Evolve...or Else: The Future of Golf According to Robert McElreath
From the fields of Scotland to major resorts across the world, the
game of golf has changed significantly over the last 400 years. And
while sportsmanship, strategy, and skill will always be part of it,
trends tell us it will take more than that to keep people coming back
to the course.
It's a lesson many course owners and managers learned the hard way over the last 15 years, since the rapid drop-off in course memberships during the recession. Golf technology and innovation experts like Robert McElreath, Vice President, Connected Technologies at Club Car, understand what it takes to help courses survive these changes. As he says, the concept of a "no phone, 24-7 collared shirt, fine dining" country club atmosphere is a thing of the past. "People don't want fine dining," says McElreath. "They want to be able to bring their kids and not worry ... apart from elite private courses, clubs just can't survive like that."
Making Golf Cool Through Technology
The solution? "Evolve or die," says McElreath. "Anything we can do to make golf cool, we've got to do that." He suggests integrating technology into aspects of the game to give it a new level of excitement, entertainment, and comfort.
In McElreath's opinion, one of the best examples of this is Top Golf. By adding technology to shift the experience, Top Golf has already attracted new members to the game. These "golf experience" destinations feel more like a bar-lounge-arcade than a driving range, drawing in staunch "non-golfers" like never before by creating an environment people want to be in. It's the kind of experience Tempo Connect, available in all Club Car Tempo golf cars, brings to the course too, along with fun, interpersonal camaraderie.
One way traditional golf courses can incorporate the entertainment of Top Golf is through the Shark Experience, an exclusive streaming media package included with Club Car Tempos enabled with Tempo Connect software. In addition to music, sports scores, and news, Shark Experience users can look forward to future innovations promising a "more PGA experience," says McElreath, in which players can record and view their ball's flight patterns and share accomplishments on social media through an online golfer profile. And that's just the tip of the iceberg: the software will eventually include games, augmented play, and golf tips, so that every round becomes more interactive - and enjoyable.
"The goal is to make golf cool," McElreath says, explaining that it's not about throwing out tradition, but rather "taking a bit of a pivot" to meet players where they are today.
Integrating to Improve Fleet Operations
For course managers, technology can also improve operations. Visage Fleet Management, another offering within the Club Car Tempo Connect package, streamlines tasks to make staffing, car maintenance, and food and beverage service smoother-and it shows. Based on a built-in survey, the systems are averaging around or above four out of five stars, showing that these private clubs "just get It." They understand the value these programs can add, from cutting costs on maintenance to providing a better overall experience for their patrons.
Anticipating the Future
McElreath talks passionately about the possibilities of future car design and operating systems. "Could you imagine a Tesla-designed golf cart?" he muses. "That would be amazing!" To him, it's only a matter of time.
Though technology has thus far received an overwhelmingly positive welcome on the golf course, there is always pushback by those hesitant to allow too much tech to infiltrate the sanctity of the game. "You'll always have traditionalists, the 'Judge Smails' of the game," McElreath says, giving an appropriate nod to the cult classic Caddyshack. But at the end of the day, it's about giving people what they want and using technology to foster a love of the game.
The possibilities are endless and, thanks to forward-thinkers like Robert McElreath making them a reality, so is the future of golf.