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September 07, 2018
Five Questions with Ben Sharpe, President of Toptracer
Topgolf® Entertainment Group recently hired former TaylorMade Golf Company CEO Ben Sharpe to expand its global footprint of driving ranges that license its Toptracer technology. Sharpe will serve as President of the Toptracer division, which is based in London. We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the new role, the golf industry and the future of the game.
Congratulations on being named President of Toptracer. What are you most excited about in your new role?
I’ve always loved the game of golf and the golf industry. While I’m immensely proud of everything we accomplished during my time at TaylorMade Golf, in all honesty I wasn’t sure if I’d return to the sport unless an incredible opportunity presented itself. Well, that’s exactly what happened with Toptracer Range! You hear lots of chatter about growing the game and introducing it to a new audience, etc., but this product is the first thing I’ve seen that has the potential to live up to the hype. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Toptracer is backed by the most innovative golf company in the world, Topgolf, which has played a critical role in changing the trajectory of the sport.
Can you tell us more about Toptracer Range and how it ties into the Topgolf brand?
Toptracer Range brings the same ball-tracking technology seen on PGA TOUR television broadcasts to driving ranges, making it accessible to everyday golfers. Topgolf has always been committed to bringing people together through fun and entertaining shared experiences and Toptracer Range enables us to gamify golf on a massive scale. Players can enjoy different games and skills challenges, as well as virtual golf on simulated versions of the world’s most famous courses. Essentially, it offers a simple way to transform traditional driving ranges into entertainment destinations. Because it’s fun for golfers and non-golfers, it opens up the game to new audiences.
What types of golfers will be most attracted to using Toptracer Range?
It is no stretch to say that everyone from scratch players to absolute beginners can tremendously benefit from Toptracer Range. For the avid golfers, the system is incredible at tracking performance data and actually saves information on every shot hit to a user profile. So good players can practice all season long and see how their game is evolving, or how it changes with new equipment, lessons, etc. Data is becoming a huge part of improving athletic performance in all sports and we’re able to help golfers harness stats that are crucial to helping them understand their strengths and weaknesses. For beginners or casual players, the games are immensely fun and help build the basic skills that players can take from the range to the course. It’s also an excellent way to introduce children or non-golfers to the sport in a very low pressure and enjoyable environment.
How have facilities accepted Toptracer Range and what benefits to do they see?
For the past 150 years, the driving range has essentially been a big field with a few flags that drew casual practice or some pre-round warm-ups. Because of Toptracer Range, this space can now be used as an incredible revenue driver. The acceptance at the facility level has been impressive, to say the least. Since the 2018 PGA Merchandise Show we’ve tripled our global presence, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. What these facilities are reporting is that on average the Toptracer Range-enhanced bays are nearly doubling the revenue of non-Toptracer bays. As an example, at the Golf Center of Arlington in Arlington, Texas, Toptracer Range bays brought in 205% more revenue than regular stalls. Not only are people practicing more and staying longer, but they are bringing their friends, buying food and beverages and generally treating the range as an entertainment hub. It is a true paradigm shift in how facility owners and operators can turn a profit.
Where do you see the game headed in the coming years?
Technology is completely changing everything, in a very good way. Golf’s participation numbers are healthy and climbing thanks to the hard work of companies like Topgolf, and we’re very bullish on the future. The experience of and entry point into golf is changing, but there are millions more people worldwide who want to try their hand and see what golf is all about. As an industry leader, we want to make access as easy and fun as possible by removing barriers and restrictions that have scared newcomers away in the past. One of the largest and fastest growing golfing populations are the millennials. There are currently about 6.2. million golfers in the millennial generation who account for 93 million rounds each year and spend roughly $5 billion annually on equipment, merchandise and greens fees. These golfers are introduced to the game and approach it differently than previous generations, but are very influential. They grew up with technology as a major part of their everyday lives, so Topgolf and Toptracer Range are natural extensions of the game for them. From our vantage point, the future of the sport has never been more exciting.