Exclusive Podcast #251 – Andrew Macaulay – Topgolf
The Chief Technology Officer for Topgolf, Mr. Andrew Macaulay, joins us for episode #251 of the Golf Better Podcast to talk about the truly revolutionary company that has helped grow the game of golf.
In this episode, we discuss the technology behind Topgolf, how the concept came about, their expansion across the country, how you don’t have to be an avid golfer to enjoy the Topgolf experience and much more.
Tom Brassell: Welcome to Golf Better at Worldwide Golf Shops, episode 251. Hello everyone, Tom Brassell here. Thanks so much for joining us. This is your first time listening or you’ve caught every episode. Either way, we’re just glad that you joined us. Especially glad you joined us today because our guest is a very special one. He’s from a company that has done more to grow the game than just about any company in recent history. He’s the chief technology officer for Topgolf, Mr. Andrew Macaulay. Andrew, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks so much for joining us. Great to have you with us.
Andrew Macaulay: You are most welcome. Thanks for the invitation and I’m excited to be here and talk to you.
Tom Brassell: Done a lot of these over the years, Andrew, but I got to tell you I am so excited to talk with you today. It’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s so much to … It’s such a topic that something in the industry I think that’s really, really been needed and you guys finally came up with it. Can you tell us a little bit how the whole thing started? How the idea from Topgolf started and how it grew around the country and around the world?
Andrew Macaulay: Yeah. The absolute beginnings were in the UK and around the year 2000 with a couple of brothers who were on a driving range arguing about whose ball went the furthest and they thought well there’s got to be some way we can add technology to this to find out. To cut a long story short, they figured it out with microchips in the golf balls, etc. Then when it came to the US, we added a lot more than just technology. The whole entertainment experience that you get when you come to the Topgolf that you know and love today, that was really generated with the combination of this innovation from the UK and this entertainment innovation in the US coming together. We figured out a winning formula there and now we’re growing like mad the last several years all over the country and shortly all over the world.
Tom Brassell: I had a CEO of natural gas company out in Texas tell me that it may be the number one team building exercise in Houston. Did you ever know it would get to this? Did you have an idea that corporate outings and all the stuff that’s happening now? It’s just a fantastic thing.
Andrew Macaulay: Yeah. We generally call our events business, which includes corporate outings, functional events, families, birthday parties, you name it. It’s a place and event that you can participate. Everyone can participate. It doesn’t matter. That’s the big thing. Unlike green grass golf, you have to get to some level of ability before it becomes enjoyable. We’ve all been through that if you’re a golfer. At Topgolf, you don’t have to be that. You can bring that group of friends that has some really good golfers in it and some people who don’t play at all and they can all come and enjoy it together. Really, that’s what it all about.
Tom Brassell: The growth has just been phenomenal. It’s almost like it just multiplied. Share a little bit about your growth strategy from this point forward, too.
Andrew Macaulay: Yeah. I think we’re up to, what, 33 venues open now, with three of those being original UK ones. We have lots under construction. There’ll be several more opening before the end of the year around the country. Then, of course, the international expansion, we started that about a year ago. Working with partners from various parts of the world, we’ve announced Australia and two in Mexico and you can expect more to come in the near future. Yeah. We’re not resting on any laurels here. We’re continuing to grow as fast as we can and continuing to make sure that we offer a quality experience with that growth, right.
Tom Brassell: Right. To find out more, topgolf.com/us for those that are here in the United States. Andrew, talk a little bit about some of the technology ventures with Topgolf that you’re involved with and some of the things that the people may not know but are just so great. Things like Toptracer, crush, swing speed, so on and so forth.
Andrew Macaulay: Yeah. We made two acquisitions about a year to a year and a half ago that were critical to helping us with this additional technology path. We obviously still have the core technology that made Topgolf what it is with RFID, chips in the balls, etc. Those two acquisitions really are starting to take us to the next level in so many ways. The first one was WGT acquisition in early 2016 and that helped create a huge online presence for us. Shortly after we acquired them, now you can go and play Topgolf on your mobile phone. It’s the driving range, so to speak, in the WGT game. That’s done really well. The other acquisition was Protracer, based out of Sweden as you probably know. That was really over a year ago. That allowed us to use their camera based tracking technology to see all of the balls being hit at a driving range.
That has now become part of Topgolf Crush, which is our pop-up events. Now, we go and we turn your favorite NFL, baseball stadium, other locations into Topgolf for a weekend. Basically, one side of the stadium becomes the tee line with all the food and drink everything else that comes with it and we put above ground, obviously, Topgolf targets on the field, and you get to come in and play for an hour and have a great time inside of a place where you really think you shouldn’t be hitting golf balls. That’s part of the thrill of it. That’s taken us nicely. We’ve got another one coming up. Actually, we’re at the BMW Championship coming up with an activation on the practice range itself. While your favorite PGA tour players are practicing and warming up on one side of the range, on the other part of the same range you’re going to be able to go into a two level temporary Topgolf and play.
That’s all thanks to this Toptracer technology that we can go and put it in and out. We don’t have to dig holes in the ground and have places where catch the balls that you do with our RFID chips. This camera technology really lets us add Toptracer in multiple different areas.
Tom Brassell: Amazing. I remember talking with Mark King, the former CEO of TaylorMade and Adidas a few years ago and he said he goes “We have to find a way to get people back into the game without playing the game.” He used the example of basketball. He goes “You and I can go outside and shoot baskets, but we’re not actually playing basketball. We’re not keeping score and all that.” He said “We got to find a way to do that. We got to find a way to do that.” Then bingo, here you come. The ways that you guys have given back to the game and it’s worked so well. Talk about that.
Andrew Macaulay: Yeah. It’s a huge part of what we’re about, our core. One of our five core values is caring and that extends obviously to corporate, charitable events, but it extends to wanting to be a huge part of this great game of golf and growing that game. We do things that we have from the very beginning. If you’re a local high school golf team not anywhere close to one of our venues, you can come, that whole team comes and practices for free with Topgolf. You get all of the technology, especially when we add Toptracer as well. You’re going to get even more feedback about your shots than you do from the current Topgolf game. We’re big in our local communities and then nationally as well with events with Make-A-Wish Foundation and other things throughout this last year or so.
It’s one of our top core values at our company to continue to care and be a large part of this great game and this industry.
Tom Brassell: Speaking of communities, one was just hit hard last week or so, Houston, Texas. Talk about what you guys have invested there in Swing Suite at the Four Seasons in Houston because if you haven’t seen it yet to our listeners, you got to go online and take a look at this. It’s phenomenal.
Andrew Macaulay: Yeah. Thanks. We are … Another area of technology that we added in the last year, we got a first version of what we call Topgolf Swing Suite, which is an indoor simulator version of playing Topgolf and simulator looked great. I’m sure you play on them, that your listeners have played on them. If you don’t hit the ball very well, it simulates that perfectly. Again, if you can’t play the game as well as others, that becomes actually not much fun and actually inhibits learning ability. What we’ve done is create the Topgolf version of a simulator with Topgolf Swing Suite and we deployed it in the Four Seasons Houston right before they reopened with a complete renovation before the Super Bowl and it’s going absolute gangbusters. We financed one they’re putting into the Atlanta Hawks new stadium.
I don’t know. There’s a big pipeline of places you’re going to see those things popping up here pretty soon as well. The key is you can go in, if you’re a good golfer, you can still get the stats you need and the learning experience. If you want to just have some fun and hit some balls and get a lucky bounce, it goes into a target and score some points just like here at a real Topgolf, well it does that too. It simulates that very well as well. We’re really excited about that product.
Tom Brassell: Andrew, one final thing I wanted to ask you about was Topgolf TV. A lot of this is on topgolf.com, but the Chef Showdown, a lot of the shows. This is fantastic stuff. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Andrew Macaulay: Yeah. Absolutely. I mentioned the acquisition of WGT earlier and one of the things that did was seed a new organization for us called Topgolf Media and they are responsible for global marketing, for generating all this content that you started to see over the last year from Bryan brothers trick shots off the top of the hotel, MGM Hotel in Vegas down in there to The Hook with Charles Kelley, the series of Lady Antebellum where he comes interviews celebrities, and of course as you mentioned Chef Showdown. That’s gone really well with not only being entertaining but showcasing what great food and beverages we have in addition to golf. You’re going to see, we’re really just scratching the surface, is what I’m trying to say. Stay tuned, we have a heck of a lot more coming on Topgolf TV.
Tom Brassell: Andrew, I can’t thank you enough for spending the time with us. Topgolf has been the prescription for the game that the doctor ordered a long time ago. He just didn’t know what prescription would write and who would fill it, but you guys certainly have. Final comments to our listeners from our friends at Topgolf?
Andrew Macaulay: I just want to thank you for giving some time to talk about it. You can tell we’re all so excited about what we’re doing. We’re having a heck of a lot of fun, the culture inside the company is to die for, and we look forward to bringing more Topgolf venues to people who don’t have one yet.
Tom Brassell: Andrew, thank you so much and thanks so much to Miss Amanda Hill for putting us together. Let’s do it again down the road when something new breaks from Topgolf. If we do that, I got a feeling it won’t be too long from now.
Andrew Macaulay: You’re right. Let’s do it.