People in Golf - Ben Sharpe

Ben SharpeTopgolf® Entertainment Group recently hired former Taylormade Golf Company CEO Ben Sharpe as President of its Toptracer Range division. We caught up with Ben and Paul Williams, General Manager of Toptracer Europe to learn more about the technology that is shaking up the way we practise whilst introducing the game to a new audience.
Golf Features: How does your new role compare with running a company like Taylormade?
BS: I’m very proud of everything we accomplished during my time at Taylormade, and in all honesty I wasn’t sure if I would return to the golf industry. However, in Toptracer Range I see a genuine opportunity to grow the game and introduce golf to a new audience with a product that lives up to its reputation and delivers an extraordinary entertainment experience.
Golf Features: What is Toptracer Range - what does it offer?
BS: Toptracer tracks the best players in the world week in week out on the PGA and European Tour and now the same technology is available in driving ranges up and down the country. Two cameras mounted above the bays capture data on every shot and relay it, via the image analysis software, onto the display unit that shows guests feedback and stats in whatever game mode is selected. Toptracer Range enables ranges to offer the product seen on television broadcasts with a variety of ball data and interactive game modes. It appeals to the most devoted golfer and the beginner at the same time, whilst building a community and a focal point for families and friends to get together. 
Golf Features: What level of turnover is appropriate, as a starting point, for a golf range wishing to consider investing in Toptracer?
PW: Toptracer Range appeals to any golf range, it’s not just for the biggest and best but for any ambitious range or golf facility. We build a bespoke package for each of our driving ranges specific to their needs and demands. For example, Wellsgreen Golf Range in Fife converted seven of its bays to Toptracer Range and The Golf Club in Guernsey has 14 bays, all of which now have Toptracer Range. These might be smaller operations, but it goes right up to World of Golf in New Malden, London which has all 51 of its bays covered with Toptracer Range technology. We deal with driving ranges and golf clubs north to south and east to west, small and large so we encourage all to enquire and find out if Toptracer is right for them. Investing in Toptracer Range opens up opportunities for new members and guests of all golfing backgrounds and is:a product that consumers really love to interact with.
Golf Features: What other steps need investment before an installation can be made?
PW: Installing Toptracer Range at a facility requires no upfront payment and the investment into infrastructure required prior to installation will depend entirely on what is already in place. To run the system, we need power outlets and a data connection install between the servers, camera and screens. Depending on what infrastructure a range has in place there could be minimal costs at the outset.
Golf Features: The new games are very interesting: what are the most popular games currently available on the range consul?
BS/PW: One of the best things about the technology is that it appeals to all. Avid golfers are increasingly reliant on knowing their stats these days, which they can find out and hone using the Launch Monitor and What’s In My Bag games. These modes store information through the Toptracer Range Community app and can be returned to over time. On the other hand, there are more games-based modes like Closest To Pin and Longest Drive, which can be very social and scalable to any age or ability. Virtual Golf is a very popular mode as golfers can play some of the most famous golf courses around the world from their bay singularly, or as a group. We have just launched Pebble Beach to range owners as a course that customers can play from 8th August. The functionality that we are moving towards will allow players to compete against anyone on our global leaderboards. As we develop the technology further there will be additional modes and games that we will explore.
Golf Features: How much do you think Toptracer helps golf retail at a range?
BS/PW: Adding Toptracer Range to a facility is proven to increase footfall, thereby increasing the commercial opportunities for retail and food and beverage sales. From speaking to retailers such as American Golf, we know that they like to see our systems installed in the ranges that they are present in, as they see a marked increase in sales. Toptracer Range brings people into the game, and for retailers, beginners are a highly lucrative market. 
Golf Features: With regards to teaching, is Toptracer a perfect tool for use during the lesson, or between lessons so people can work on their data?
PW: Toptracer Range is the perfect tool to use before, during or after a lesson, to demonstrate a teaching point, check back on progress or maintain the new skills they have learnt. From a fitting standpoint it can be hugely beneficial as our system captures data on every ball as well as comparative data between clubs.
I was a coaching PGA professional for 13 years and if this technology had been in place when I was coaching I would have loved it. Especially the ability to encourage random practice and being able to visually demonstrate a student’s ball flight characteristics and tendencies. This software can revolutionise the coaching a facility will be able to offer, at the same time as encouraging more golfers to keep coming back and take lessons.
Golf Features:How much does Toptracer Range cost?
PW: Toptracer Range is available at an affordable monthly fee with no upfront payment. Facilities lease the Toptracer Range equipment, which includes camera sensors, hardware and displays. Along with the equipment comes the software, free installation, unlimited maintenance and marketing support and an account manager, all within the same price. Every package differs depending on the requirements of each range, for example in a two-tier driving range only one set of cameras is required to cover both floors so this factors into the monthly price. 
BS: Incorporating Toptracer Range into your business adds the potential for a whole new revenue stream and enables you to access new demographics. We’ve seen a direct increase in the footfall our ranges have been able to attract, as this product accesses the leisure market bringing huge benefits and greater demand. We are continuing to invest in developing the software and adding new features, courses and games to play ensuring our driving ranges have the latest and best technology available to provide to their customers.  
Golf Features:Should a golf range cover all its bays with the technology, or is there an optimum number of bays, or percentage of bays that should offer the technology?
PW: This is very much down to the preference of the specific range. We’ve seen success with ranges who go straight to full coverage, as well as those who have dipped their toe in to start and have expanded to additional systems. For example, World of Golf in New Malden began with half of their bays covered and soon saw the benefit of Toptracer Range, expanding to full coverage. This isn’t a one size fits all kind of product: we work very closely with ranges that express interest and make sure we help them arrive at a solution that works for them. Not only have we had standalone commercial ranges take on full coverage, but also driving ranges at golf clubs have taken on the technology and been very successful.