WINTER GARDEN, Fla. — Golf fans have drooled over the trajectory highlighted by Toptracer’s colored trails for years now. Good news for those fans: they’re about to get a lot more of it, both on their television screens and in real life, too.
NBC has reached a multi-year agreement with Topgolf Entertainment, which owns Toptracer, to provide the capability to integrate Toptracer into every tee and fairway in its PGA Tour telecasts. The exclusive deal will cover NBC as well as Golf Channel and will begin with the Waste Management Phoenix Open at the end of January.
Toptracer is most famous for its visuals but tracks the golf ball’s flight and can provide information such as ball speed, apex, curve and carry. But it all tracks back to a simple concept: when Daniel Forsgren was watching golf in Sweden in the early 2000s, he couldn’t tell what was happening.
“He basically founded the company because he didn’t know what was going on during golf broadcasts,” said Toptracer president Ben Sharpe. The technology, which began as “Protracer,” has become increasingly popular in recent years, leading to the latest push for its omnipresence in broadcasts. While producers are likely to focus on tee shots, the technology will be available on every fairway as well. Two mini-cameras can be used anywhere on the course and can triangulate the position of the ball as they pick up its flight after impact.
“Great moments in Toptracer history” could be a series of its own, but just to illustrate the point, here are three recent examples of the beauty of the technology. There was Tiger Woods’s two-iron stinger at last year’s Players:
WATCHING. ? pic.twitter.com/mzAIVU5EXT
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 11, 2018
There was Tommy Fleetwood’s towering approach on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock, where he finished off a 63.
still thinking about this ? pic.twitter.com/PqbeD6UhS1
— Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier) June 18, 2018
And there was Dustin Johnson at the 2017 Northern Trust Open, when he took a particularly aggressive line on the first playoff hole and beat Jordan Spieth.
— Trevor Immelman (@TrevorImmelman) August 27, 2017
The images and videos spread like wildfire over social media, providing easy, digestible illustrations of what actually happened on a golf shot. Broadcast teams noted fans’ appreciation when Toptracer was enabled — and their dismay when it wasn’t.
“We take notice of social media, and I know that’s where some of this initiative started,” Sharpe said. “Now, at least the producer will have the option to use it on every hole.”
NBC and Golf Channel will also be equipped with Toptracer for other events, including NCAA Championships, the Senior PGA Championship and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
But Sharpe is even more keen on Toptracer’s increased availability to the public; Toptracer Range is available in over 100 locations in 20 countries, plus at 10 Topgolfs and growing. The Range interface is undeniably sleek, providing instant replays and plenty of statistical feedback on the shot you’ve just hit, allowing you to admire your success or correct your mistake.
On the fully equipped range bays, players have plenty of options, including skills challenges like longest drive or closest to the pin, hitting a specific shot on a particular hole, or simulating entire rounds on iconic courses like Pebble Beach.
Sharpe thinks the increased engagement from a dynamic range session is crucial to golf’s enjoyment and growth among the next generation. It works financially, too: According to Toptracer, those ranges have seen a 60-70 percent average increase in traffic.
“More games, more courses, more enjoyment. More people!” Sharpe said. “That’s why I say it, and I mean it: this is doing more to grow the game than anything else in golf.”