Commentary by Jeehae Lee, Topgolf Director of Business Strategy
The golf industry has watched the meteoric growth of the golf entertainment company, Topgolf, with hopeful interest and excitement. With 27 venues worldwide including the new flagship venue in Las Vegas and more to open in 2016, Topgolf expects that over 12 million guests will visit and play in 2016. Perhaps most exciting for the growth of golf is the fact that Topgolf has been able to attract two demographics that have been identified as primary growth areas for golf: millennials and women.
According to the National Golf Foundation and its 2015 U.S. Golf Participation Report, only 24 percent of the 24.1 million golfers are female and fewer than 30 percent are millennials. Onboarding more women and millennials to golf and keeping them engaged in the game would have a major impact on the current and future participation in golf. With 57 percent millennial and 32 percent female guests, Topgolf has clearly removed barriers that have kept these groups from traditional golf. Further, according to a recent study by the NGF, more than 50 percent of all Topgolf guests have expressed that interest in playing traditional golf has been positively influenced by their Topgolf experience, demonstrating the company is an ideal access point through which people are experiencing golf. However, to truly grow the game of golf, these casual visits and first swings need to convert to golfers who will develop their skills and potentially play traditional golf.
To address this challenge, Topgolf recently reinvented its instructional program, Topgolf U. Topgolf looked to trends outside the golf industry to innovate in the golf instructional space and found inspiration from group fitness classes popular among women and millennials. The result of months of research and incubation was a new product called the Topgolf U Class, which combines the convenience and flexibility of regularly scheduled group classes open for drop-ins and a social atmosphere that removes the intimidation or tedium of 1-on-1 lessons, all at a price point of $29 per class.
In less than three months, the new Topgolf U has been wildly successful in reaching women and millennials. In the last year, classes and group lessons have experienced organic growth of 650 percent. Preliminary data shows that almost all — 90 percent — of its class and group lesson students are new to golf or considered beginners, and 65-70 percent of those students are women. This year, Topgolf is expected to teach more than 15,000 students through classes and group lessons and more than 60,000 students through all types of lessons.
So, what can others learn from Topgolf U’s success?
1. Make it affordable. Create an entry-level instructional product with a price point that appeals to the masses. Reach out to people who may be interested but aren’t yet committed to learning the game. Learning should be as easy and accessible as possible.
2. Make it fun. Women, especially, are less intimidated by the game when they can learn with others in a social environment accompanied by music, food, and beverage.
3. Make skills development its own game. Build a “game outside the game” to keep beginners motivated. Think of ways to gamify skill development, tracking students’ progress outside of 18 holes. Topgolf has a unique advantage with its game system, but there are ways to create skills challenges that can be more motivating than breaking 100 — a goal that may take players years of practice to achieve.
Jeehae Lee is Topgolf's Director of Business Strategy and will be speaking on this topic at the 2016 Golf Inc Summit, Sept. 14-16 at Barton Creek Resort in Austin, Texas. Prior to Topgolf, she spent five years as a player on the LPGA Tour, competing in 25 U.S. states and 17 countries while averaging about 25 tournaments per season. Follow Jeehae on Twitter at @jeehaeda.