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February 2019

ClubCorp Takes Shot at Big Shots Investment

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By Scott Kauffman

ClubCorp, the world’s largest owner of private clubs, just took a big bite into the technology-driven alternative golf business when it recently acquired a controlling interest in BigShots Golf.

BigShots, a Peoria, Illinois-based golf recreation and entertainment facility powered by innovative Doppler radar ball-tracking technology, is yet another entry in the growing alternative golf entertainment space sweeping the industry.

Of course, the biggest and most established names currently in the golf-related leisure and entertainment business are Topgolf and Drive Shack, the former which is already well entrenched with plans of opening its 53rd facility in Myrtle Beach in early 2019.
Meanwhile, publicly traded Drive Shack Inc. (NYSE: DS), opened its first stand-alone facility in Orlando last April and has six others in various stages of development, according to the company’s third-quarter earnings report released last Nov. 8.

Like Drive Shack, the lone BigShots facility currently resides in Florida, on a 10-acre parcel less than an hour’s drive away in Vero Beach. This flagship, two-story BigShots facility comprises a full-service restaurant, two bars, private event space and 30 climate-controlled tee stations.

While all three alternative golf venues feature food and beverage service and multi-story and/or multi-bay hitting stations with its own cutting-edge technology-fueled viewing platforms, what distinguishes BigShots Golf in the eyes of new ClubCorp CEO David Pillsbury is the company’s live gaming capabilities and relatively attractive indoor franchising model.

And the latter component — allowing course owners and/or non-traditional golf entrepreneurs the ability to “cost-effectively” introduce one of these BigShots franchises to existing courses or non-golf locations — is why Pillsbury and ClubCorp are so bullish about their investment.

“We absolutely think there is (room in the business), particularly in secondary markets that are underserved,” says Pillsbury, who took over the reins of ClubCorp last June 1. “Vero beach is a great example. Just because people live in a small market doesn’t mean they’re not going to enjoy alternative golf and the same (food and beverage fun). … The gigantic mega sites that Topgolf and Drive Shack build are more suited for the bigger ‘A’ markets.”

In other words, while Topgolf and Drive Shack strive to open multi-million-dollar facilities on large acreage footprints in major metro markets, ClubCorp sees a BigShots niche being the more “underserved” golf-friendly markets. So, while Topgolf and Drive Shack represent the upper echelon of this alternative golf industry, ClubCorp is focused on bringing the BigShots brand to the more modest masses. Call it the “affordable golf “of alternative golf.

Pillsbury could not disclose costs of BigShots’ proposed indoor franchise venues due to franchising documents that were being completed leading up to the big marketing launch at this year’s 2019 PGA Merchandise Show. But Pillsbury was clear about one thing: “Suffice it to say that BigShots indoors is going to be incredibly affordable,” he says.

Scott Kauffman is a golf business writer, the managing director of Aloha Media Group, and is the technology columnist for Golf Business. Contact him with tech news at iwritegolf@gmail.com.

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