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Golf range goes high tech to draw more traffic

A Virginia golf range is using the latest in radio frequency ID technology imbedded in golf balls to turn mundane practice sessions into an interactive game.  By CNBC's Scott Wapner
/ Source: CNBC

When golf boomed in the 1990's, so did the construction of golf ranges. Now with the numbers of new golfers flatlining, many of those ranges are suffering from poor attendance. But one range in Virginia may have found the perfect formula for getting those duffers back.

For more than a decade, New York City's Chelsea Piers has been the model for high-tech golf ranges. The list of amenities includes a state-of-the-art teaching facility, virtual golf simulators and automatic ball dispensers.

“Since opened there we've hit 110 million balls,” said Greta Wagner, general manager of Chelsea Piers Golf Club. “With 110 million balls, that's a lot of bending down. So we need the automatic tee up system. You need the technology.”

But now a new range in Alexandria, Va., may be challenging Chelsea Piers for the high-tech crown. Kevin Vouglitois is general manager of TopGolf in the Kingstowne section of the city.

“When you walk in there's a huge wow factor just seeing the facility, looking out through the glass seeing the targets,” he said. “Most people that come here have never been to a golf range that can even compare.”

TopGolf is using the latest in radio frequency ID technology imbedded in golf balls to turn mundane practice sessions into an interactive game.

The target greens are unlike any other: 60 pockets contain readers that transmit data about a golfer's shot back to computer monitors.

“As the ball goes past the reader it has your information on the ball,” said Vouglitois. “So it transmits your information back to the screen and gives you your score.”

Back to the range
So far the 37,000 members like what they've seen.

“The instant feedback is incredible,” said one member. “With a computer you can tell exactly how far you've hit it, and how close you are to the target, which helps you improve your game.”

And that feedback may be the key to getting the nation's golfers back to the range.

“In a typical range, one person hits at a time,” said Vouglitois. “Where here, up to five people can compete with each other. And we're finding that people are using it as a social event.”

And what could be more social than having a 19th hole just feet from hitting booths.

“We're up a huge percentage from the range that was here prior,” said Vouglitois. “Not only in the golf aspect, but in food and beverage since we have food served to the bays while people are playing.”

Vouglitois estimates that between food, games and memberships his range is bringing in between $10,000 to $20,000 a day.

But high tech is not for everyone. Ranges must weigh the cost of new technology against their bottom line.

“It is profitable,” said Wagner. “But does it makes sense to — can you increase your bottom line by that much more by making that $5 million investment?”

But as places like Chelsea Piers and TopGolf rake in profits from happy customers, other ranges could soon trade in their plastics mats and ball dispensers for some high-tech ka-ching.