Driving For Success
A national golf champion won $15,000 in Las Vegas on April 12–without ever swinging a club. He’s the champ of Golden Tee Fore!, an interactive, coin-operated video golf game that’s the brainchild of former NASA biochemist Elaine Hodgson. There are about 100,000 of her machines across the country, doing about $400 million in business. That’s a lot of greens fees.
From Elaine’s original entry:
Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
She Got Game: Incredible Technologies’ CEO Elaine Hodgson ‘Drives’ Men Wild with Golden Tee Fore! Everybody wants to play her game. NBA superstar Penny Hardaway wants to play it. So does fellow player Dee Brown. Rick Dees of America’s Top 40 ranks it Numero Uno. And MTV’s Carson Daly plays it…well, daily. And Chicago Bear Brian Urlacher, NFL Defensive star, just announced that they’re an item. Meanwhile, across the county, men are queuing up for the chance to make a move. They wear baseball caps and golf shirts touting their allegiance. Who is this mystery woman…and what is her game?
The woman is Elaine Hodgson, President and CEO of Incredible Technologies (IT), a $65 million privately-held technology company based in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Hodgson is, in one sense, Everywoman. Raised in the Midwest, she’s the girl-next-door, the mailman’s daughter. On the other hand, she’s a biochemist who once analyzed samples from NASA spacecraft. Not to mention a pioneering computer programmer who, in the early 1980s, helped design the world’s very first digitized computer game. Now, she’s the driving force behind the most popular coin-operated game in history. That game, of course, is Golden Tee Fore! And unless you’ve been living in a Tibetan monastery for the last five years, you’ve undoubtedly come across it. You’ll find it in more than 20,000 bars and taverns across America. It’s on the big screen, costarring with Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality.
Got cable? Golden Tee Fore! has appeared on Sex in the City. Next season, you’ll even see it in the Bada-bing, courtesy of HBO’s The Sopranos. Why is Golden Tee Fore! so hot? “There are a few reasons,” says Hodgson. “From our surveys, we know that men between the ages of 21 and 35 want to get out of the house, socialize with their buddies and compete. The fact that golf is hugely popular is a bonus for us.” “Unlike other coin-op games, we’ve discovered that updating the game by designing new courses keeps players coming back. And the fact that we award thousands of dollars in prize money doesn’t hurt either.”
IT is the first and only coin-op company to sponsor Internet-connected tournaments. To date, the company–which also hosts an annual live Championship–has given away more than $7 million in prize money. IT definitely knows its customer. According to Director of Marketing Gary Colabuono, “Golden Tee Fore! is not just a video game. What we’ve created is a video sport. Our players are not just staying at home, lounging in front of the TV or computer, isolated from the world.” “82% of our players play real golf, own a credit card and travel. More than one-third of them earn in excess of $50,000 annually. And 84% play Golden Tee Fore! more than twice a week.”
Not only are 97% of Hodgson’s customers men, but she has emerged as the leading lady in the overwhelmingly male-dominated coin-op industry. “There certainly are not many women in our industry,” says Mike Rudowicz, President of the American Amusement Machine Association. “Elaine is one of the very few to run a company.” “She’s very well-respected, very knowledgeable, brilliant. She’s done a lot for the video game industry. In fact, IT pioneered the whole concept of tournament play. Other companies are just starting to emulate what IT has been doing for several years.” Golden Tee Fore! has not only revitalized the ailing coin-op industry, but has catapulted IT from a $150,000 start-up into a thriving, $65 million company.
Last year, IT was named to Deloitte & Touche’s prestigious “Fast 50,” a ranking of Chicago’s 50 fastest growing tech companies. Golden Tee Golf was created in 1996 by IT designers Jim Zielinski and Larry Hodgson (who is not only VP of Product Development, but Elaine husband). The two passionate golfers wanted to create a video game that captured the excitement of real golf. They employed state-of-the-art visuals…designed challenging courses…and threw in unpredictable but realistic events like shifting winds and unexpected rainstorms. The game scored an immediate hole-in-one with the public, becoming so popular that some players now reserve “tee times” with their bartender.
Each year, IT introduces an upgrade, with innovative features and challenging new courses. As a result, the game has dominated the industry for six years when, according to Rudowicz, “the average lifespan is six months.” In the process, Hodgson and company have attracted legions of loyal fans, from the guy-next-door to the celebrity on your big-screen TV. In fact, Chicago Bear Brian Urlacher is so hooked on Golden Tee, he has recently become its spokesman. As for Hodgson, while she has yet to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, she is arguably the only woman on earth whose game attracts more male attention than Anna Kornikova’s.
What was your moment of truth?
Creating a company in a man’s industry.
What were the results?
Now a $65 million dollar business.