Rise of the Korean Golf Screen
Seoul, South Korea, is a city most known for its large population (some 25 million residents and growing) and stunning high rises; it’s also making a name for itself in another area—Screen golf. Screen golf has been on the rise in South Korea for a while now with industry leader Golfzon taking the number one spot with its simulated golfing technology which it sells throughout Korea as well as other Asian countries like Japan and China.
Getting a feel for just why it has become so popular isn’t so hard to see. Golf courses in Korea are not easily accessed for the majority of citizens living in the metropolitan areas of Korea. Cities hubs like Seoul, Busan and even Daegu are generally far removed from most of the greens in South Korea and getting to them can prove to be a bit of hassle as you have to put up with heavy weekend traffic and jam packed tee time schedule. To get around this problem, South Korea’s Kim Wonil and his father had a plan.
Back in 2000, the two came up with the idea of virtualizing the golfing experience. The pair saw the state of outdoor golf in Korea and began to think of a way for golfers living in the city to still get the same experience as those with easier access to resorts and courses. From this thought was born Golfzon. Soon after its inception the company began to skyrocket, more than tripling its sales each year to the company’s highest reported earnings of over $100 million.
With the last round of statistics that came out, it has been estimated that every day, some 200,000 people take advantage of one of the many screen golf facilities that exist in Korea. With this many patrons, it’s fair to say that it has garnered quite the following. It’s not hard to see why either.
A trip to a nearby golf café will set you back no more than 30,000 won at the most (about $27 bucks) and present you with the option at golfing at some of the world’s most prestigious courses like St. Andrews or Pebble Beach only at a fraction of the costs and sans all that travel time. Almost all of these facilities come equipped with clubs, gloves, tees and balls so coming prepared with your own isn’t even necessary.
So what exactly does this mean to golfers outside of Korea or other Asian countries? Well, Golfzon CEO Wonil wants to really widen the scope and reshape what has traditionally been an outdoor-only oriented sport.
“My dream is to set up Golfzon hubs in 100 big cities in the world,” Wonil said to BusinessWeek back in his 2008 interview for up and coming entrepreneurs in Asia, “the growth potential is enormous.”
Enormous is right. Stop and think for a moment about the implications of bringing such technology stateside. As it stands now, screen golf is sparsely used throughout the United States and other parts of the world. Its notion of being taken as a serious alternative to the sport has been dumbed down by its appearance in casinos and arcades as a gaming activity versus that of the real thing.
Screen golf cafes like the ones in Korea have the potential to do very well here stateside. Take a look at the explosion of popularity karaoke bars have seen in the last few years. Just like screen golf, karaoke rooms have long been a popular Korean tradition that has migrated stateside. It’s just all about how that transition is handled.
As it stands now, the biggest hump the industry faces is just getting its name out there as a viable alternative to the real thing. Currently, screen golf is seen as more of a luxury or even a training tool for professional golfers. Once the word gets out there about how much cheaper and close to the real thing it is, this industry will really have the chance to flourish outside of Asian countries.