The Sky’s the limit

With members and customers increasingly expecting some form of technology to be used by their pro, Andy Brown talked to James Holmes, UK and European sales manager for SkyCaddie on how technology is changing and why it is vital all pros keep up with it. 

There’s a lot of very good golfers in the golf trade but if you were putting together a UK Ryder cup style team to take on the American trade then James Holmes would certainly be a very strong contender to make the team. The UK and European Sales manager for SkyCaddie has a win and a number of top ten places to his name on the EuroPro Tour as well as some starts on the European Tour. It was actually while he was playing that his relationship with SkyCaddie began almost a decade ago.

“I was mapping for SkyCaddie while I was still playing so I was earning some money walking round courses, mapping them from new or updating them. While I was doing that I was talking to the pros and selling a few of the products,” recalls Holmes. “I was then told there was a job opportunity that had opened up and, as I was selling them anyway, did I want to move to the head office and be one of the internal sales agents. I took the opportunity and, nine years later, I am still here.”

With Holmes’ playing background it is no surprise that he is involved in testing equipment and offering feedback and there is certainly no shortage of products for him to test; under the umbrella of SkyGolf the company produces SkyCaddie DMDs, the SkyTrak launch monitor/golf simulator, the SkyPro swing analyser and recently the firm has launched into the game-tracking market with the SkyCaddie Linx GT.

Technology has evolved at breakneck speed over the last decade, and with DMDs now ubiquitous it makes sense for the vast majority of pros to stock them. “SkyCaddie created the GPS-for-golf category ten years ago, when GPS became accessible after the US government opened it up for use with sat navs,” he comments. “At first only a very exclusive type of golfer wanted to have yardages and GPS but compare that to today where people who start playing buy their set of clubs and a GPS product. Most people now want a yardage to the target from wherever they are.”

The reason more pros than ever are stocking DMDs is because more players are interested in having them but also because they are products which generally offer good margins. Holmes says that the margin for SkyCaddie starts at 30 per cent rising to 38 per cent and that they work hard to offer a good service for retailers and customers. An example is SkyCaddie’s stock-replacement service which means if a pro has bought into one product and that isn’t moving they allow them to send that back and swap it for another product with no charge.

One of the biggest debates in the DMD sector is laser or GPS and this is an area where Holmes has a strong view. “Lasers tend to be viewed as for the better players but it really doesn’t give you that much information,” he says. “It gives you one number as long as you have line of sight – if there is anything in your way or it is uphill you might be able to get the flagstick but you have no idea where the front or the back of the green is and those numbers are crucial. I know when I played the distance to the back of the green was what I played off so I could take one more club but take it a bit easier as that tends to lead to a better shot.”

A selection of the products the company offers

The debate between laser and GPS doesn’t look like getting settled soon, with both methods having strong advocates, but one thing for sure is that SkyCaddie is the only company which creates and updates all of its course maps by foot. Holmes estimates that their mapping team, headed by Steve Winstone, has already updated over 250 UK courses this year, and that people often tweet @SkyCaddieSteve after he or his team have done a course to ask when their product will be updated – not realising that if they have a different brand of GPS it won’t be updated.

The evolution in technology that has led to the increased popularity of DMDs has also enabled the rise of launch monitors, and the introduction of SkyTrak. Most pros now have some form of launch monitor, with customer expectations increasingly heading in this direction, as Holmes acknowledges. “If a pro is giving a lesson nowadays, you can’t just stand on the practice ground and get someone to hit balls. People now expect you to use some kind of technology.”

Launch monitors are a proven way of attracting golfers to the club, and keeping them there, says Holmes. “A lot of clubs now have indoor swing rooms where you can give a golf lesson and also entertain people with an indoor golf simulator during bad weather, or after dark” he says. “We have deliberately made SkyTrak as inexpensive and as portable as possible, to cater for this. You can use it in a clubhouse room with a mat, a net and a TV, as easily as you can in a dedicated swing room, to custom-fit a new set of clubs, analyse accurate ball data in a golf lesson, or recreate full-course play while it is wet or dark outside.

“This is absolutely crucial in the UK, and means the pro can carry on generating income all winter. Previously, wet weather meant cancelled golf lessons, so the pro could lose a lot of money. If someone returns repeatedly through the winter, chances are they will buy something off the pro in this time.”

Another string to Holmes’s bow is SkyPro, a swing analyser which clips onto a club and retails for under £150. As well as providing a whole host of data, including putter clubface angle information, SkyPro will also integrate with SkyTrak later this year. Holmes says that, “this is two or three updates down the line” but that it will definitely happen in 2017.

SkyCaddie, which this year celebrates ten years as a PGA Partner, has recently been announced as headline sponsor of the PGA Pro-Captain Challenge in 2017-18 – an event in which Head Pros and Captains team up to compete against other UK golf clubs. Holmes says that the PGA Pro is his company’s main account, and that SkyCaddie staff always make a point of sending enquiries to the local pro. “We currently have a £200-off promotion with SkyTrak, and we state on the advertising, ‘go and see your PGA Pro for a demo’. The pros each have their own exclusive discount code to be able to get that money off, so we send people to their doors,” he comments.

“When we ran a similar SkyTrak promotion last Christmas, a pro in Scotland who had recently received his SkyTrak sold two further SkyTraks to people he had never met before – inside his first week. They weren’t members at his golf club; we sent them to him after they contacted us asking where they could buy a SkyTrak.”