The 10 Most Innovative People in Golf

We all know the problems that golf faces. It’s pointless to go over the laundry list — again. Plus, it’s kind of a downer. It’s like hitting from one bunker into another one. It’s like three-putting. It’s like …

You get the idea ...

So let’s move on, already. Because a number of people in the golf industry are doing exactly that with confidence, energy and focus. They’re not three-putting! They’re chipping in! (Or at least getting close to the pin.)

Golf Inc. went searching for innovators because golf needs them. And the good news is that they are out there, creating new, exciting concepts to move the game forward.

Take Topgolf, which has transformed the simple driving range. More accurately, it blew up the old model. These ranges draw customers as much for the music, food and drinks as they do for golf. Topgolf is attracting a strange, odd, foreign demographic to golf — young people.

Then there’s FootGolf, which is attracting that same demographic to the golf course. However, they don’t cart clubs, golf balls and tees. They play with a soccer ball.

Other innovators have taken what golf does well — such as bring people together for charitable causes — and improved these events by using new technology to attract more participants and raise more money.

The people behind these efforts are convinced that golf has a natural and powerful allure. It just needs a spark here and there. And the innovators — via imagination, guts and hard work — are providing it.

No. 1

Erik Anderson

Executive Chairman

Topgolf

Just about every golfer has trudged to the driving range, gotten a bucket of balls and hit shot after shot. Sure, it may help your game, but it isn’t exactly a thrill fest. The most fun is trying to hit the ball-retrieving machine.

Now comes Topgolf. And prepare your senses for quite the ride.

Topgolf is a party scene. It’s got music, drinks, high-def TVs, pool tables. And a driving range — unlike one you’ve ever seen. At night, it’s lit up. You hit golf balls with microchips that tell you where they land. A number of different competitions are featured, such as Top Score, where you try to get as close as possible the target farthest away.

“Originally, the idea was you could get feedback for practice,” said Erik Anderson, Topgolf’s executive chairman. “As it evolved, it moved more into social entertainment, a sports entertainment experience. Friends compete, watch TV and engage in social media. All those things happen at once.”

As a result, Topgolf has attracted a mix of golfers and non-golfers, many of whom are millennials. It is introducing thousands to the game of golf.

Londoners Steve and Dave Jolliffe created Topgolf in 2000 as a way to make the golf range experience more fun.

Anderson came onboard about 10 years ago, when he was serving as managing partner for West River Capital, a venture capital firm. West River, along with Dallas businessman Tom Dundon and Calloway Golf, were among the investors that purchased the company from the Jolliffes.

“We spent some time perfecting the model — we learned a lot,” Anderson said.

The model offers customers what Anderson calls a “parallel experience.”

“Golf is linear,” he said. “You go from the first hole to the 18th, and then you talk about it. Topgolf is very parallel. You’re socializing, watching TV  [while you play golf].”

The concept has attracted millennials — many of whom have never set foot on a golf course. Topgolf offers them the kind of experience they are drawn to — kinetic, socially engaging, fun. As much as 50 percent of customers are millennials, Anderson said.

“They don’t want to get away from things,” Anderson said. “They want to embrace, to be more engaged and involved with more people.”

Topgolf — which is growing rapidly — has been a hit with golfers as well. It still takes skill to score well. It’s a place where golfers feel comfortable taking non-golfers because the experience is fun for all. It’s not like taking them to a golf course, where their skill level may make them feel anxious. 

“We are synergistic with traditional golf,” Anderson said. “Golf is going through transitions just like other industries. Its great to see all the innovative things. We think we are working with a great game.”

To find out who else made Golf Inc.'s innovative list, read the full story in the free digital magazine here.

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