If you’ve played golf in an outing that raises money for charity, you undoubtedly are familiar with the little rush of adrenaline that hits you on the “car hole” – the par 3 that promises a big prize, often a new car, for a hole-in-one.
Beat the 12,500-to-1 odds by holing your tee shot and you get to drive off in the car, or pick up a wad of cash or some other gaudy prize.
The heart rate elevates, the palms sweat, the grip tightens … and more often than not, your shot sails sideways or plops harmlessly into the pond 30 yards short of the green.
Now, imagine if you had the opportunity to cash in on an ace every time you played your favorite course?
That’s the business model for Swing King, an Addison, Ill.-based company launched in 2015 by the founders of Redbox. Swing King offers golf courses the ability to stage daily hole-in-one contests for recreational play, with cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $25,000.
At some courses, the golfer opts into the contest by paying a small fee on top of the green fee. The hole-in-one prize for that model typically is $10,000. At other courses, the contest fee is built into the green fee and everyone who plays that day is eligible to win the hole-in-one prize, typically $2,500, as long as he or she is an amateur and at least 18 years old.
In a third model, a Swing King associate is stationed at a hole and golfers arriving at the tee box can opt into the contest, which could be expanded to include proximity prizes (hit the green in regulation and get your money back, stop your ball within 10 feet of the hole and win $50, etc.).
“It becomes a fun new amenity for the course,” said Swing King CEO Mike Jakob. “It’s something they can offer to their golfers, something to spice up the round. When you step up to the par-3 17th, you’re swinging for a big cash prize. It gets the heart rate pounding a little bit.”
There is no upfront cost for the golf course. Swing King installs an HD camera system with proprietary software on the selected par-3 hole. Two cameras are aimed at the green and a third is aimed back at the tee. The company also is responsible for hole-in-one insurance.
“It’s our equipment. We own it, we install it and we typically do a multi-year deal with the course,” Jakob said. “Then we do a revenue share on the entries that flexes depending upon what the model is.
“From the golf course’s standpoint, it’s a great source of incremental revenue. They can do things like build it into leagues. You know, everybody who plays in the Tuesday night men’s league gets a free shot at $2,500 on the camera hole. They can use it for outings. It’s very versatile.”
The camera system captures video 24/7, so the golfer who makes the lucky … uh, winning shot gets the cash prize along with a customized HD video.
“The videos are very social-media ready, so the golfers are going to share them with everybody they know,” Jakob said. “The course can use it to promote itself. It’s a fun thing.”
The beauty of the system is that every ace is verified. The cameras become the witness.
“So instead of a charity event where you have to have somebody out there as a witness, by installing this HD camera system that runs fulltime, anybody could enter for any round,” Jakob said.” You could be out playing a 4 o’clock round on a Thursday afternoon by yourself and you can still enter the contest.”
Swing King has signed up more than 325 courses in 38 states, according to Jakob, including 18 in Wisconsin.
“We’re north of 300 holes-in-one,” he said. “We’ve paid out about $2.1 million total in prizes. We averaged about 12 (aces) a month last year. For many of the golfers, it’s their first one, it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing. So, to be able to be part of that and reward them, it’s a lot of fun.
“What we love about it is we’re not doing anything to impact the integrity or the tradition of the game. We’re just layering something fun on top with some new technology.”
Jakob, a lifelong golfer, has never made a hole-in-one.
“I’m still waiting for my first,” he said, “but I certainly want to get it on video when it happens so I can show every single person I know.”