For generations, the golf course was where people went to decompress — to spend some time away from all of the responsibilities and tedium of daily life. It was like taking a mini-vacation to spend some time enjoying the quiet, scenic beauty of nature.
Today, virtually everyone is connected 24 hours a day. Many millennials would actually feel stressed if they were disconnected. The point of golf ’s growing-the-game initiatives is to increase the number of players — and that means enabling them to stay connected, even on tees, fairways and greens.
The good news for old-timers is that the technology is not obtrusive. If a golfer wants to spend a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of the world, just don’t use the technology.
The good news for the tech-savvy is that their connectivity and entertainment options are growing, thanks to a joint project between Club Car, a maker of golf carts and utility vehicles for personal, business and golf operations based in Augusta, Georgia; Sarasota, Florida-based GPS Industries (GPSI), a provider of custom software solutions; golf legend Greg “The Shark” Norman; and Verizon, the telecommunications giant based in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
To find out what some of the newest tech options are for golf cars, Superintendent spent some time with Robert McElreath, vice president of connectivity for Club Car.
Talk about how the Shark Experience came about. Where did the idea come from, and how did the project become reality?
The Shark Experience is part of the evolution of Club Car’s commitment to deliver technology and telematics to move the game of golf forward. For nearly a decade we have enhanced golf business operations and the overall golf experience.
Back in 2009, we aligned with GPSI and in doing so, Club Car introduced Visage, a mobile golf information system. So now we will be able to integrate Visage’s premier golf car technology with a fully connected entertainment hub, which is the Shark Experience.
Because Greg Norman was an investor in GPSI, he was quite knowledgeable about our technology and business platform. Over the past several years, Club Car and Greg both realized the need for another partner to deliver on the content. Between Club Car’s relationship with Greg and his relationship with Verizon, we were all on board in selecting Verizon as a partner. It has been a great collaboration among our collective companies.
How does the Shark Experience continue to move Precedent and Club Car’s fleet experience forward?
Technology has become mainstream today and is a pretty standard offering in our golf cars. If you look at how automobiles continue to innovate and introduce new accessories and technology platforms, Club Car and its golf cars are no different.
Because the Shark Experience is truly a platform and not a product, we have a much larger vision and will continually evolve with new roadmap items. Club Car will introduce a variety of features to help golfers with their game — from dynamic yardage to the hole, hole flyovers and Greg Norman’s golf tips, to a seamless, cashless experience from course to clubhouse. It provides each golfer with a “member for a day” experience, similar to what you would experience at an exclusive resort or club course.
We will offer additional features in 2018 that continue to provide the best experience for golfers. The sky is really the limit.
You rolled out Onward at GIS as a community vehicle. Talk a little about the demand that drove this launch. Does that demand say anything about golf?
As a brand, we realize Club Car is known as a leader in golf, so our plans to move into the consumer market evolved from golf. We have a pretty good read on consumers and understand that many people who golf have other needs and desires, when it comes to personal transportation. They want more bells and whistles and customization whenever possible, and we were able to offer Onward as a more personalized vehicle — the way they want it. Onward is designed for those who live in master planned communities or near golf courses, and for those who have expansive properties and are looking for another option to get around. It’s a great ride used by many who just want a fun experience for their daily life activities.
You mentioned that the amenities in Onward, notably the speakers and USB ports, are becoming more ubiquitous in fleet vehicles, too. Can you talk a bit about how connectivity is spreading and how it might be tied to growing the game?
It is a reflection of the times we are now in. Most people are connected all the time. At Club Car, we see the golf car as an enabler to being connected.
As for growing the game, the golf industry is increasingly recognizing the need to be inclusive. While respecting the tradition of golf and the game itself, we can also make the game more attractive to a larger audience by offering a golf car that meets the needs of every golfer.
If you want to check on a score or listen to some tunes, you can. As we say with the Shark Experience, it’s “Your Game, Your Way.”
When young kids go to the driving range or golf course, the two most cherished experiences seem to be driving the golf car and getting ice cream afterward. You could make an argument that golf cars play an important role in getting young people to the golf course. How does this drive R&D and the innovations you have in the pipeline?
At their most basic level, golf cars can make a round of golf a more enjoyable experience for the golfer and whomever they are spending time with.
Greg shared a similar story about a customer at one of our pilot courses who experienced this new technology platform for the first time. After the round, the father talked about his son riding with him and enjoying the Shark Experience — and it allowed the two of them to spend more time together.
Club Car is constantly exploring R&D and from a business perspective, our role is to help golf courses do that — and as a result, those courses run a more successful business. That is what the innovation related to Visage and the Shark Experience is all about.
What other “growing the game” initiatives is Club Car involved with? How do you measure their success? Why are they important to Club Car?
One of Club Car’s newest and most visible partnerships is with U.S. Kids Golf. They are the leader in youth golf competition and equipment and have many great programs to help grow the game. We support their foundation in several ways:
- the Longleaf Tee Initiative (sizing the length of golf courses to be more distanceand ability-appropriate),
- connecting with U.S. Kids players and parents through tournament support, and
- being a partner and supporter of Longleaf Golf and Family Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina, which serves as a living laboratory for golf — both from an operational and playerdevelopment perspective.
Do you have any work vehicles in the pipeline for superintendents? How are you addressing the challenges that maintenance departments are dealing with, including doing more with less, labor shortages, and environmental optics with members and the community?
We continue to develop new Carryall utility vehicles like our new “Fit to Task Series,” which address the specific needs of superintendents and their operations. This isn’t exclusive to the vehicle; it also applies to the accessories with the vehicle to help support their job. We recently introduced a new turf package meant to improve the on-course experience with Club Car, and we routinely engage superintendents so we can translate that feedback into a better experience with Club Car. We also have a comprehensive service program available to ensure uptime and repair of vehicles.
What is your assessment for the golf industry after a tough 10 years? Are we still right-sizing? Do you think millennials will make their way to the golf course as previous generations did?
It has been a challenge for the golf industry as a whole over the past 10 years. Of course, a lot of industries faced challenges after the economic events of the last decade. What I think is different now, as opposed to the early part of that period, is that when the challenges first arrived, they were primarily about cutting expenses. Operators continue to take a critical look at controlling costs, but now it is more about value, differentiation and attracting a larger audience to the course.
Golf has much to offer all generations, including millennials. We embrace the traditions that make the game great, but we are also innovative in exploring and delivering new avenues that attract new markets and the next generation of golfers.