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Topgolf CEO Dolf Berle Talks New Augusta Venue Concept

Topgolf is unveiling a new venue concept in Augusta, Georgia, during this year’s Masters Tournament – a single-floor location with an open-space backyard area. In addition to hitting golf balls on the 36-bay range, guests have the option to listen to live music, play mini golf and cornhole, socialize around fire pits, and eat together at communal picnic tables.

The location, called Topgolf Augusta, is a significant departure from the golf-entertainment leader’s signature properties, which are typically three floors and 102 bays.

So why the shift? And how can the latest experiential offering from Topgolf Entertainment Group impact engagement and participation within the golf industry? To find out, we sat down with Topgolf CEO Dolf Berle.

“This concept, which is an opportunity for us to significantly expand the white space for the venue business, was borne out of the whole Topgolf combination of innovation and strategy,” said Berle


RELATED: Topgolf is among NGF’s Top 100 Businesses in Golf for 2020

“Domestically we had visibility on several more years of significant growth for the 72- and 102-bay venues, but that at some point several years out there would come an end to that white space,” he added. “We recognized there were smaller cities that wouldn’t economically justify larger venues. So, we set about to create a venue concept that would be economically viable and at the same time deliver the great Topgolf experience that we provide in our existing venues and in larger cities.”

Following the debut of the new venue concept in Augusta this April, others are set to open later this year in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Waco, Texas.

Topgolf announced the impending evolution to its venues last year, saying some would be purpose-built to serve smaller and mid-sized cities around the country. The approach is similar to that taken by BigShots Golf, which is targeting underserved markets for its smaller golf-entertainment franchise opportunities, including free-standing outdoor franchises and an indoor product that can be installed in multiple units in bars, malls and retail venues. These efforts were among those highlighted in a recent NGF story that examined how big the growing market for off-course participation might get, and whether there is a saturation point in the future.

Topgolf CEO Dolf Berle

Berle says Topgolf has been looking into smaller venues for several years and that the single-floor concept gained momentum based on positive guest feedback on the experiences at newer traditional Topgolf designs in places like the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois; Glendale, Arizona; and Cleveland – all of which feature vibrant first-floor experiences that include communal space as well as the sports bar setting and a variety of dining options.

“When we got that feedback, we realized that a single level venue provided we had all those other dimensions, could be viable,” Berle said. “When we combine that with our Toptracer technology which allows for really great ball-tracking along with a gamified digital experience, then we realized we had the essence of the Topgolf experience with some important new dimensions that could make this an exciting extension of the brand.”

Topgolf’s ball-tracing Toptracer technology – which has proven extremely popular on PGA TOUR telecasts – is another differentiator for the new venue concept. Rather than using golf balls embedded with RFID chips, the new single-floor locations will be the first to feature the full Toptracer Range ball-tracking system to score each shot. Berle said an even broader array of Toptracer-enabled games will be forthcoming.

A rendering of the range area at Topgolf Augusta. (Image courtesy: Topgolf Entertainment Group)

All of the games, food and beverage, entertainment, and socialization opportunities are intended to enhance engagement, for golfers and non-golfers alike.

“We believe that we can provide great hospitality and golf and game-related experiences for all of those people,” Berle said.

“The essence of our purpose and mission is to bring people together in meaningful ways. So, it’s a social mission. Part of the social mission is the democratization of golf, which means that quite a number of people who might have never considered golf to be something that they would play or would feel comfortable playing are now brought into a very welcoming and accessible environment that’s very inclusive. So, by virtue of that mission and by combining the game of golf with the hospitality and fun, we are broadening the audience, and this includes people of all ages, including quite a number of very young people.

“Because Topgolf has broad appeal, people come for many different types of occasions,” Berle added. “Some people come with their families, others come for date night, others come for corporate outings, and still others come to practice their game, which is something you see particularly in the mornings.”

Rendering of the communal area at Topgolf Augusta. (Image courtesy: Topgolf Entertainment Group)

NGF research shows that almost as many people now participate in off-course forms of golf – from Topgolf to outdoor ranges and indoor simulators – as the more-than 24 million Americans who play traditional, green-grass golf. Additionally, surveys show that the two forms of golf complement each other, including a recent NGF study that indicates 75% of non-golfers who visited Topgolf expressing an interest in playing on an actual course.

Berle says selling the experience of golf is essential, and that involves the history of the game, the competition element, the charitable dimensions, as well as the social aspect that golfers have long enjoyed.

“What we’re doing is expanding those same elements to a much broader audience,” Berle said. “We’re amplifying the fun aspects of it, we’re bringing technology to bear in a way that makes the activities more contemporary, more relevant and more suited to the lifestyle of many people who have not been golfers traditionally. And so, we, I think, represent what is a progression in golf that ties very closely to the most important trends in society at large, related to technology, to the need for human connection, to the combination of sport with fun and socialization.”

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