Golf Features recently caught up with Edward Doling, one of the founding directors of Foresight Sports Europe. Since bringing their first launch monitor, the GC2, to market 8 years ago, Foresight have rapidly established themselves as the best-selling, most-trusted ball launch and club delivery measurement technology in the golf industry, with almost 20,000 systems installed worldwide.
Their latest development, “Total Range”, which launched at the PGA Expo in Orlando in January, positions Foresight at the heart of the expanding driving range technology sector, providing the most accurate and interactive entertainment range experience available today.
Golf Features: Can you explain the history of Foresight Sports Europe and also the sister company in the USA?
Ed Doling: Foresight Sports formed 8 years ago in the USA when they first took the GC2 launch monitor to market. We had been working with the US owners for the previous ten years with a different technology, so we knew the team well. When we first saw the GC2 we got involved immediately. It was obvious to us that it really was a game changer for the industry: an incredibly accurate and portable device that delivered the most accurate ball launch data on the market, all for a fraction of the price of the other main technology out there.
The GC2 was rapidly adopted by the European market as golf professionals, retailers and fitters put it through its paces and found it to be the ideal technology for their businesses. Since then things have gone from good to great. Foresight is now a global business with distribution and service centres around the world. And we now dominate the launch monitor sector with thousands of systems installed in the field.
Golf Features: How does the technology differ from other systems that deliver data on ball flight and club head?
Ed Doling: If I had to sum it up with one key difference, it would be that we are the only technology to directly measure the club delivery and ball launch data that we report. No other technology does that. Whereas previous technologies would use radar to follow the ball down the driving range and then calculate some of their data points, especially club data, our ultra-high-speed cameras sit to the side and in front of the golfer, allowing us to capture and directly measure the exact delivery of the club and the resulting launch of the golf ball. When it comes to accuracy, nothing beats directly imaging and measuring the data.
And, of course it has an added benefit: our technology works perfectly indoors and outside, giving our customers total flexibility and allowing them to grow their businesses through year-round operation and revenues.
Golf Features: How does your technology manage to be more accurate than your competitors and what advantage does that give your customers?
Ed Doling: Nothing beats directly measuring the data you want to understand and report. Our ultra-high-speed cameras “see” the clubhead being delivered into the ball by the golfer, and we “see” the launch of the golf ball. We measure both to the tightest tolerance levels and accuracy available today. To give you an idea, we measure the impact location of the golf ball on the club face to sub-millimetre accuracy levels. No other systems directly measure the range of data we report, and even if they claim to, they cannot match our accuracy and reliability. It’s all based on our unique approach to gathering the data: the use of our proprietary high-speed cameras to directly measure.
Of course it’s all very well being the most accurate launch monitor out there, but we are often asked why accuracy is so important. The answer is simple: accuracy directly affects the end-user’s experience.
Imagine a club-fitter trying to help a customer optimise a new set of irons. If the data is inaccurate, unreliable, or affected by outside wind conditions, the resulting fitting will not be the best. In fact it is likely to be poor. The clubs will arrive and won’t perform as well as the consumer had been led to believe. Likewise with a lesson. If the golf professional recommends a change to a player, the data must be reliable and accurate for the player to see the resulting improvements and to trust the professional.
And in driving ranges, the data must be spot on in order to engage the player in a beneficial practice session, skills challenge, or a round of golf. If they hit one shot that isn’t accurate, goes left instead of right, or if the system misses a shot, the range operator risks the experience becoming a negative one. That’s the last thing we want. We want players and consumers to be delighted with their new clubs, to see the improvement in their game from a fitting or a lesson, and to engage fully with a trusted experience at the local range. Only by doing so can they spread positive feedback and drive more business back into the industry.
Golf Features: Now that you are bringing your technology to the range industry, what are you looking for from range owners and operators that wish to partner with you?
Ed Doling: We recognise that there are a number of options available that might be considered by any driving range wanting to offer their visitors and customers more of an interactive experience. For us, we are looking to work with range operators who share our vision of where their range can get to.
For anyone who has visited any of the US “Entertainment Ranges” such as Top Golf or Drive Shack, they will appreciate the incredible potential any suitable driving range has to create an exciting social golfing experience. Our Total Range solution allows any existing or new range to become a true Entertainment Range, offering an engaging and fun golfing experience which caters to the widest possible audience.
Because our technology is installed in each bay we are the only system available that measures every shot in the bag, from drives to short game to putting. That’s deliberate. We want to ensure our client driving ranges can provide an experience for everyone: golfers and non-golfers alike, all ages groups, and all abilities. Our system allows even the youngest golfers and non-golfers to engage with our technology as the ball doesn’t have to fly any distance before it registers a shot. If the player can move the ball even a few inches they can be seeing their shot in our software.
Kids and families would begin with our fun Fairgrounds games such as Skee Putting and Balloon Pop. As they start to hit it a bit further they can play on our pitch and putt courses. And as they progress with their game they can move to full practice with incredible data, full 18-hole golf in the bay, and skills competitions in which they compete locally and globally against other golfers.
Of course all of our experiences will appeal to regular or better golfers. But when those players want to work on their game, they will also be able to gather industry leading data, all of which is stored in their free Foresight FSX Live cloud account for them to review later or to share with their coach.
And finally, if a range is looking to increase their custom fitting and teaching revenues, both of those services can be provided, with unparalleled accuracy, anywhere on the range.
Golf Features: What sort of response has the Drive Shack Golf Range in the USA had since introducing Foresight technology to all of its bays?
Ed Doling: Drive Shack is an incredible facility. Based at Lake Nona, just outside Orlando, it’s a three-tier entertainment range, providing incredible gaming, practice, and coaching across 90 fully-interactive bays, all boasting our Foresight Total Range technology.
Aside from the golf, they also provide fantastic food and drink service either in the bays or on site in the restaurant and bars. The F&B side of the business is another huge opportunity for ranges over here. Drive Shack is proving a huge success and they are rolling out three more facilities this year, with another planned for 2020. Those will again be using our Foresight technology, so it’s very exciting and inspiring to see our system being proven in the field and rolled out to more venues.
Golf Features: That certainly sounds like a very successful installation. Do you have other projects on the horizon?
Ed Doling: Considering that we only officially launched our Total Range solution at the PGA Expo in January, the response has been nothing short of phenomenal. Globally we are currently working with dozens of potential range customers, with the first projects now signed off and preparing for installation. Our next major installations are in Singapore with 110 bays, and Kuala Lumpur with 80 bays, with many more to follow. We look forward to announcing our first few clients in the EMEA territory in the coming weeks.
Golf Features: Do you think your solution provides an opportunity to increase the number of people enjoying golf in each bay, even if some of them are spectators? And do you see the traditional range model evolving?
Ed Doling: I think you’ve hit on one of the main benefits when a range chooses to install our Total Range solution. By changing their model to become an Entertainment Range, the experience moves from the traditional solo golfer paying for and hitting a bucket of balls, to a social group hiring a bay for a few hours, while enjoying a meal and drinks in the bay or at the on-site facilities. That might be all golfers, or golfers and friends just hanging out and enjoying the experience. They might try their hand at the games, or they might not. It doesn’t matter to the operator as the bay is booked and paid for by the hour, with more visitors on site providing more revenue from food, drink, or other activities on site.
As a business model it evolves from being about the number of balls being hit to being about achieving target occupancy of the bays instead. It’s very apparent when you visit Drive Shack. Golfers, non-golfers, families, groups of friends, kids’ parties, and even corporate groups, are all there enjoying themselves, interacting with the games at a level that matches their skill levels, while enjoying a great social experience in a relaxed environment. It really does feel like the future for driving ranges.
Golf Features: That sounds ideal for the end-user, but what else is included to make life easier for the range owner or operator?
Ed Doling: Our solution includes an eco-system designed to manage bookings on the range as well as provide reporting to the range owner or operator.
When a customer installs Total Range at their facility we include a reception booking system which is customised for their range. On the reception dashboard the staff member can see how many bays are available, and for those in use they can see how long each session has to run. At the touch of a button they can generate a unique pin code which is either printed or transferred to the golfer’s mobile device. When the player gets to their bay of choice they simply use the pin code or scan the bay’s QR code to start their session. They can also log in if they want to collect their shot data for later review and analysis, while a timer keeps them informed of how long their session has to run.
The dashboard also serves as a snap shot of live usage across all the bays. An operator can log in from anywhere to see occupancy levels and to understand how many customers are waiting to get into a bay. And our back-office reporting produces detailed data for the operator, showing total usage, occupancy levels per game, revenue streams and a host more information. We believe our ecosystem really does provide a fully joined-up approach for the range operator.
Golf Features: Is there flexibility when a range operator looks to work with your technology? If so, in what ways?
Ed Doling: We can be flexible in two main ways. Firstly, a range doesn’t have to install our technology across all of their bays. They don’t even have to install them into any set number of bays. They can decide to start with as few as one bay, or as many as they wish to. In other words, they can test the water, see how things go, and expand into more bays as they wish to. It may be that a range wants to create a number of VIP bays, or they might choose to install our technology into one tier or one half of their facility. The choice is entirely up to them.
The second way we can be flexible is around the choice of technology to be installed. We can work with the GCQuad or Hawk in each bay. We can select different types of PC, tablet or display. And we can help spread the cost of investment through our simple finance packages. In other words, we recognise that technology is not “one size fits all”. Every range and every operator will be different and will be wanting to achieve specific goals. We believe we have a solution and investment plan that will work for them.
Golf Features: I understand that you are still giving generous trade-ins on your original GC to model, some of which are 8 years old. Will this still be the case with the new Quad and Hawk technology in the years to come?
Ed Doling:That’s absolutely right. We pride ourselves on always ensuring our customers have an upgrade path open to them within our technology range. As such we offer a trade-in on any systems a client has invested into when they move to their next Foresight system. So a GC2 owner, looking to purchase a Quad, would be able to trade-in their GC2 and see a value back against their original investment. That value depends on the condition and age of the unit, but it’s not unusual for it to work out at 50% of their original investment.
I think that is unique in our industry. Imagine buying a piece of technology - say a PC or a smart phone - 7 years ago and seeing that sort of value when you trade it in. It speaks volumes about the quality and robustness of our systems. I can’t see any reason why that won’t continue with our latest models, the GCQuad and GCHawk, as there is always a demand for the best technology, whether that’s as a new unit or refurbished.
And when installing a Total Range solution within their driving range, an owner or operator can take some real comfort from the proven retained value of our technology. They will, after all, own the systems that we install for them, should they choose to do so, rather than renting them, so to know that their technology will have a solid retained value after many years of use will, I am sure, greatly assist when they analyse their return on investment.
For anyone looking to upgrade their technology, they just need to give us a call or drop us a line at any time. We’d be happy to walk them through the process and give them a trade-in value on their existing units.
Golf Features: Please could you explain the difference between your Quad system, and also the new Hawk version and why should one be more suitable than the other for any given customer?
Ed Doling: Well the first thing to keep in mind is that all of our technology uses our ultra-high-speed camera, directly-measured approach to gathering launch and performance data. And the accuracy is the same whichever system our clients opt for. The key differences between the Quad and Hawk are the position of the unit when being used, and the type of data measured.
The Quad sits to the side and in front of the golf ball in our traditional position. As such it is fully portable, allowing it to be used indoors and outside, and from any surface, i.e. on a range, off turf, on the short game area, and even to analyse putting on the green. The Quad comes with a rechargeable battery allowing it to be used outside without power being required, with the data being displayed on the unit itself or on a tablet via our FSX app.
The Hawk is our new ceiling mounted unit. As such it is a hard-wired, permanent installation. By being above the hitting zone the Hawk can image and measure ball launch from anywhere on the mat, ensuring total ease of use when right or left handers are using the system. You simply throw the ball down on the mat and the Hawk will recognise if it is a left or right hander hitting. In very busy environments, such as indoor golf centres or practice studios, the other benefit is that the Hawk is tucked up and out of the way when the venue is being used.
The only other major difference is that right now the Hawk is measuring ball launch only, where as the Quad can measure both ball and club. Our engineers are working on Hawk club measurement currently, and we intend to launch that later in the year.
The great thing about our GC product family, from the GC2 to the Quad and Hawk, is that we have a solution for every requirement, and, hopefully, at an investment level that works for our customers. And with our range of easy finance solutions, we have options in place to ensure our users can spread their investment over a few years to ensure they are profitable and successful from day one.
Golf Features: What does the future look like for Foresight Sports?
Ed Doling: The future is hugely exciting. We continue to dominate the launch monitor and simulator markets, we are opening up new sectors and territories all the time, our engineers are constantly enhancing our FSX software platform with new data reporting and gaming experiences, and we are now actively engaging with the driving range market. We really are very fortunate to be working with the very best technology in a wonderful industry, with an incredible team here at Foresight Sports, and with a fantastic group of passionate and knowledgeable customers.