Hello BATCADDY Community! In this week's Walk-A-Round, we interview Dave Shultz, Chairman and CEO of NEXTLINKS, a forward-thinking golf technology company. Dave just got back from Portland where he went to the LIV Golf event and got to experience this new take on, the golf tour that's stirring the pot. Thanks, Dave, for your honest feedback! Let's strike a healthy conversation amongst our BATCADDY Community and friends. Share your opinion, we would love to hear it!
You have been at the forefront of bringing new technology to the game of golf, tell us a little about yourself, what you're working on, and where you see the future of the game heading?
To The Masses, and beyond! The vision that came to me while on a tee box St Patrick's Day 2015 was the need for a "sticky" alternative to traditional golf in the same realm as pickleball serves in relation to tennis. I pitched my 21-year-old son (now 28!) the next morning on the idea of creating a new sport that utilized screen simulation technology for full power swings complimented by a true to form, real world short game experience, that where Nextlinks was born. As an electronic engineer, a global business leader, and a lifelong problem solver I couldn't resist chasing this business development adventure! NextLinks is leading the growth of Traditional Golf by enabling the non-golfer to compete alongside the seasoned veteran, socially, with skills that transfer, while playing our own unique interpretation of Modern Golf.
Our first commercial success was achieved in October 2018 thanks to a public-private partnership with The City of Indian Wells and the creation of Shots in the Night, a nighttime golf experience powered by NextLinks software.
We exist to grow the game of traditional golf using innovative technology and non-traditional engagement as our vehicle.
You recently attended the LIV event in Portland, what was the overall experience like?
Firstly, ignore what you've heard or read about this being an exhibition for washed up athletes… the talent, young and old, was off the charts. Second, the shotgun start is one of the coolest elements of the format as all of the players preparing for the same start time is a site to behold. This dynamic gave the feel of "game day" or "race day" with a pre-game and post-game element since the competition itself only lasted about 5 hours.
Did you find a different audience in attendance? Or your typical fan, no different than a PGA Tour event?
There were plenty of purist golf fans, but there was definitely a more family focused feel to the whole thing, like a backyard BBQ or a concert in the park. I was in attendance for the private pro-am on Wednesday all the way through the final on Saturday and never once heard anybody being critical of the experience in a negative way.
Did you see any difference in the players' demeanor?
Yes, there is no doubt that these players were more relaxed in their demeanor than at tour events I have attended, actively engaging with fans in ways I've never noticed before. This may or may not impact how they perform in majors as time moves on, and one of the reasons we should allow for cross pollination between traditional tour competitions and this new format. It is certainly one of the reasons this new format is good for the game's fans and long-term health.
What are the specific pieces of LIV Golf that you see actually attracting interest and growing the game?
The entire experience is set up like a festival, and the fan experience surpassed even The Open Championships I attended at Royal Troon and Royal Birkdale, which was my prior "best of lifetime" fan engagement area. The coolest part for me, as a bit of a traditionalist in my bias, was watching people who had never been to a tour event "sense" the seriousness of the moment as players set up and executed shots and then right back into a more boisterous atmosphere with music playing out on the course in strategic locations in between. A bit like the Phoenix Open in that regard, without beer cans flying in from everywhere, haha.
How do you respond to those who will not watch LIV Golf because it is funded by the Saudi Government?
I left the US Navy in 1989 after six years of service in and around the Persian Gulf. I mounted a massive American flag on our home's roof as we launched our offensive into Iraq to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. I was a massive fan of Ronald Reagan. My views have evolved, and now I try to see the best in every situation, and the business team from Golf Saudi has shown nothing but the highest character over the several years I have been following their emergence. What some people call "sports washing" I tend to think of as money being spent to enrich the lives of millions who may not otherwise engage in sport, and if that improves the reputation of Saudi Arabia's past and creates a more hopeful future then I am behind them all the way, and I hope others will join me in that sentiment.
What we're your big takeaways from experiencing your first LIV tournament?
The biggest takeaway is a new appreciation for the team behind LIV Golf who has been preparing for this alternative experience for many years now. There is still a ton of evolution yet to develop as these four-man teams begin to pick up sponsors, as it's clear that the players themselves are enjoying this new choice being offered to them (Think Talor Gooch, who is being poked fun at for imagining a similarity to what it must feel like to play in The Ryder Cup).
Do you see any paths to alignment between LIV, DP, and the PGA?
Absolutely. Golf will be better served when these organizations begin to align behind the best interests of the fans and players, who are the customers (end users) of golf.
What do you think? Is LIV a change of perspective away from becoming a permanent golf community? Or is it a flash in the pan that is financially and ethically unsustainable?