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IMG seeks Australian investment partner to introduce new golf entertainment centres

IMG, Australia`s largest golf course management company, is seeking a major investment partner to help establish a…

IMG<.>, Australia`s largest golf course management company, is seeking a major investment partner to help establish a unique new golf entertainment centre, which uses computer-tracked balls to assess the performance of players.

The TopGolf concept, launched just 18 months ago at Watford, in the UK, is based on the ID Ball System in which a computer chip is implanted in a standard two-piece golf ball, and each ball is allocated to a registered player.

The game is target based, with sensors throughout the driving range providing details of the distance travelled by each ball, and allocating points to each player based on the distance and accuracy of their shot.

A TopGolf game consists of 20 chip-implanted balls and takes an average of 12 minutes per player.

The IMG Group – which currently manages four Australia<.>n golf<.> courses and plans to double its portfolio this year – has secured worldwide rights to promote TopGolf, and is now assessing opportunities in Australia and New Zealand. The Managing Director of IMG Australia, Mr Martin Jolly, said preliminary discussions had been held with potential investors, with a view to attracting a partner to develop TopGolf here, or to selling the Australian development rights.

Golf is one of the fastest growing games in Australia and New Zealand, which has encouraged us to consider this region as one of the first markets outside the UK for a TopGolf facility, said Mr Jolly. As the game of skittles was transformed to ten-pin bowling through technology, so has the traditional driving range evolved into TopGolf.

We see considerable opportunities to use TopGolf outlets to add value to major shopping centres, commercial sites or sports developments, and we are seeking investment partners to help us introduce either a single TopGolf venue or a chain of centres in Australia.

Mr Jolly said IMG was promoting golf as a leisure and tourism activity as well as a sport, and was focusing on infrequent or new players as well as those who played regularly.

TopGolf is ideal not just for those who want to try their hand at the game but for regular players who want to sharpen their skills, said Mr Jolly. It works perfectly for those who want to practice as well as for those who want to play the game, but don`t have time for a nine or 18 hole round.

The world`s first TopGolf facility was established at Watford in November 2000 as a proof of principle site, and has been a big hit with golf enthusiasts and learners.

In the developed golf markets world-wide there has been something of a stagnation in participation figures, said Mr Jolly. TopGolf is so exciting because almost 50 per cent of the members at the Watford site would classify themselves as non-golfers.

We believe globally that this concept has the ability to grow the game of golf and in doing so capture all those millions of potential golfers who have not taken up the sport as a result of time, cost or perception of the game as elitist. TopGolf has removed these barriers and in doing so has created a unique new leisure concept with effective food and beverage, retail and teaching operations, such as the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, which is located at the Watford TopGolf site.

There are six game choices for TopGolf participants – TopGolf, where scores are awarded depending upon the target which is hit; TopChip, a short game in which points are awarded for hitting targets in specific order; TopShot, a long game awarding points for hitting targets in specific order; TopBreak, in which participants must hit targets in the same order as on a billiard table; TopPressure, in which all nine segments of a 50 metre target must be hit; and TopPractice, designed for those wanting to improve their game.

In the first 10 months of trading, the Watford TopGolf facility attracted more than 33,000 members, with an amazing 600-700 new members joining each week. Preliminary research shows that each member has visited the Watford centre an average of four times, and played an average total of 10 games at a cost of GBP 2.40 per game.

Prior to its conversion to a TopGolf facility, the Watford driving range offered 44 player bays, had 500 members, and averaged 150 customers per day, each spending an average GBP 6.50. Annual gross revenue was GBP 390,000.

After conversion to TopGolf, the facility still offered 44 player bays. But membership increased to a staggering 60,000, with an average 500 customers per day each spending an average GBP 18.00. Annual gross revenue increased to GBP 3.3 million.

IMG Golf Course Services markets and manages four properties in Australia – The Golf Club Kennedy Bay, Western Australia; Links Lady Bay in South Australia; Macarthur Grange, NSW and The Dunes on Victoria`s Mornington Peninsula. The company is expanding rapidly in Australia, with announcements on several additional properties due later this year.

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