With 42 locations nationwide and the ownership of an innovative technology called Toptracer, Topgolf is dedicated to making the game of golf as accessible and state-of-the-art as possible. As the vice president for corporate development, Ani Mehta has helped promote and grow Topgolf’s most innovative products.
You came to Topgolf in June 2016. What drew you to the company?
Before Topgolf, I was in New York working at the Boston Consulting Group, and before that, I worked in finance for a company called Blackrock. That step into finance was actually completely unexpected. I majored in biomedical engineering, but when I saw my brother and some friends get into finance and I dipped my toes into that. I decided to make a switch and give up my dreams of becoming a doctor.
After a few years at BCG, I realized that my heart was very much in golf and sports, so I made some phone calls and I very fortunately found Topgolf. Now I’m leading a couple of different things. I head up the corporate development department for Topgolf, and I wear the Toptracer hat. For the last year or so I’ve been leading the Toptracer Range business. We recently hired someone from the outside to take that over, Ben Sharpe. He is still in the very early stages of ramping up.
It seems that more and more sports organizations are looking for people with business, entrepreneurial and financial gifts and experience. How have you seen that trend played out within Topgolf?
Even within Topgolf, you’d be surprised at how many of the senior executives and other people are not really golfers. There are a lot of people who come from consulting and finance and other more technical and analytical fields and not necessarily from the sports and entertainment business.
Can you explain the appeal of the Toptracer technology, why it was an important acquisition for Topgolf and how it has increased the impact of Topgolf’s brand?
We did that acquisition about two years ago. Toptracer used to be called ProTracer, a company based in Sweden. Daniel Forsgren, the founder, was trying to solve the riddle of, “How do you make golf practice more fun, and how do you make watching golf on TV more fun?” He developed technology that can create precisely the path that a golf ball takes once it’s hit. The product engineers and developers came up with ProTracer technology, which is a computer-based technology that traces the path of the golf ball, and through very sophisticated software and algorithms, tracks all of the statistics and all of the data points associated with that ball.
The first product they launched was what we call Toptracer Broadcast. Nowadays, it’s hard to watch golf on TV without seeing Toptracer technology. It’s the blue ball-tracing line after every ball is shot. Toptracer Range is just another flavor of that same camera-based technology, with two main differences. First, in contrast to the broadcast product which is tracking one golf ball at a time, the Toptracer Range technology is designed to track dozens or hundreds of golf balls at the same time.
The other difference is that broadcast technology is for the professionals. It’s used on tour, so apart from TV you don’t really get to experience it. But the range product is meant for the common golfer. The idea is to install this in thousands of ranges across the country and around the world, so that golfers like us can experience this amazing technology.
So TopTracer goes beyond just Topgolf facilities?
We have 40-odd Topgolf venues today, and we’re continuing to deploy that Toptracer technology. But we also have another forty non-Topgolf facilities that have Toptracer Range. About half of those are in the U.S. and the other half are in Europe. The goal is to have a couple thousand Toptracer ranges installed in next four or five years.
What else sets Toptracer technology apart for its users?
Toptracer Range has an app that people can download called the community app. When you go to Toptracer Range to play or practice, a lot of the data that is collected during your game play or your practice session is stored to the profile that you can access through this app. So as a golfer you have very accurate and reliable data.
What has the response been to Toptracer Range?
It’s been fantastic. If you’re a serious golfer who likes to practice, having that data at your fingertips is really, really valuable. But if you’re a non-golfer or someone that’s just getting into the game, you also want features that make the game a little less intimidating and more fun. So when you go to a Toptracer Range, you don’t just have to play modes that are intended for serious golfers, there are also more fun games you can play. So, it just opens up the golfing experience to more than just the core golfer.
From the perspective of the driving ranges and the golf courses, this technology is pretty transformative, because traditionally it can be hard to find creative ways to monetize the land at a driving range. There’s really nothing to sell except for that bucket of balls. But now you can monetize the game experience, but it also enables the creation of other revenue opportunities, such as events. We have a lot of driving ranges that do brisk business in events – birthdays, corporate events and happy hours, as well as a good business with food and beverage sales.
We have a traditional driving range in Arlington, Texas, and a few weeks ago they did a microbrewery event. He invited a bunch of craft breweries, and they were giving out samples, and he had like 450 people there on that Saturday for that event, with Toptracer being the activity and the beer being the secondary attraction.
What might be coming to Topgolf in the future?
Topgolf as a company was born out of an innovative mindset, so we definitely continue to invest in new ideas, new technologies and new experiences. There’s another business line that we are very bullish about called Topgolf Swing Suites, and we are looking into several different technologies. We are looking at augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality pretty closely, trying to incorporate those into our experiences, and we continue to look at other things including mobile apps, digital content creation and distribution.