Dolf Berle joined Topgolf in January 2018 and serves as CEO of Topgolf Entertainment Group and Topgolf USA, leading all global operations and marketing, Topgolf International, Toptracer Range and technology. Prior to joining Topgolf, Dolf’s career has included roles as President and COO of Dave & Buster’s, President of Lucky Strike Lanes, COO at House of Blues and Executive Vice President of Hospitality and Division Head at ClubCorp. He also serves on the National Board of Directors for Topgolf charity partner Make-A-Wish.
THE BERLE STORY —
I was introduced to golf by the parish minister of our local church in a small rural town in Massachusetts. I know now that he used the opportunity not only to teach the game, but also to impart biblical wisdom. The book of Job featured heavily in my early challenges learning the game! He also stressed that golf was a way to join a global community, something which is very much part of my work today.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
Building leaders. We have a remarkable company and a wonderful strategy. Building leaders is the number one requirement for making our vision a reality. I also find deep inspiration in the idea of bringing our great game to millions of children across the world who might not otherwise be introduced to golf.
Topgolf has been in operations for several years and is still expanding. What’s been the reason for the success?
Since 2005, we’ve opened 49 venues across the U.S., U.K. and Australia, with venues opening soon in Mexico, Canada and Dubai. We have aggressive expansion plans and aim to open at least 7-10 U.S. venues annually in the next few years beyond the 45 now operating. I think the main reason for Topgolf’s success is that we truly are everyone’s game, and we appeal to people from a wide variety of backgrounds and skill levels. Topgolf blends technology and entertainment, golfers and non-golfers, children and adults to create an experience that makes socializing a sport for everyone.
Curious to know given your involvement — how are locations ultimately decided upon?
We are expanding very rapidly and are always looking at new markets for possible Topgolf locations. Our development team takes many factors into account when selecting a new location, including population, proximity to other venues, land availability and more.
Other competitors are looking to compete — what separates Topgolf from others in the category?
Topgolf is a global sports, entertainment and lifestyle community focused on connecting people in meaningful ways. Although there are other golf entertainment concepts out there, the Topgolf brand is multi-dimensional. Topgolf is everyone’s game, with 47 venues entertaining more than 13 million Guests annually, original content shows, next-gen simulator lounges through Topgolf Swing Suite, the global Topgolf Tour competition, pop-up social experiences like Topgolf Crush, Toptracer technology as seen on TV, and the world’s largest digital golf audience.
What other elements is Topgolf looking to add to its basic program in the near and long term?
We’re always looking at ways to engage our community with new and surprising experiences. As we develop our own new program elements, we are also actively seeking partnerships and acquisition opportunities.
My understanding is that 60% of the people who come to Topgolf never picked up a club previously. What is Topgolf’s interest in getting these individuals to becoming active golfers in the traditional sense?
About half of our guests are considered non-golfers, which presents an incredible opportunity to introduce new people to the game. We’re committed to help grow golf in all aspects. For some guests, our venues are their first and only exposure to golf, so we aim to make it fun, accessible and help them create a memorable moment associated with the sport. A 2017 survey conducted by the National Golf Foundation actually found that 23 percent of new golfers who have been playing at for three years or less started playing traditional golf after their first Topgolf experience. Of those, nearly 75 percent say Topgolf influenced their decision to play green grass golf.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
I am focused on making golf a game for everyone, regardless of race, personal orientation, privilege or background.
All of the major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, LPGA — are seeking ways to attract new players to the game – especially Millennials, women and minorities. If you were counseling them — what would you advise be done?
Organizations can focus on breaking down the barriers that prevent the masses from playing and enjoying the sport. Golf was traditionally an exclusive and expensive sport, played by men with country club memberships. Topgolf has made the game accessible to everyone by offering an affordable social experience that can be enjoyed by any age or skill level. We believe every great time starts with play, is fueled by food and beverage, moved by music and made possible through community.
It’s about making the game more approachable. Take out the intimidation factor and make it fun. Our golf pros offer a variety of class formats and games that make learning the sport fun for all ages, demographics and skill levels.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
I had several mentors along the way who have stressed the importance of being of good character and being a good team mate.
Biggest short and long term challenges facing Topgolf?
We’ll need to continue differentiating ourselves from the competitors that pop up. We must continue to be a leader in innovation, sports and entertainment. With our global expansion, we understand it is critical to select partners who are extremely knowledgeable on the local culture and can help us integrate the brand authentically.
Photo credits: Topgolf Press
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