During the global COVID-19 pandemic, many turned to new sports, hobbies, and activities to ease their mind, stay in shape, and just to have a good time. While those include tennis, bread-making, and woodworking, one of the most popular has been golf. Even pre-pandemic, golf players have been skewing younger and younger, as well as increasingly tech-savvy as technology evolves and further integrates into the sport. Yet some in the industry risk being left in the dusk of innovation, not for the sake of innovation, but because it improves the sport for both the players and the course owners and operators.
To get a deeper look at the evolution of modern technology in the golf space, look no further than Hole19, the breakout golf GPS and scoring app. We sat down with Hole19 founder, Anthony Douglas, to learn more about their story and how golf tech is going through a major growth spurt of development and innovation, ripe for adoption for any savvy course owner or operator.
Thanks for speaking with us. As a leading app in golf technology, how did Hole19 get started?
ANTHONY DOUGLAS: Hole19 started off as a personal necessity. I had just started playing golf and wanted a way to track my rounds to share with coaches. There were some apps out there, but they looked like they were stuck in the ’90s and what was out there didn’t meet my expectations around user experience.
I started off by mapping golf courses with software myself in the basement and then transferring that information onto a mobile app. We then raised a small amount of money to invest in a team and scale out the user base. The rest is history!
How many users do you have?
We launched the app in 2014, and have since grown to have over 2.8 million golfers from over 180 countries registered. Over 30 million rounds of golf have been logged on Hole19, with 2021 having seen over 1 million rounds played each month of April, May, June, and July.
And how big is your team?
We are a team of 20 people spread across Lisbon, Porto, London, and New York City.
What are some popular feature requests for Hole19?
They are mainly requests around wearable technology and Hole19 is available for both Apple Watch and Wear OS devices. Feature requests around wearables have been the bulk of inbound interest– GPS distances, score, and statistic tracking all from your wrist. Golfers are becoming more demanding with regards to the technology they use and want access to more data on their quantified self.
You recently pivoted away from B2B to focus on B2C. What were some key learnings there?
For us, it was really all about focus. We needed to concentrate our efforts on what we know best, where we can deliver the most value and at the same time extract the most value. B2B was a major distraction for us as it was extremely hard to convince golf course operators that technology could help them market their services to more customers. We couldn’t be everything for everyone so we went back to our roots and focused on B2C. This was one of the key drivers to getting us to where we are today– a profitable and growing business at the intersection of golf and tech.
What can golf course owners take away from your experience with golf technology?
I guess one of the lessons is to stick with what you do best. Many course owners (and other entities in the golf industry for that matter) want to own or do everything, like having their own course apps for example. But you aren’t a software company and don’t know the ins and outs of delivering a great app user experience for your customers. Furthermore, golfers are probably already playing on your course with their app of choice. Why would they download yet another app just to play on yours? Focus on what you do best, which is delivering an amazing on-course experience, as well as exceptional hospitality.
How has golf technology evolved in recent history?
With smartphones (and more recently, wearable technology) becoming more ubiquitous, the demands of golfers in terms of technology have increased at a staggering rate. People are bringing their own gadgets to the course and tracking their own game rather than using tools or technology provided by the course. Much like in the work environment where BYOD (bring your own device) has become more commonplace, golfers prefer to bring their own device and employ tools and apps that they are accustomed to using.
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