclusive, and accessible entry points to the traditional on-course game. And the best part is that they attract new young tech-savvy players, some of whom may well progress to proper golf on real grass.
It’s a start
How many of today’s pros started as young kids with a toy club and oversized plastic ball? Plastic clubs on a beach or carpet aren’t proper golf, but those toys didn’t do young Rory McIlroy any harm when he first started. Times have moved on.
Will a future World No.1 pro have started by playing virtual golf at a launch monitor range? I’d say the chances are high to inevitable.
Paul Hart is a co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT ball marker and enthusiastic golf improver who’s at home on the range.
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