Could this concept solve golf's time dilemma?
ORLANDO — An open tee box on every hole, no wait for the green to clear. The course is an easy walk; no cart is needed, although you have a cup holder and a beverage attendant at your whim. The pace of play? A brisk 45 minutes.
"It doesn't take a lot of time," says Sean Korpach, one of its engineers. "That's the ambition."
Time. Time can be a flat circle at the PGA Merchandise Show. The equipment, apparel and products change; the conversations don't, to the frequency that—if one had no regard for humanity or their own—a drinking game could be contested, and finished, with ease. Grow the sport, innovation, environmental footprint. Mark your cards, guzzle away.
While these narratives serve as the focal point, they are, unfortunately, lacking substance. Thematically they are not wrong; quite the opposite. It's just, when pressing a speaker or brand what they actually mean on growing the game or becoming more eco-friendly, what follows is not a blueprint but a stream of banality.
This is particularly true of time. From governing bodies to course owners to players, pace of play is circled as of one golf's most pressing issues. Initiatives, campaigns, and rules changes have been set to tackle it. Thus far, they've barely made a dent.
Which is what makes the idea behind Golfuture so enticing: a genuine answer to the time dilemma. And it might be the key to a bevy of other problems as well.
Golfuture has a humdinger of an elevator pitch: It's a hybrid of traditional golf and TopGolf. That description alone should make ears perk; TopGolf is a common refrain when you ask anyone at the Show about the game's horizons. And with reason: It's new, it's popular, it's grabbing the attention of non-golfers. "We need more things like TopGolf," said PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh on Wednesday. "It's imperative."
But, mentioned above, though the sport's stakeholders recognize TopGolf's importance, to a person, they're not sure what its next steps or iterations look like. To a creed of golfers looking for a little bit more, it will not quench their thirst.
"You could say it takes the great model of TopGolf, and adds the things that more serious players want in the experience," says Art Korpach, president of ANK Partners.
The Golfuture concept encapsulates pieces of traditional and simulation rounds into a compact adventure. The course is divided into four quadrants: driving, approach, short game, putting, each with targets of varying distance, with the capacity for 120 players to tee off at once.
Which is the first wrinkle in Golfuture: a golfer does not play 18 holes in the traditional sense. Far from it. In the first quadrant, a player will hit all their drives on every par 4 and 5 before moving to the approach area. Meaning you will hit your second drive of the day, but your second shot on the scorecard will come later.
As for where those drives head, a computer screen will direct you to a target on the range to hit your drive for each specific hole. Each ball's distance and location is saved, transmitted to the approach area to be displayed for the player when they reach that quadrant. Within 10 minutes, a player's tee shots for the round are completed.
Then comes a series of second shots, as well as tee shots for the course's par-3 hole. As stated, Golfuture's programs save the data on your tee shots and ball position, so when you return to your "first hole," you're facing not just a sedentary flag 150 yards out; it's a distance predicated by your drive.
And position. A player doesn't hit all their second shots from a fairway mat. It could be second cut, rough, sand, even a punch-out from woods. "We are doing everything to replicate what you normally see on the course," says Sean Korpach, Art's son. Along with keeping track of the round, the app's interface will store player statistics and produce a predictive score, a system the founders hope will encourage match play and promote fun.
Players then finish up on the short game and putting greens, each with various contours and pin locations. In early simulations, 18 holes were completed in 45 minutes. A 75 percent cut compared to a traditional round.
"There's no searching for your ball, or long walks between holes," says Sean. "Everything is out in front of you."
While time is the major pitch to players, it's only a piece to potential buyers and investors.
The range-like format boasts low maintenance and operating costs. It's a small footprint: the property takes up just 15 to 25 acres. For context, according to the Golf Course Superintendent Association of America, the average golf course uses 150 to 200 acres. This makes it ideal not just for urban areas, but for existing ranges that want a makeover or courses looking to add a different component to its portfolio.
And similar to TopGolf, Golfuture boasts a social and entertainment area at the heart of its lay-out.
"Yes, we want to be a more serious golf experience, but at its core it's still a fun time for everybody," says Art.
The Korpachs don't view Golfuture as a substitute for traditional golf, and the altered flow may leave something to be desired for certain golfers. Conversely, they have constructed one of the few tangible responses to golf's litany of worries. Moreover, it's more than just a glorified driving range, and its set-up should serve as a conduit to beginners and non-golfers.
"That was important to us," says Sean, of the dynamic. "How do we keep both groups satisfied? We think we've accomplished that."
Launching just two years ago, Golfuture is aiming to have its first location open this year in Calgary. "With how quickly we expect this to spread, it should be only a matter of time before we reach the United States," says Sean.
American golfers are used to waiting on the golf course. But Golfuture can't some soon enough.