About Golf is an industry leader in Indoor Golf Simulator technology. About Golf simulators are distributed nationally and internationally to commercial and residential customers. About Golf simulators are used for custom club fittings, golf lessons, and entertainment purposes. About Golf and its CEO, Bill Bales, have been featured on CNBC's program High Net Worth.
E2G: Tell me about your company … what do you do?
Bill Bales: AboutGolf started out as an indoor golf simulator company, but we've expanded into a number of technology products related to game improvement including launch monitors, video systems, weight monitors, and putting monitors. We're now developing software technology that combines teaching and club fitting content with artificial intelligence to take advantage of the data our various monitor technology provides. The goal is to be able to highly automate teaching, club fitting, and self-analysis as well as learn new things about the golf swing and the various equipment used. But in our soul, we're still a very dedicated simulator company.
E2G: How did you get started in the golf industry?
Bill Bales: We started in 1988 producing PC golf simulation software, which grew to the point of our distributing more computer golf games worldwide than any other company. Our involvement in golf simulation software has led us to many different golf projects over the years.
E2G: What is your company’s current focus?
Bill Bales: We will always remain very focused on simulators, but we're expanding via a concept we call "the power of pi", or peripheral integration. Instead of providing just a simulator or launch monitor, we integrate multiple technologies and cross-analyze all the data. The idea is that you go into the system and get accurate data on the ball, club, body movement, weight shift and balance, plus video from multiple angles--and a visualization of accurate ball flight. All of this is combined and analyzed in various ways to serve particular needs. For instance, if you're fitting clubs you can work to the best ball flight and overall shot performance and validate the improvement by also noting an improvement in balance through the shot. The same data can be used in teaching to get a player to the right weight shift and balance, and then reflect improvement in shot performance. In self-analysis, a player can look at the recorded weight shift data on good shots and bad so he/she can emulate the weight shift pattern that caused the best shots.
E2G: Do you specialize in a certain segment of the golf market?
Bill Bales: At first our entire focus was on indoor golf. This is still the main focus because we see a huge trend toward teaching, club fitting, and practicing indoors with the use of technology to provide data feedback (and ball flight in the case of a simulator). But we're growing our reach to outdoor golf into long range tracking technology, as well as a growing focus on our video technology.
E2G: Describe your current product line?
Bill Bales: Our primary product still is the AboutGolf Simulator. But our launch monitor business is growing very rapidly. Our peripheral (weight monitors, putting monitors, video systems, various software tools) business is where we foresee the greatest growth. And, we'll be introducing a very special premium simulator line later this year. We'll have some surprises over time relative to improving technology. That's something the golf industry hasn't really embraced like other industries---the idea that you should expect technology to not only get better, but to get cheaper and more efficient. My first cell phone cost $3,000 and was essentially a suitcase. The one I have now is the size of 6 credit cards and cost $39--and it works much better. We're going to do that kind of thing with golf stuff.
E2G: What sets you apart from your competition?
Bill Bales: R&D. We are not timid about spending a lot of money on R&D. That's what you have to do to create amazing new technology. Sometimes you go down the wrong path and have to change direction or start over--but it's how you make $39 phones that weigh 3 ounces and take photos and surf the Web.
E2G: What kind of technology do you have that sets you apart from your competition?
Bill Bales: At our heart we're a software company so my first inclination is to say that we've got a huge lead over our competitors with our source code--in many areas such as graphics, trajectory physics, and a myriad of very powerful tools. But our hardware technology is growing very rapidly, and our R&D investment on hardware is now as much or more as on software. As mentioned above, some surprises are in the works.
E2G: What is the main way that golfers will benefit from your product?
Bill Bales: The accuracy and overall usability of our systems have made it possible to do things that were never before accomplished with indoor game improvement (teaching, club fitting, self-analysis). Our simulators also provide a very compelling experience for those who can't get to the course (think of all the northern golfers in the winter).
E2G: What is one thing that you want golfers to know about your company and product line?
Bill Bales: Regarding our company it would be our extreme dedication to our products, our customers, and to the game of golf. Regarding our products, ensuring that at any time ours is the best technology available and that it will always steadily improve.
E2G: Where can golfers find your product?
Bill Bales: For purchase, we're most easily accessed via our Web site www.aboutgolf.com. We do all our selling direct. To use our products in existing locations, we're in a growing number of indoor golf centers, and exclusively supply PGA TOUR Superstore, Golf Galaxy, and Golf Town (Canada), the three biggest users of simulators in the retail market.
E2G: Does your product help grow the game?
Bill Bales: My initial inclination is to say "Absolutely". I've seen great evidence of this. But more humbly, I'll say that this is one of our greatest goals (it's not altruistic--if we grow the game we grow our business). But there really are some good indications our product is being used as a tool to grow the game. PGA TOUR Superstore, for instance, gives an amazingly large number of lessons in our simulators--many to beginners or first-time lesson-takers. Helping more people get off to a good start in golf is a solid way to grow the game. Many of our indoor center clients are doing very creative things to introduce and/or foster a love of the game with beginners, kids, ladies, seniors, and others who have previously met barriers to entering the game. Our products all have a focus on game improvement--and I'm not sure anyone figured out the whole game improvement thing the first 500 years since golf was invented. We think our products can actually help people get better--and getting better has a direct effect on enjoying the game, and remaining in the game.
E2G: How do you see the game being played in ten years?
Bill Bales: This question might be easier to answer if it asked what might happen in 100 years. But it's a stretch to say much beyond "the same as it is now". The golf establishment is reactionary and uncreative. It doesn't know how to look beyond its own shadow. So change is slow to come. There are a lot of things I hope will happen or at least wish would happen--a random list includes: courses getting easier, the USGA loosening up its equipment restrictions for the average golfer, easier access to handicaps, an end to discrimination against non-establishment golfers (a big list that includes women, children, beginners, and much more), more legitimate access to the game for kids (every town has little league, pee-wee football, junior soccer, etc. but how many have similar golf programs?), and (selfishly) exponential growth in indoor golf activities. And there's one more--perhaps the most important change that golf must embrace: club fitting. At least 95% of all golfers are playing with clubs that don't ideally fit their game. The biggest secret in golf is that the name brand clubs you buy off the shelf are likely holding your game back as much as any other force.
E2G: What are the biggest challenges the industry faces in the next ten years?
Bill Bales: There is one that towers above all others: keeping people in the game. In North America 3 million people take up the game each year and 3 million quit the game. There are few industries with such a powerful adoption rate---but there are few with such a pathetic rate of attrition. Golf needs to keep its customers. The establishment has failed miserably at this.
E2G: What is the single ingredient in your product that attracts the golfer?
Bill Bales: Fun.
E2G: Do the tours help or hurt everyday amateur players?
Bill Bales: There is not a black or white answer to this, or one that can be provided in a few lines. The tours create great entertainment (sometimes)and certainly go a long way to promote the game. That helps. On the other hand, everyone wants to play like Tiger (metaphorically), and they at some level subconsciously get disappointed when they can't. That hurts.
E2G: Parting thoughts?
Bill Bales: If you love golf, visit a professional club fitter and get properly fit. Then work on flexibility--take time to stretch properly before playing. And if you can get to a place where you can practice in one of our simulators, try it--paying attention to the data. I guarantee you'll improve and your enjoyment of the game will increase.