Every year we get thousands of questions from our clients. Below you will find some of the most popular. It would be impossible to include them all, so if you
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Range Automation Systems Specific Questions
1. How do I get an idea of the current State-of-the-Art in the Driving Range Industry?
If you can’t visit one of our many fully automated ranges, start by joining the Golf Range Association of America (GRRAA). Included in your membership is their bi-monthly magazine, “Golf Range” or subscribe to Golf Range Times Magazine. The publication features very good articles featuring the latest facilities and profiling the latest equipment and services available. Extensive advertising provides numerous supplier companies, additional contacts for consultants as well as contractors.
2. I’m just getting started, how much land does a range require?
There is no single answer to this question. The range teeing and landing area are a function of the number of stations and station layout (single or multilevel, straight or curved) and the depth of the landing area. Conventional grass ranges vary from 4 acres to 18 acres. Meanwhile, golf domes can be designed for as little as 1.5 acres. This does not include any land area for the pro-shop, putting green, parking, easements, etc.
3. Can you provide some guidance on the cost of developing and building a driving range?
We have ranges in the US that have been completed from start to finish for less than $200,000 and others that have cost in excess of $6,000,000. As you might expect the sales potential closely tracks the project development costs. The final answer is controlled by many factors including: materials used for construction, local labor and materials costs, soil conditions, range size design and layout, type of structures to be included, city or county special requirements, utility hook-up or stand by charges, artificial or real grass landing area, mat or grass teeing area, amenities included (eg. heated/cooled hitting stalls, tee-up system, etc), netting and pole height requirements, lighting requirements and many others.
Many organizations offer consulting services to assist you in developing a budget for your planned range. RAS has designed many projects throughout the US, Canada and several foreign countries. We have worked with wood, concrete and steel, pre-cast concrete and even cast-in-place concrete for building tee deck structures. We pioneered the use of tension fabric and canvas for shade cover on tee decks. Using a company to assist you with your range design that primarily manufactures golf range equipment will produce a design that meets their needs and includes their equipment, it may or may not be the best or most economical design or even based on practical operating experience.
No matter whom you select to help you, check their references and past projects. If you can, visit any projects that give as a reference. It is very expensive to have someone learn how to build a driving range on your nickel.
4. Should I plan on netting and poles? And how high do I need to go?
This is a site specific question. If the range is far from surrounding structures and there are no safety hazards on either side (or at the rear), then you might not need netting and poles. However, this is almost never the case. In 25 years we have yet to work on a range project that did not have some netting requirement. Because good sites often have a high land cost, it is almost a universal rule that you will need some netting. To contain all golf balls in your range, the ball flight graphs from Wilson and Spalding show a maximum height of 110′ for all clubs (9 iron to driver).
Most people think only short clubs have high flights. Even a driver hit ball can go 110 feet high, it just happens much further out from the tee line (180 to 200 yards). Since increased netting height is a major cost for poles, most ranges compromise their pole/netting height and design other safety factors in to help contain balls. These can include: tee line nets designed to force you to hit the ball out straight, baffled netting systems designed to reduce the poles by angled overlap, etc.
5. Should I use wood or metal poles? How do I deal with ice and snow on the nets?
Wood is usually only useable to a height of about 60-70 feet above ground. Even at these heights wood poles of 100 feet are required. In many areas of the country it is difficult to find the proper class of wood pole in this size and it may be just as expensive as metal. Metal has a longer life expectancy and is the clear winner above 75 feet. It can also be extended to greater height if required. This is not practical with wood poles. Metal poles can usually be set at a greater spacing than wood poles, hence requiring fewer poles. When nets are in freezing climates, water can freeze solid in the openings causing the nets to act like sails on a boat. When this occurs it can mean the nets and the poles are coming down in the wind.
To avoid this problem there are two major solutions. One system is based on cable winches attached to the bottom of the poles. A control panel uses wind sensor data to decide if the wind is too strong (and cold) and lowers the nets automatically to avoid damage. It is very expensive and not 100% fool proof. The second system accomplishes the same safety factor for less money by sacrificing your nets. The net/pole system is designed with tear-away clips to hold the nets to the steel cables. If the loading calculations are properly done than the nets will tear away from the pole without causing any damage (except to the nets and tear away hooks). Several of the pole providers can perform these design calculations.
6. Can a range be run truly unattended? I’ve heard of Domes that want to do this.
Insurance will play a big role in the decision to operate a range without human supervision. However, many ranges often want to be open (at least a part of the day) with only one employee who has several tasks to do including picking the range. In this case a prepaid card dispenser (vending machine) is very useful. We offer these in 2,3 and 4 card denomination units that will accept cash or credit cards (phone line required). They can be wall, counter or podium mounted and fill in for your sales people or act as a second sales point during busy periods. They allow conventional ranges to operate both before and after the pro-shop or sales location is manned for increased revenue without increased labor costs.
7. Is there a recommended size for a tee deck structure and hitting station.
We have varied hitting station sizes from 2.5m x 4.75m (8′-2″ x 15′-6″) to 93.66m x 6.71m (12′ x 22′ ). These dimensions include the walkway behind the actual hitting station. Ideally for our system and a good large walkway behind we recommend 10′ x 20′ (3.1m x 6.2m) for each station. Floor to floor separation heights should be between 10′ and 12′ feet, depending on the design of the floor (roof) structure and how the lights, heaters, etc will be mounted and located. Building a deck design with a curve (like Skokie Golf Park in Chicago or CrackerJax in Scottsdale, AZ ) is more expensive than a straight or 3-segment deck (where the two ends are canted in toward the center of the range) like Desert Pines, Las Vegas or Heartland Golf Park in Long Island.
8. What can Range Automation Systems provide for me?
RAS is a design/build manufacturer and installer of automated tee-up and ball wash/dry, storage and delivery systems. Prior to a contract, RAS will provide sample drawings (usually from a completed project) to give our customers an idea of dimensions and specific requirements. We also provide standard details to an architect to include in his design so our equipment can easily be added. These include: hitting station layouts (right hand, left hand and dual right/left hitting stations), dimensions for ball room (ball wash/storage), overall tee deck dimensions, ceiling heights, roof lines, safety netting and overhangs, etc. We have also developed a computer program that uses empirical and site specific data to calculate the sales increase to your range if it is fully automated vs. selling buckets.
9. If we purchase one of your systems what is included?
In addition to the highest quality products designed to maximize your revenues, we provide our customers complete CAD construction drawings that are based on their final range design. These drawings are for the installation of our equipment and cover all the necessary electrical, plumbing and communications issues.
Our systems will come with all necessary materials and equipment. Our own RAS team handles the actual installation of the equipment. We are not concrete or electrical contractors so the electrical wire and conduit to feed power to our equipment and the concrete work is NOT included. RAS will attend your construction meetings and provide inspections to answer any questions the contractors may have about the integration of our products into your range. Often, we can helped the local architect with the initial layout for the tee-deck and suggest materials and cost savings methods based on our extensive experience. After installation, we train your staff on the operation and maintenance of the equipment including the use of the Windows based software operations and management tools. All our systems are covered by a full year warranty.
10. Would you provide me with a complete set of drawings for my range based on my drawings before I sign up to buy the equipment?
Yes we can! We charge $1,500 (50 stations or less) or $2,000 (over 50 stations). However, his charge will be credited back if you do decide to purchase one of our systems. Keep in mind that drawings often change based on further design revisions by you or your architect.
11. What kind of Sales figures do these fully automated ranges produce?
As for metropolitan ranges, our leader is in New York at over $2.5MM USD/yr, however they can charge a premium of 16-23 cents/ball. Other major market ranges around the U.S. charge from 7-12 cents per ball. This can generate annual sales of $700,000 to $1.3MM. These figures are revenue from golf ball sales only, not including pro shop, restaurant sales or vending machines, etc. A more useful way to look at this data is in terms of dollar sales per hitting bay per year (“$/b/yr”). The average $/b/yr for ranges in the US is approx. $5,000. Top metro ranges in the USA report substantially more revenue per station per year but few if any approach the average numbers our automated ranges produce of $15K-25K/per bay/year in sales. Typically we find that our systems increase sales by about 25-35% over previous bucket levels at facilities we convert.
12. How is it your systems can produce so much more sales than say a Ball Dispenser using a Membership Card?
There are several reasons for this. First, the customer can go directly to the station, insert their membership card and begin hitting. No more having to bend over to tee the ball. Never have to carry a bucket or fetch balls from a remote location (or leave their clubs unattended). Within 4 seconds after the ball is hit, another appears on the tee at the same height it was previously set to ready to be hit. The result is customers hitting more balls in less time.
With a bucket system customers always have a visual cue as to how many are left, and they pace yourself accordingly. However, most auto tee customers can’t even tell you, after a brief period of time, how many balls they hit without looking at the control tower display. Essentially, customers using our tee-up machines hit more balls per visit and that equates to greater sales. Visit any of our automated ranges and test this yourself. The average at our ranges are 160-175 balls/hour/bay (when the range is at capacity). Bucket operated ranges rarely exceed 125-130 balls/hour/bay. Even during slow periods, customers hit an average of 100 balls or more compared to bucket ranges where 70 is the norm. In addition, we offer the ability to sell membership cards in any denomination, which greatly increases your daily sales while promoting customer loyalty.
13. How do I sell membership cards, especially larger denomination cards?
Most of our newer ranges sell membership cards. Pricing can range from $0.01 to $999.99. The actual amount of value (encoded) on the card can vary based on the owner’s desires. Major metro ranges often start at a $10 card with $10 in value (while smaller ranges will start at a $5 card with a $5 value) and bonus the customer for larger purchases. Commonly used values are $10 for $11 value, $20 for $23 value, $50 for $60 value and $100 for $125-130 value. This system is based on a 10%, 15%, 20% and 25-30% bonus structure for purchases. Note that by bonusing your customers for a larger purchase they are getting the benefit of a discount off your price per ball or price for time rental. Regular customers recognize this added value and will, with little encouragement, purchase the larger denomination cards.
14. What is the difference in your NorthStar and EagleStar system configurations?
Both configurations provide the same tee-up machine and dispenser designed to operate using our membership cards. The differences are the customer interface and how the system is activated.
The Eagle Star configuration requires a customer to check in to be assigned a hitting station while the North Star can be activated at the station by the customer with either a membership card or a pin code. The control of the station is also different. The Eagle Star system uses a control pad located along side the hitting area near the customer. The North Star system uses a kiosk with a color touchscreen to move the tee up and down and display yardage maps, advertising, customer’s name and value remaining.
Both systems include a complete automated ball wash/dry and delivery system. This equipment includes: a rust free presoak tank, Stainless Steel washer/dryer, elevators, a 100,000 or 150,000 golf ball stock box and feeder system, and our unique and patented stainless steel belt conveyor with computerized control panel. The ball wash and delivery system operate on a 7 day a week automatic cycle. The operation is totally hands free from the time the balls are deposited into the presoak until they come up on the tee.
15. Cost is an issue! Can I upgrade from semi-automated to fully-automated in the future?
With proper planning it is not difficult or expensive to upgrade from Semi-Automated to Fully-Automated. The cost is only slightly more than if you purchase a Semi-Automated initially. Upgrading to the Fully-Automated level involves installation of some major pieces of equipment and generally takes about a week or so. During this time portions of the range will not be usable. The cost is somewhat higher (approx. 4-5%) than starting with the Semi-Automated as a result of sending a full installation crew a second time, additional shipping/crating charges and crew expenses (airfare, hotel and per diem).
16. Can I use my own ball washer with your system?
All our equipment is designed to integrate not only in speed of operation, but also in physical dimension. The entry and exit heights of you current washer may not match our elevators or presoak tank. A different manufacturer’s washer may not dry the golf balls sufficiently and wet balls can cause maintenance problems with the conveyor systems and tee-up machines. So while it is not impossible to design around your washer, it is probably not the best way to design the system.
17. How much are your systems on a per station basis?
A rough estimate for 30 North Star 4 stations would be about $9000/station and about $6000/station for 30 Eagle Star stations. This includes all drawings and installation but excludes the shipping cost to your site, the airfare and hotel/per diem charges for the crew which are again location dependent. At 60 stations the reduction in unit price will be the greatest since most of the cost increase for this configuration is the purchase of the presoak tank, ball washer/dryer, elevators, stock box, conveyor and automation control panel.
18. What are the capabilities of your Range Management Software and do I need it?
The Range Management Software (RMS) program is a comprehensive package designed to allow your range to automatically start its operations. The program collects sales data hourly (including number of customers, money collected, balls hit and utilization percentage by station), offers flexibility in station operation (price per ball, time rental mode, or free play for special events) and tracks system errors or equipment problems. You are provided with numerous card denomination usage and sales reports. These can be beneficial in determining effectiveness of promotions and even help you better optimize your labor schedule.
The Windows PC based interface is familiar and the program is easy to use, just point and click. Prices or modes of operation can change at preset times 7 days a week as you require. There is also an option for special holiday pricing and hours. Stations can be arranged in up to 4 groups so prices or modes of operation can vary by group (e.g. 1st floor is price per ball, 2nd floor is time rental mode). A history of all data is kept on your PC’s hard disk for future comparison and analysis.
19. Are special mats required for use with your Tee-up machines? If so Why?
The tee height on our machines is adjustable to a maximum of 78mm/3.07inch above the concrete. Made from foam backing and synthetic nylon grass facing, the thickness can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. If a mat is 31.75mm/1.25inch thick then the maximum height for the ball is 46mm/1.82 inches. You don’t want to go much less than this or golfers (especially beginning golfers) will have a hard time hitting the ball. The ball tees up below grade and rises through a 63.5mm/2.5inch round hole in the mat. Most mat manufacturers do not design their mats for use after a large hole is cut into it. The glue joint is not strong enough and after a short period of time golfers hitting 7-9 irons and wedges off a low tee (which they will do) will rip the synthetic turf off the foam backing.
We have found two manufacturers that can provide a conventional mat to withstand these additional requirements, Southwest Synthetic Turf and Wittek Golf. Additionally, Fiberbuilt builds a hard rubber tile system mat that works quite well. This tile mat is somewhat taller than nylon/foam mats so you give up a small amount of tee-height. However they have two advantages, they wear much longer than nylon turf and you can replace 1 tile at a time. Both systems work quite well. The hitting mats/ shot mats are usually ordered in 450-500mm/18-20inch widths.
20. I have heard it takes a lot of golf balls to operate an automated range with your tee-up machines, is this true?
Yes and no. Most of our ranges exceed $1,000,000 in ball sales per year. This means these are larger then average ranges to start with. This sales figure equates to an average of over 27,000 balls hit per day. In reality the daily number of balls hit will be much higher on weekends and holidays (often double or more). We recommend using a minimum of 1,000 balls per station and prefer 1,500 to 2,000.
There are several reasons for this. If you have rainy days it is hard to pick efficiently, but many covered ranges still do great business when it rains. If you have a busy weekend day and it starts to rain late for a full day you must continue to operate on your remaining inventory. This means you really should have a two-day supply. With more balls you can pick less frequently and this means less wear on your grass, range balls and picking equipment. There is no penalty for starting with a larger inventory because balls will last longer since they are hit less frequent. Ranges often receive better prices on balls for a larger order.
Our system is designed to hold 600 balls per tee station and up to 150,000 more in the main stock box and system. For 60 stations a good starting point would be 90,000 to 120,000 balls.