X-Golf America, a virtual golf and bar-restaurant concept based in Los Angeles, is in the midst of a rapid expansion across the US. The golf entertainment franchise features sophisticated simulators that measure key performance metrics to perform over 6,000 calculations per second.
X-Golf America, which uses technology developed by South Korean RD-Tek, has been a standalone company since 2010. Its CEO, Ryan D’Arcy, started the successful franchise program in 2016, strategically driving the company’s growth.
He spoke to blooloop about the expansion of X-Golf America, and how he fell in love with the technology, left his job, and joined the company nine years ago to work from the bottom up.
“My career path is definitely intermingled with X-Golf,” he says. “I grew up in a small town in South Chicago and went to DePaul University, downtown Chicago. I got to experience Midwest cold and, and some of the challenges that golf faces around there year-round.”
He studied marketing with a sales leadership concentration:
“About 10 years ago, I moved to California and was introduced to X-Golf through some mutual business contacts. I got invited to their showroom to check out the technology.”
Starting at the bottom
At that time X-Golf America was owned by the Korean manufacturer RD-Tek, which manufactured the product out of South Korea:
“The product itself was very different from what you see today; a right-handed only simulator with a large box on the ground. But I was immediately blown away. Their CEO at the time mentioned they were looking for some sales staff and asked if I knew anyone.
“I went home that night, and thought about it, and realized that yes, I did know someone, and it was me. I called them up the next day, and left a job that was probably a little more lucrative, but, but not necessarily something I was passionate about, and started at the bottom as an account manager. That was almost nine years ago.”
D’Arcy is now CEO, and X-Golf is one of the most sophisticated golfing simulators on the market.
“It was very powerful for me to start at the bottom,” he says. “I fielded a lot of calls. I talked with people that were trying to get into this space and to understand what indoor golf is, what its future looks like, and how to make a career out of it.
“We were getting questions like, ‘I want to open a New York centre, but what steps should I take? What’s the POS system; how should I do my booking? What should I charge? And should I get a liquor license? Where should the business be located? Should it be in a warehouse, should it be in a lifestyle centre or a mall?’
“All these questions led us to the conclusion that a full-scale start-to-finish franchise model was definitely something that would benefit both sides.”
X-Golf and the retailtainment trend
The company has benefited from the evolution of the retailtainment trend says D’Arcy.
“When I’m talking with potential franchisees, our goal is to get the best available space next to high-end retailers, lifestyle centres and so on. As retail is changing, landlords and property owners look at us as a huge bonus for their lifestyle centres or malls.
“Customers nowadays have access to so many options. They can get products delivered to them anywhere in the world within a week or so. They’re sophisticated, and they know what they want. Because of that, a lot of retail is changing to mixed retail, where they want this experiential type of business mixing with the retailers, restaurants and bars.”
“It gives the customer options – they can go shopping, or step in and play some golf, or a mix of both. Or things like that. Landlords are very excited about X-Golf and the type of clientele that we bring to their centres.”
From the customer perspective, people increasingly seek entertainment that they can participate in actively. X-Golf ticks that box.
“Overall, there’s a reason why trampoline parks, and axe-throwing venues and similar venues are popular. Today’s customer may want to sit down and have a drink. But, as things continue to adapt, they tend to want to have something to do as part of that downtime.”
X-Golf’s target demographic
Outlining X-Golf’s target demographic, he says:
“Our clientele is made up, for the most part, of 25-55 year-olds who, at some point, have taken golf seriously enough to own a set of clubs.
“However, golf can be a little intimidating, the first time you’re standing on the tee box and you’ve got people watching you, or waiting. With our type of model, there’s more entry-level openness to the game.
“We don’t care about the pace of play; you can play as fast or as slow as you want. You don’t have to worry about shanking it off the tee box and hitting a car in the parking lot, or anything like that. It’s a bit more comfortable, and for that reason, I think we do attract newcomers to the game.”
Part of the fun of memorable experiences is sharing them:
“We’re seeing more and more of that as we grow. It’s a confined area, so it’s easy for our customers to be able to set up their phones and film themselves. In some of our facilities, we have cameras set up in the ceiling. This means that when funny moments or good shots happen, we’re able to upload that.
“We’ve had quite a few times recently where guys are excited and have jumped off the platform to do a jump high five; it’s awkward but funny. Then there’s a 10-year-old kid that chips in, and runs over to his brother, and gives them a big hug and a high five because he’s so proud. It’s cool to catch that stuff on camera, because you can’t fake it, and it’s fun to see.
“I think as we grow bigger, we’re going to see more of that.”
In fact, adds D’Arcy:
“We are working on a new arm of the company. This will be a live-streaming media company where we’ll be able to broadcast some of the tournaments and challenges. We can pair average Joes with celebrities to compete for prizes and pools.
“Our next stage of the company is the streamable side. We’re also building a connected environment where golfers can track their stats, and have access to all the stats that they see on TV. For instance, driving distance; driving accuracy; greens in regulation, fairway percentages, and so on.”
“They love seeing that stuff on TV, but it’s really difficult to track all of that for the average golfer. So, we do have some items that are a bit more integrated than you can get from your usual experience.”
The potential, he feels, is exciting:
“One piece is the standardisation of golf tournaments in real-time. We love outdoor golf, obviously, and want to be a bonus to that. But you can’t have a real-time outdoor golf tournament across the country with multiple courses. Because the conditions are different and ever-changing.
“We at X-Golf however, have been very careful to build all of our facilities on the same exact platform. The hardware is the same; the size of the bays; the booths are the same, and the software is standardised across the board.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or any one of our 28 locations across the country. Once you set foot in one of our bays, it’s a standardised, level playing field. So we can run real-time golf tournaments for amateurs and competitive players alike.
“We see several different paths to pursue. Individualised tournaments are one direction, but there is also golf as a team-based competition, which is so much fun. The reason the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup is so popular with the audience is that it’s fun to have this environment where it’s our team against the world or Europe against America.”
Team competitions with X-Golf
“In our platform,” he adds, “We look at it as the ability not to have these team-based competitions dictated by the pace of play, which is another thing that outdoor courses struggle with. If you want to go play a charity scramble, which is super fun, and amateur golfers really enjoy it, there’s a reason why, generally, they shut down the entire course.”
“You’re playing a lot faster, and the pace of play is like being on a railroad track. You all have to be going in the same line, otherwise, things start stacking up and it doesn’t work.
“With X-Golf, once you’ve set foot in the bay, you can go as fast or as slow as you want. We don’t have those same constraints. You can have a group of four playing stroke play next to a group of four playing scramble. The scramble team is going to play a lot faster, but in our environment, it doesn’t matter.”
X-Golf is making the sport accessible all year round.
“One reason why we’ve really focused on growth in the Midwest and East coast of America at this time is that, let alone the regional aspect of the golf course, the weather won’t allow you to play for six months out of the year,” says D’Arcy. “When it’s zero degrees across Chicago, no one is out golfing in that. Certainly, there’s an opportunity there.”
Looking back over the last year, he adds:
“It has been a challenging year for everyone. Every company in the world, in some way or another, has had challenges because of COVID. For our model, luckily, we look at keeping the overhead low and the margins high. Our venues have been able to weather the storm.”
“We have venues under construction that most likely would have launched last year had COVID not impacted us. But overall, we’re very healthy, and we’re coming out of this. We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
In the US, golf has been one of the platforms that has been deemed a safe experience.
“We’re seeing people who haven’t dusted off their clubs in years coming out and playing. Participation in golf is up across the board. Overall, in the long run, that’s going to be really good for our business as well.”
The future of X-Golf
For the longer term, D’Arcy is focused on expansion plans:
“We are looking at the European market in terms of expansion, at this stage. We’re very busy in the US currently; we are expanding to Canada this year, so have set up an X-Golf Canada franchising corporation, and are getting ready to launch a few stores this fall throughout Canada. That’s one new country that we’re going into this year.
“As far as our growth across the US is concerned right now, we’ve got 28 venues open and operating and should have around 35 open by early summer. We’ll be north of 50 by the end of the year. We’re very busy and getting a lot of interest. The exciting part for us in this three-fold expansion is that we’ve grown very organically. We don’t spend a whole lot of money advertising.”
It all comes down, he explains, to the customer experience.
“We believe that we have the best technology in the space. We are at the pinnacle of operations, and, we give a start to finish model.
“The first time I tried X-Golf, I was blown away, and I wanted to start with the company. Our customers come in, have the same experience, and they go home, and they think about it, they tell their friends, they tell their family, or they call us directly and say they want to get involved.
“We’ll never lose sight of that customer experience because that’s what fuels all of our successes, and keeps our franchisees successful and making money.
“This year, our eighth franchise group launched into multi-unit ownership, within a year or two of opening their first store. We’re also expecting 10 to 12 franchisees to expand this year into second and potentially third stores. So, we’re excited about that. Because obviously it means we’re doing something right, and giving a model that works and hits the ground running from day one.”