Do we need to invest in a modern driving range?

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 12, 2023 14:40

Should your golf club risk alienating existing, older, members, by converting the driving range into an entertainment centre that would probably attract younger people? Or, asks Kiran Kanwar PhD, could there be a middle way?

Many traditional golf courses and their management are discombobulated at best, or upset at worst, by the mushrooming of all the alien-to-traditional-golf entertainment venues.

Some, in a bit of a panic, wonder, “Should we add a modern driving range to our facility and might more people use it?”

What is a ‘modern driving range’? If the new generation of off-course driving ranges is anything to go by, it requires a built-up complex, with, often, multiple levels of individual hitting bays. Each bay has a single mat, comfortable seating designed for a cozy, private feeling, non-stop food and beverage services, all manner of golf clubs for use, and modern technology that allows for virtual games associated with each golf shot hit. The range itself is covered in artificial turf and has large, colourful targets that people may or may not aim towards. Loud music and flashing lights often complete the setting.

And the most frequently-touted unique selling proposition for modern driving ranges goes something like this: “Golf isn’t about archaic rules, dress codes and snooty committees – it’s about having fun with your mates, enjoying a great game and of course a few drinks too.”

The goal of the off-course facilities is, of course, to target the younger generations – Millennials (currently 27 to 42 years old) and Gen Zs (11 to 26 years old this year). Millennials and many Gen Zs are known to splurge, spending a considerable amount on socialising, apparel and eating out, takeaways and treats. They also enjoy gaming and, in general, prefer to pay for experiences rather than possessions. So, in the right circumstances (such as at a ‘modern driving range’), the younger generation could easily become attracted to golf.

Are these an age group that golf course managers would like to target as well? Would a modern driving range be acceptable for a golf club’s existing members, who, presumably, are mainly Gen X (between 43 and 58 years old in 2023) or Baby Boomers (between 59 and 77 years)? Golf courses, in their eagerness to acquire new customers, might fail to consider existing, and loyal, clientele.

However, it is vital for a golf-course’s longevity to attract younger customers. Why not make your existing driving range a best-of-both worlds facility?

Current driving ranges – the ones some managers might now be considering modernising – tend to be run-down and threadbare (except at the poshest of private clubs). Often golfers are expected to hit old balls with half their original dimple-depth, off fairly bald mats. The only grass tends to be right in front of the mats, pristine and unused, while the rest of the range is often completely bare. Even a mild breeze will make the dry sand there swirl around. The targets are usually poles or repurposed barrels or tiny nets. In general, they are unattractive and often grungy.

So, while ‘modern’ is not essential, ‘modernisation’ through a considerable overhaul is certainly called for. Artificial turf across the entire driving range makes it pleasant for golfers to look at and makes it practical for driving ranges in rain-prone regions to remain open even in the heaviest rain. Imaginative, colourful targets, piped music and an easily-accessible food service would make for happy customers of all ages.

If existing members are die-hards, who insist on practicing in silence, and following ‘archaic’ dress code and rules, it merely requires some creativity to separate the generations, who often naturally separate out into the ‘early birds’ and the ‘night owls’.

And what about the competition, now well established? Many off-course facilities exist today and are spread out all over the country. They offer everything from large outdoor driving ranges to indoor simulator-based bays or mini-golf. Some of them include Pitch London, Tee Box London, Kings Golf Studio, Club Fourteen, Urban Golf, Inplay Golf, Junkyard Golf, Eagles Indoor golf, The Golf Lounge and Puttstars. Most of these are relatively small and have restricted capacity.

Why not have your own slogan for attracting fun-loving younger golfers? “Enjoy great food and music at our technologically advanced driving range while also experiencing real golf in the fresh air and green grass of our environmentally-friendly golf course. No urban jungle, no traffic, no crowds. Nature at its finest.” While that might be doing it too brown, the idea is to show the younger generations that they can experience nature within a metropolis. More and more Millennials are embracing hiking and outdoor exploration, so why not have them hike across your golf course? Perhaps over a mere three to six holes to start with.

As for the dreaded competition? The ones you perceive are trying to take away a large share of the golf market? As the saying goes, if you cannot beat them, join them. Work with them, not against them – tell them that their patrons can get the best of both worlds when joining hands with a real golf course. The same folks can be indoors when making a social event of golf, and outdoors when they’re looking for a fun way to exercise while testing the skills they’ve learnt in simulator-land.

The only remaining job for the golf course to do with its modernised driving range is to find a way to make the experience fun and exciting with top-of-the-mind recall for all visitors. That’s the only way to draw in first-timers and convert them to repeat customers in what might rapidly become a buyer’s market.

LPGA Master instructor Kiran Kanwar has a PhD in kinesiology (biomechanics and anatomy) and wrote a thesis on causes of golf swing-related injuries. Kiran is also chair of Stanton University’s golf department. Visit her website


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 12, 2023 14:40
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  1. Tuckwells October 23, 10:34

    Completely agree with this article. I recently visited a driving range in the States and was amazed how many families were out on a Monday evening, enjoying time together hitting balls. We used the facilities purely for social time getting to know the other people on the trip in a relaxed environment. On the other side as a mid/high handicapper, I enjoy going to a range that can give me data to help improve my game. Historically I would go and hit 100 balls and although in reality I was probably spraying them everywhere, I would hit a few good shots and be reasonably happy. Now I can understand distances of each club and my dispersion, to help optimise practise sessions.
    Golf is appealing more and more to Millenials and Gen Z. Clothing manufacturers, celebrity engagement, and YouTube vlogs are driving this hard and we should celebrate this. Modern sports events are fantastic to attend. We shouldn’t forget the roots of our game, but for Clubs to be sustainable we need to embrace some modernization.

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  2. Roaring Fork October 23, 01:10

    It’s a case by case decision, so many factors enter into a decision like this.. can’t be a blanketed “yes or no “….

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  3. Varco October 23, 00:01

    Yes the answer is Yes!!!!!!!!

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  4. Philippe Wattinne October 19, 10:21

    Great advice in which I totally agree.
    I will say more : Have a giant practice green to make competition as well

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  5. Concept Golf October 13, 10:45

    I have been researching this very thing and the vibe I have been getting is that we need both and that both can Co exist. I have seen a massive increase in differing demographics on our driving ranges. You see all walks of life and people you would never put next to each other being there with a mutual past time. All it takes is education, respect for each other and a desire from the people involved to enjoy this hobby/addiction. Cinemas and bowling are the safe nights of history, driving ranges and simulators, axe throwing and crazy golf are where people love to be! Technology makes this possible for them to enjoy and engage in the same way that technology enhances the fame of the serious golfer…!! Room for everyone!

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