Facilities like Top Golf are key to getting new players into the game

Last month saw the much-anticipated and highly-touted launch of Top Golf on the Gold Coast. For the uninitiated, Top Golf is like a driving range on ultra-steroids, seamlessly incorporating a high-tech element into hitting balls (automated ball tee-up, computerised scoring and games, high-tech targets, etc), while also adding a full “American style” Sports bar/food & beverage environment into the mix; complete with group booths, television screens, music, etc.

All of these “bells and whistles” create a party-type atmosphere that brings a “fun” element to golf that had been lacking in previous decades. In my opinion, this type of fun is EXACTLY what golf needs.

For too long, golf has slowly disintegrated its fun factor. The rule book has gotten thicker, courses have become harder, club by-laws/rules are becoming stricter (due to liability, etc), round times have gotten longer, and many golf products are simply becoming too expensive for most players.  On the pro tour, paycheques have reached astronomical levels, leading to more “serious” attention by the players during their rounds. This behaviour trickles down to the average club golfer, who now may spend inordinate amounts of time surveying a one-metre putt as if it was worth thousands of dollars. This slows everyone down, and can suck the fun out of many a round.

Golf has become a big business, and in doing so, has become less appealing to the market. Kids, for example, would rather have a quick hit at tennis or cricket, or kick a footy around, versus trying to negotiate a five-hour game full of rules, etiquette faux-pas, dress codes, etc.

So that’s why I think it’s great to see initiatives like Top Golf begin to make their way into the Australian market. Quick, fun and affordable, it appeals to the masses, and may very well represent golf’s answer to the search for a “Twenty20 cricket” form of the game.

Critically, it’s also an ideal gateway to get new players into the game.

And it’s not just driving ranges. What about Pitch and Putt courses, or par-3 layouts? What about Mini Golf? These represent a massive “pool” of future golfers or club members. Yet they are often seen as “competition” by local clubs, or simply ignored/dismissed altogether.

So why doesn’t every club out there approach a local range or Pitch & Putt course and try to strike a deal to draw players to their clubs for a round of golf?  Offer a voucher, or a “come and try” promotion, or simply work with the range in some sort of mutually-beneficial way. It’s not that difficult to do.

More importantly, why don’t our governing bodies (like Golf Australia, etc.) get behind the shorter forms of the game in a significant way? Why don’t we see more grass-roots promotions or industry-sanctioned events staged at ranges/short courses?  How about a Par-3 skills challenge at a short course? Or a “Drive for Show, Putt for Dough” event, where you combine driving distance/accuracy on the range, with a putting competition on the practise green.  Or a circuit of mini-golf with some significant support and publicity.  Yes, we have “Golf Month”, but what can be done the other eleven months out of the year to drive some real change and growth into golf…and, more importantly, bring fun back into the game?

I welcome your suggestions and comments.

 

See you on the fairways,

Richard

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