Golf is the hardest sport to perfect. It’s frustrating, takes forever to play and to most people it’s a complete mystery. The players on TV make it look so easy yet even they have meltdowns. Why does anyone bother? Maybe it’s the challenge, to hit a little ball into a hole seems pretty simple, anybody should be able to do it. And the beauty of golf is that anyone can play. Size, shape and strength doesn’t really matter. They all play and once in a while they hit a shot that fills them with selfish pride. That’s what keeps them coming back for more, the hope that they’ll do it again.

When I started working for David Leadbetter five years ago, I thought I understood golf. I could hit the ball a pretty long way, make birdies, beat my brothers. That’s all great but it’s not the reason golf is so addictive. During my time with David and his team, I became aware of what golf is really about. I watch people taking lessons every day at our academies. Stood next to David as he shares his genius for teaching to celebrities, CEOs, Tour players and young hopefuls. I’ve read hundreds of articles, books and watched all the coaching videos. This is what I’ve concluded…golf is about proving to yourself that you can do something difficult and when you do it’s really, really satisfying.

It’s human nature to test ourselves, how else would we know we are progressing as a race? It starts at birth and never really stops. Can I climb that tree? Run faster than the next person? Throw a stone across a river? Some people can live with trying and failing but most need the affirmation that if they really concentrate, they can achieve their goal. Golf gives you that opportunity every time you take a swing. And when you succeed, you get an endorphin rush that makes you feel so proud of yourself. Nobody else did it, you aimed at your target and you hit it. Good job. Doesn’t that feel great? You should probably try again. Hope somebody was watching!

Last year we completed the acquisition of the Leadbetter Golf Academies by the Korean golf technology giant, Golfzon. (I could probably write a whole article about what I’ve learned during that process. Maybe next time!) The main reason we sold the business to Golfzon was to ensure the Leadbetter brand stayed relevant and had the best chance of helping golfers to improve and enjoy the sport. Golfzon Leadbetter is a golf education and technology business with two main responsibilities – train coaches to teach the sport and invent ways to help golfers to play better. We’ve been doing it successfully for 30 years and now with Golfzon we think we have an idea that will make the process a whole lot easier.

Golfzon started business just over 20 years ago, after Se-Ri Pak made history by winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998. Overnight Se-Ri became a national icon and inspired a generation of golfers to start playing. Trouble was the only courses at that time were private, expensive and out of town where nobody lived. A former Samsung executive and keen golfer, Kim Young Chan, saw an opportunity and built a virtual golf simulator in the city to allow people to hit balls into a screen showing a projected image of a golf course. It wasn’t golf exactly as the Scots invented it, but it was pretty close. Golfzon was born and they created a culture for screen golf that today sees over 60 million rounds of golf played a year on their systems.

Se-Ri’s coach in 1998?

David Leadbetter. Funny how life works out.

For the last 18 months we’ve been studying Golfzon’s work in Korea and reached a few conclusions on how we can use their technology to change the way people practice and teach golf around the world. There are essentially 4 barriers to learning golf.

  • Location – Right now to practice golf you have to go to a golf course, which usually aren’t located close to where most people live and work.
  • Time – Who has the time to really dedicate to practicing or learning to play golf? It takes ages to perfect, so most people make do with playing a couple of rounds a year and complaining about how hard it is.
  • Knowledge – “I wish I knew what was wrong with my swing and how to fix it.” The most common question at our academies. The truth is most people have no idea how the golf swing works or what to practice. To hit a good golf shot your body needs to work in perfect synchronization with your arms, hands and club. It’s basic physics, get your body into the right position and you’ll stand a much better chance of hitting the ball correctly. The world’s leading biomechanics expert JJ Rivet taught us an awful lot about that.
  • Value – A lot of coaches don’t truly understand the golf swing either so golfers who take lessons often get indifferent results. There’s a lot of data out there on how golfers swing but most of the information they receive is confusing, so they go back to playing bad golf and watching coaching videos on YouTube.

What if there was a convenient location to learn to play golf and perfect your game? What if it was actually fun to practice and you could see your progress? What if you could understand which parts of your body were limiting your golf swing and have the ability to improve them right next to where you practice? What if you could hang out with other people trying to do exactly the same thing?

That’s exactly what we’re working on and will be launching a new business this year to do just that. We’ve seen the fitness and sports industry undergo radical change in recent years with brands like Peloton and Strava reinventing how people participate and connect through sport. eSports is fast becoming the number one participation activity in the world and it’s only going to grow as people find connections online through shared experiences. We think it’s time golf brought those two worlds together and offered a new way to play that doesn’t involve hitting a bucket of balls aimlessly into a field and hoping one might find the middle of the club face. Practicing and learning to play golf is about to change for ever and we’re itching to show it to you. A few more flights to Korea, a lot of hard work and a team of the brightest minds in golf and technology should see us through! Watch this space…

Benedict Riches
CEO, Golfzon Leadbetter