Robert McElreath is responsible for leading the efforts to evolve Club Car’s product portfolio and extend its connectivity offerings to enhance the consumer experience and elevate the course’s capabilities for guests as well as managers and operators.
At Club Car for nearly three decades and serving in a variety of different roles within the business, McElreath’s leadership is also felt across multiple categories where Club Car’s industry-leading innovation is present in consumer, light duty and AWD commercial utility vehicle markets. He has been instrumental in managing Club Car’s partnership and recent acquisition of GPSi, developers of the Visage software and he has helped bring to market several different packages offering GPS tools, known today as Visage Fleet Management which allows monitoring the health of your fleet, maintaining course boundaries, improving pace of play and communicating directly to vehicles.
Under his leadership Club Car has introduced technology into the golf car through Tempo Connect with Shark Experience — in car entertainment system.
THE MCELREATH STORY —
There’s a saying I heard years ago from Phil Tralies, a former CEO of Club Car. His words painted a visual that has stayed with me. He said “You can take all the golf course owners, industry professionals and superintendents in the world, and it still may not fill an entire football stadium. While the sheer numbers of people and professionals managing and driving the industry aren’t as large as other industries, golf is global in scale and despite the many changes today with technology and innovation, it is still a relationship business. He’s right, there’s an intimacy and close network of people involved in the golf industry but if I was to walk in to that football stadium today, it would be refreshing and telling to see the thousands of colleagues, friends, influencers and customers that have helped shape my career. I’ve found that cultivating these personal relationships has helped me to be more effective in my job, regardless of the role.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
Having been fortunate enough to be with Club Car for a long time and within the golf industry for a while, it’s exciting to be part of an industry and business that you enjoy. I’ve formed strong relationships and have a passion for the game of golf so I’ve been able to apply these elements into my role and help bring new solutions to market that will help others be successful in their business. In my current role I’m surrounded by a great team and involved in innovation and bringing new ideas to life…that is the reason I go to Club Car every day with a purpose and passion.
Your job title is VP of Connectivity. What does that mean specifically?
Club Car has been involved with connected technology for more than two decades. It started with GPS based devices in golf cars and that has greatly accelerated over the last 10 years. We’ve come pretty far from the days where all we provided were distances to the pin. It has now evolved into experiential offerings and management tools on many fronts. Now course operators can track each and every car, monitor speed of play and golfers can be entertained by more than a pin placement. It’s similar to other devices we use today – whether it’s your Fit Bit, iWatch or an automobile. Connectivity and technology are the central make up within most products. At Club Car, we are laser focused on delivering intelligent products that enhance the value, and benefits of the customer experience. We have to be thinking the next 5, 10, 15 years, right?
The power cart connection to golf is evolving rapidly with one person vehicles, powered skate boards and a range of other choices. Given this recent development and Club Car’s global position as leader in golf vehicles how is the company responding?
You have to applaud our industry and those innovators out there for always exploring and providing new and different experiences for golfers. At the same time, you have to understand the mindset of your industry partners. How can we help them be more profitable and drive revenue? We all want to grow the game and have golf appeal to a larger demographic so sometimes that means going beyond traditional thinking and technologies. We are so much more than manufacturers of small vehicles. Recently Club Car rolled out its new Tempo Walk, an autonomous caddie. It’s a different application of technology and it also provides a new experience for golfers, a fun way to walk a golf course. Another example is our Tempo Connect and Shark Experience which has added new dimensions to consumers and customers with streaming music, live sports, news and entertainment. From a partnership perspective we are delivering backend tools for course managers with things like a seamless, cashless experience from course to Clubhouse.
When it comes to managing a golf course, each decision has to be considered from a return on investment and customer experience. Course operators want to deliver something new but they have to balance the proposition with profitability. How will it drive and impact the golf experience as well as the operation?
Curious to know — when you play golf — how often do you walk and how often do you ride?
It really depends on the course I’m playing. There are a number of courses where walking may not be an option due to the course layout. There’s some courses where walking is available and I may walk those. I enjoy both for different reasons but now that I have access to Club Car’s Tempo Walk, it’s enhanced the walking experience.
America overall has a clear obesity issue. Does it help the image of golf to see players figuratively chained to a cart when opting to play?
A misconception is the level of exercise you get when you play a round even if it is with a golf car. I know that my Fit Bit tracked me for over 10,000 steps even though I used a golf car. So we think it’s a net positive that golf cars still make it possible to exercise. People have a choice on how they spend their leisure time, and if the golf car makes it more enjoyable or works better for them, great.
Riding can still provide benefits vs. not playing at all. That being said we offer the Tempo Walk, a hands-free caddie for those who enjoy walking and want more exercise on the course.
What’s the significance of Visage Fleet Management and what kind of savings can clubs generate through its application in their operations?
Visage helps golf courses reduce costs and increase revenue but interestingly, most equate Visage to what they see on screen in the car. Less obvious are the backend benefits to the golf course to better manage their operations and rotate their fleet. Among the greatest savings is the ability to save on course maintenance by limiting where cars can go in an effort to protect greens, tee boxes and wet areas, etc.
Visage is built off of 15 -20 years of feedback from customers and what they are looking for in the product so it’s a real investment solution that will help drive their business. Beyond savings, Visage is an investment because you can generate revenue through increasing food and beverage sales with on screen promotions. The benefits are many.
You’ve also been instrumental in introducing technology through Tempo Connect with Shark Experience which provides for in car entertainment system. I wonder if such added elements only serve to distract players either directly or nearby. Candidly, isn’t the game enough of an enjoyment without adding all the other distractions?
No one golfer is the same. Some prefer the solitude of the game, while others can’t imagine playing a round without their music. So, I think everyone in the industry today is deciding how to protect and build upon the great traditions of the game, but also how to grow the appeal to a wider audience. Times, and the expectation of the consumer are ever evolving.
As demonstrated by the different types of products for moving people around the course, people see that golf is in competition with other entertainment, with a growing demographic of golfers who’s expectation may be different than historical/ traditional view. With that we have to match experience with the desire of the golfer, And the course can market itself to their desired demographic. That is why we often focus enabling experiences that allow the individual golfer to choose for themselves the experience they want – whether it is riding in a golf car, or with Tempo Walk. With Tempo Connect, they can exclusively focus on their game or also watch the game.
Are automated driving carts in the foreseeable future?
We certainly see automated driving in the future in some fashion — like many of the technologies and innovations being introduced in the automobile industry, so too, are they on our radar in small wheeled vehicles. Some may say we are already headed in that direction with GPS-enabled controls that keep vehicles to cart-path only, or control the speed of the vehicles in certain areas of the golf course.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
There’s no one silver lining solution to that question. But if we can balance the desire to make the game challenging enough for professional golfers and also create a game and level of play that can be enjoyed by a broader, experienced population that would be a start.
Technology for equipment is making the game more enjoyable for many more people, which is great for growth of the game. I think we primarily serve the millions who play the game — and who we want to enjoy the game. At the same time, that same progress is threatening to some of our older courses — more traditional venues — so I believe we should consider some controls to protect these venues in the aspect of professional golf.
Biggest short and long term challenge facing Club Car and what game plan do you see being effective in enhancing the company’s marketplace position?
The question for Club Car is not whether to grow within golf, or to expand into other markets. The question is how best to do both. Club Car is widely known and used in the commercial, utility and consumer space. We continue to explore avenues for new growth areas.
Yet when it comes to golf, our challenge overall is growing the industry and growing the game. So we have to be cutting edge and innovative and add value by delivering solutions and experiences to wider growing audiences. If you can add to a business’s bottom line or drive profitability of the car to course managers you enhance your reason to stay in business and be a preferred partner. Specific to connectivity, we have to be selective and smart in exploring the right opportunities to introduce new technology that helps the business, the game and recognizes where it can grow and change yet retain the heritage and what makes golf what it is today.
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