21 of the 30 bays are served by in range technology. The bays have been extended to create more room for spectators and additional players.
James Jones has been a golf professional for many years and heavily involved with the ownership and management of the Tonbridge Golf Centre for the last two decades. He is now the sole proprietor, having bought out his partner about 10 years ago.
The golf centre offers something for everyone with a total of 30 covered bays, many featuring new range technology, as well as 10 outside bays, a nine hole par-3 course - which also serves as an 18 hole Footgolf course using the same fairways, a children’s party room, café and an American Golf superstore. In addition there is a separately owned dinosaur-themed mini adventure putting course, which generates useful income whilst attracting a younger and more diverse type of customer from that of the traditional golfer.
Tonbridge Golf Centre was one of the earlier adopters of the new range technology, having chosen InRange to supply its latest system. Twenty-one of the bays are now fully equipped with a radar net which captures the shots of the golfers. It is able to distinguish between the varying flights from different bays and then relay them back to the golfer’s bay, complete with spin rates, flight apex, curvature and distance statistics. This can be drawn against previous experiences, or used to play courses and games, individually or with other players. The touch screens are bright and clear and provide excellent feedback and fun for golfers of all sorts of abilities. Kids love them, as do grandpas!
James Jones is thrilled with the investment: “We have seen a phenomenal increase in the number of balls hit since we introduced the technology. Golfers are having a great time and are very happy to pay more for the experience. Although we don’t own the adventure putting course, Dino Golf, it has provided a huge number of informal golfers with the opportunity to get used to our golf centre. The new games and features that come with the InRange technology are a perfect mix for this demographic and it is not surprising that we have had an awful lot more non-traditional golfers visit us in recent months.”
To accommodate these new golfers, the range has been extended forwards to create deeper golf bays. This allows plenty of room behind the golfer for spectators and other players who are sharing the bay for the session, with bench seating provided in each bay. This increase in range usage has been fantastic for the business. Despite the inevitable rise in prices to cover the investment in the new technology, there are far more customers visiting the centre than in the past. Large buckets of 80 balls cost £10, 40 balls cost £5 - there is a discount bonus ball card system which offers a deal of 50% more balls for the same price once customers sign up – although most golfers seem happy to pay £10, which clearly seems to be the perfect price point for James’ customers.
James’ wife, Nikki, runs a super coffee bar, which is at the heart of the golf centre. Delicious cappuccinos and hot chocolates overflowing with marshmallows and tasty snacks are served to the waiting golfer. James has not yet set up a tee booking system, but is still considering it as a possibility: to some extent he likes the idea of queuing, as golfers get to browse the shop and spend money in the café.
Outside on the range, the balls are collected by robots, which also cut the grass. The InRange radar equipment is unobtrusive and collects its data from discreetly mounted units on and around the range. Some of InRange’s competitors use a photographic system to trace the balls’ flight. This requires a great increase in lighting and brightness in the bay; radar works in the dark and so uses far less energy.
James always has an eye on diversification: Tonbridge Golf Centre has a very large car park, so at the far end James rents out some storage units as well as renting car park space to a local van hire company. Up until a couple of years ago James used to hire out a large inflatable children’s play area in a little used area to the side of the range.
Adventure Leisure is Burhill’s Adventure Golf vehicle, and it rents the space for the course from the golf centre. Themed as Dino Golf, it is perfectly sited close to the road for maximum visual impact. It is very popular, and luckily James has a sufficiently large car park to accommodate a huge number of happy golfers.
American Golf has been partners with the golf centre for many years. They doubled the size of the store 10 years ago and the retail operation continues to go from strength to strength. Mark Janes runs the teaching academy at Tonbridge, with a total of nine professionals teaching on site providing lessons to all sorts of golfers, beginners, advanced players, groups of children, ladies and seniors and the occasional tournament professional. Eight bays are dedicated to teaching at one end of the range, with these bays being without the new InRange technology as many of the pros have their own teaching aids for their lessons already.
Tonbridge is beautifully run and is a credit to James – his tenacity and desire to continue to invest in the golf centre has certainly paid off. He is also unsurprisingly benefiting hugely from the recent surge in demand for golf.
For more information visit Tonbridgegolfcentre.com