Golf legend Ben Hogan once said, "The most important golf shot is the next one." Company leaders at Topgolf have embraced Hogan's sentiment by redefining what golf means in the digital age.
Topgolf is seizing upon a huge market opportunity in the world of golf. During the past 20 years, there's been a 30-percent decrease in golf participation among 18-to-34 year-olds, according to research from the National Golf Foundation.
But that doesn't mean that millennials are disinterested in golf. Instead, many millennials and other potential players are interested in modernized and engaging approaches to a game that can be time-consuming (four hour-plus rounds), expensive and intimidating. Seizing upon these opportunities, Topgolf is disrupting the golf industry by creating new golf experiences for players of all ages and skill levels.
HMG Strategy recently caught up with Andrew Macaulay, CTO at Topgolf Entertainment Group, regarding the innovations that the company has been pioneering along with his role in helping to drive these changes.
HMG Strategy: Tell us about how Topgolf is disrupting the golf industry.
Andrew Macaulay: Topgolf isn't just disrupting the golf industry; we are disrupting how people think about where they go for entertainment. Twenty years ago, would anyone have envisioned golf as an alternative to dinner-and-a-movie or bowling? Topgolf has changed how people think and feel about what playing golf is. At Topgolf, you can wear what you want, cheer as loudly as you want and play for as long as you want. Topgolf has been disruptive from day one. In the past few years, we have disrupted by evolving how and where people enjoy the game. We do not view golf as only 18 holes on a green grass course. Instead, you can enjoy golf at our venues, on Topgolf TV, on our WGT Golf app, in a Topgolf Swing Suite or at a driving range with our Toptracer technology. Topgolf will continue to create new platforms for people to experience golf.
HMG Strategy: How has technology played a role in this disruption?
Andrew Macaulay: The first step in my role at Topgolf represented a typical IT transformation - the company was growing like mad and everything needed to scale. After about a year, the innovation began to scale.
When looking to innovate, it was critical to determine who we could partner with to create the best possible experience for our fans. That's how we created Topgolf Crush, putting golf in a football stadium or at a racing event where players can aim their shots at giant targets on a field or track in an iconic stadium like Heinz Field in Pittsburgh or the Circuit of the Americas in Austin and compete against friends with food, drinks, and music.
We partnered with Full Swing to create Topgolf Swing Suite, our indoor social experience that offers guests a lounge to play in, massive screens and a selection of virtual games. Two years ago, the conventional wisdom was that if the company were to develop a simulator version of Topgolf, it could take away from the Topgolf experience. But as we thought it through, we realized that we could build a Topgolf Swing Suite much faster and less expensively than a 65,000-square-foot venue. Topgolf Swing Suite enables us to reach more fans who otherwise might never experience a Topgolf venue. Extending Topgolf beyond the four walls of our venues has helped us build a global community and a lifestyle brand.
What is your role in driving innovation at Topgolf?
AM: My role is like a CIO/CTO combined. I'm on a kick to try to get rid of the IT acronym, just like MIS and IS. Reverse your approach and reverse the acronym from "IT" to "TI" for technology innovation.
I've reported to the CEO in each of my past three roles. The first time I was lucky, but since then I've looked for it. It's about having a seat at the table, and all of the CEOs I've worked for have valued my input as a technologist and as an executive. I'm not just viewed as a technical guy who can fix a broken projector. We're able to come up with ideas and suggestions for growing the business.
With executive support and the right team in place, we can run full force at an innovation. We use a model called the "innovation engine," through which we generate numerous ideas. Many never make it to concept or implementation, but all are vetted for value. We take the most interesting ideas and evaluate them with research and testing. If an idea passes these stop-gates, we move it to our venues and support it at the office and local levels. It is really just a simple stage/gate funnel process. But a funnel relies on gravity. Ours is an "engine" because we add the right fuel, oxygen and spark to drive those ideas through the process.
What's it like being able to apply technology to deliver new entertainment experiences in a staid industry?
AM: It's unbelievably exciting, rewarding, stressful, and hard work - but I wouldn't have it any other way. What I've found over the years is that it's important to work with people who can respond quickly to changes in the competitive environment and opportunities for creating new business models. I look for people like that. We might think we're on a certain path, and as things change, you need to pivot. It stresses out a lot of people.
What's it like working with Executive Chairman Erik Anderson?
AM: He is the creative genius and visionary behind the company. He doesn't seem to ever sleep. He is thinking so far ahead, and that's what you need in that kind of role. He's demanding in getting results, but he leaves the strategy and execution to your expertise. Erik is 100 percent committed to creation and innovation - he never wants us to simply operate or manage the status quo.
What are the biggest growth drivers for the company?
AM: If you look at our core business, we're growing at ten venues per year on average. These are 12-14-acre properties representing significant construction projects and 500 people hired at most of our venues. We're still in growth mode in that business. We're now open in Australia, and we've announced upcoming locations in Mexico, Canada, and Dubai.
Our Toptracer Range product, which allows golfers to use the same tracking technology used in professional TV broadcasts to track the flight of their shots at driving ranges, recently hit the market and that's going to grow exponentially along with Topgolf Swing Suite.
We've also launched Topgolf Media which creates original content, including Topgolf shows on Amazon Prime and Topgolf TV. We're generating tens of millions of views annually.
What's the culture like at Topgolf?
AM: When I came onboard, one of the three things the executive team wanted to do is to get the culture of the IT team on par with the rest of the company. It was unfortunate that we had the lowest morale and culture, but I've been able to help change that everywhere I've been, and we needed that to happen here.
The IT team's job satisfaction improved dramatically, as measured by our annual workplace engagement survey. I couldn't have joined a better company in terms of culture. We live the values every day - they're not just words on a wall. We care about our associates and our guests, and we live those principles day-in and day-out.
It's about getting the right people in the right place, giving them the freedom to create and innovate with helpful oversight and high degrees of communication. Good communication doesn't happen by accident.
We preach innovation all the time. When you're the member of a team, we're expecting you and everyone else to innovate on a project. We might have a goal on a project, but we're not prescriptive as to how it gets done. We borrow great ideas like hackathons from companies like Google, and we apply principles that make sense for our team members.