PALM BEACH, Fla. - Greg Norman has never shied away from pushing boundaries in golf and thinking outside the box.
His entrepreneurial spirit and business instincts have led to the launch of the "Shark Experience," a new golf technology platform Norman believes could revolutionize the game. Norman has partnered with Verizon, Club Car and GPSi (an industry leader in GPS technology) to turn every Club Car golf cart into a rolling entertainment hub of music, sports highlights, golf instruction videos by Norman and GPS capabilities. The Shark Experience is currently in pilot mode and will be previewed more extensively at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in January. It will debut at select golf courses throughout America next year.
Striking the right deal for all the big partners has been four years in the making. Norman said he is investing "tens of millions of dollars" to outfit every Club Car cart — which has captured 50 percent of the cart market — with HD touchscreens and powerful speakers. Norman is hoping that the Shark Experience pulls golf into the 21st century and makes the game more attractive to millennials. Some purists might rebel against the concept, but Norman is okay with that.
"This isn't for everyone," he said at a media preview at The Breakers Palm Beach last week.
The Shark Experience tagline — Your Game. Your Way. — means golfers can use it as they please. Are you ready to rock out to Metallica or Tupac during your next round? You can crank up the volume on the tunes, watch live sports, listen to sports radio, only use it for yardages or leave the screen off entirely. It's your choice.
Norman emphasized that the Shark Experience is far from a finished product. Eventually, it could incorporate Shot Tracer technology and a hole-in-one experience. It's not hard to envision that live programming from popular TV channels or specific shows — along with product advertising — will eventually be incorporated.
"This is constantly evolving," he said.
It has already been tested in more than 3,000 rounds at three undisclosed courses. "The feedback has been incredible," Norman said.
A press release included testimonials from top golf officials who have previewed the product such as Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA TOUR, and Dana Garmany, the chairman and chief executive officer from Troon Golf.
"The Shark Experience cleverly brings to the golf experience what customers desire on and off the course," Jay Karen, the CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association, said in the statement. "Success in this industry will be enjoyed by those courses which evolve with the customer, and I'm thrilled to see Greg Norman connect the dots between the vehicle, the screen and the content. It's a big step in the right direction."
Video: Taking the Shark Experience for a test drive
I was one of the members of the golf media who got a trial run while playing the Ocean course at The Breakers Palm Beach last week. As a music fan, I immediately dove into the diverse selection of songs available on Slacker Radio. Since I don't own portable golf speakers, it was great to finally jam my favorite tunes while playing golf. Golfers can also plug their phone into the cart, taking advantage of the Bluetooth connectivity and speakers to play their own set list.
Traditionalists shouldn't worry that music will overrun the peace and quiet on the course. The speakers were designed to keep most of the noise in the carts, almost like theater surround sound. Plus, course managers ultimately control the maximum volume allowed in every cart to keep things from getting out of hand.
The main screen does a nice job of showing sports scores and yardages to the hole, so golfers don't have to monkey with the settings too much for that information. With a touch of the screen, they can open up a view of the hole and get specific yardage to a bunker or over a water hazard.
I'm guessing the entertainment section won't get as much use as the music function unless slow play bogs down the course. At that time, players can tinker with the system, killing the down time between shots by watching a video or two, instead of disappearing into their phones. For the record, Norman indicated that pace of play has not been adversely affected during trial rounds according to data collected so far.
The entertainment section features a collection of sports video highlights, news, snippets from TV shows and content from Verizon's online network. I did catch a goal from a live soccer game on BeIN Sports, but not every big sporting event or game will be available just yet. BeIN Sports (international soccer), the Tennis Channel, Campus Insider (select live college football games and other college sports) and Air + Style (live extreme sports such as surfing and skiing) are currently the only outlets broadcasting live sports on the Shark Experience. Landing coveted NFL or college sports could be a big breakthrough getting golfers off the couch or out of the bars and onto the course during game day.
The final piece of the puzzle is the Shark Key, a cashless code on the Shark Experience that is supposed to make golfers feel like a "member for a day." Most purchases, like food and beverages on the course or in the clubhouse, can be made without digging for your wallet. Who pays for the Shark Experience will depend upon each course's policy. Some may include its use in the green free while others could require an additional up-charge.
"This is the first time we've integrated technology (and) connectivity to a golf cart for a golfer to enhance his or her experience on a golf course," Norman said.
Intrigued? What are your thoughts about the features of the Shark Experience? How much would you use it during your next round? Will it help make golf "cool" with the younger crowd? Could it attract new players to the game? Let us know by leaving your comments below.