Topgolf's driving range in The Colony, Texas. Credit: Topgolf
The traditional driving range is a timeless place where golfers go to practice their swings, perfect shots and master various techniques. However, a visit to TopGolf, a chain of golf entertainment facilities, quickly demonstrates how gamification, the Internet of Things and analytics are disrupting the driving range experience golfers know and love.
"If you think about the barriers to entry to play grass golf, they are pretty high," says Andrew Macaulay, CIO of TopGolf. "At TopGolf, you're coming into a fun environment where tons of people of all kinds of demographics are there with you, and technology is at the heart of it."
The tech behind TopGolf
During a visit to the Dallas area last month, I went to TopGolf in The Colony, Texas — yes, that's the city's name. I've been to a number of driving ranges to work on my (novice) golfing skills. However, New England, where I live, doesn't have any TopGolf facilities, so this was a new experience.
Upon arrival, you check in at the front desk and receive TopGolf cards, which basically act as visitor identification credentials. You use the cards to initiate your game and keep track of all of your activities, including how many times you visit and how many games you play. You use the same card when you go to other TopGolf locations, as well.
The driving range is composed of individual "bays" on several levels, and the facility also has a bar and restaurant. Each bay includes a hitting area, seating area (to order food and drinks) and a TV, as well as a monitor that displays game statistics and player information. To begin, you swipe your TopGolf card near the monitor in your bay and select a game; the company offers are variety of games for different skill levels. The cards connect to TopGolf's custom-built system, which stores and tracks visitor information. Staff members can see the specific visitors who are waiting for a bay to open up, the people currently occupying bays and the groups wrapping up their sessions.
When you finish the setup process, the screen displays your player information, including your name, the length of time you have left at the bay and an empty scoreboard that's waiting to be filled. In my case, I selected a club and made my way to the turf. I waved my club over the ball dispenser and it released a golf ball. The ball dispensers are equipped with RFID readers that can tell when you wave a club over the sensor. The ball also contains an RFID chip that tells the TopGolf system that it's you who's about to hit.
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