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In virtual reality, weather never bothers golfers

Rochester Business Journal
August 10, 2012

With a technology developed by a golfer for golfers, Mark Wekara, president and CEO of OptiGolf America LLC, hopes his business will become the premier indoor golf facility in the United States.
 
Wekara, 62, lived in Finland for 40 years before moving to Australia in 1990. There he, wife Tuula and son Aku developed and manufactured OptiGolf, a golf simulator technology that incorporates real putting, high-speed camera technology and golf course graphics.
 
The family studied areas in the United States to determine the popularity of golf activities in various cities before settling on Rochester. With several courses in the area and a broad range of registered golfers, the location seemed to fit.
 
"We moved to the USA some three years ago, and it was obvious to us that our next step, instead of selling simulators, would be to feature them in our own center," Wekara says.
 
 
In December 2010 the family opened a location in Victor. OptiGolf offers a variety of services, including simulated golf, team-building events, parties and fundraisers. For $40 an hour, it offers 85 golf courses around the world on the simulators, every hole of which ends with real-life putting.
 
"When you're under 20 feet, you finish the hole through real putting," Wekara says. "We're the only ones who have two putting cups on an elevated surface."
 
In addition to offering simulated golf, the facility features a full-service bar and a kitchen that serves customized light meals. Each simulator has a small bar next to it, which Wekara says imitates the idea of a drinks cart on a regular golf course.
 
The majority of customers use advance booking to arrange tee times at OptiGolf, although Wekara says roughly 5 percent are walk-ins. The facility has a variety of clubs available for players who do not bring their own. During the winter season, Wekara says, OptiGolf almost always is overbooked and has had waiting lists of up to three days.
 
OptiGolf offers a membership option that he hopes will become more popular. This membership, which costs roughly $800 a year, is intended for those who frequent OptiGolf facilities.
 
"In the beginning, people wanted to see what OptiGolf was and learn more about it," Wekara says. "I think next year we'll have a lot more memberships because people have noticed we're here to stay."
 
The Wekara family works closely with charities in the area, including the American Cancer Society, offering tournaments, exhibitions and other events to raise funds for such non-profits.
 
"We're working with the local community because we want to be good corporate citizens," Wekara says.
 
The Wekaras have big plans for OptiGolf. Wekara just inked a deal to open an 8,300-square-foot location at Destiny USA, a shopping and entertainment complex under development in Syracuse. OptiGolf is negotiating six projects nationwide and expects to open at least two more locations before the year ends.
 
Wekara focuses largely on customer feedback to develop the OptiGolf product and make decisions on future locations.
 
"We listen to our customers, survey them and implement the information coming in from them," Wekara says. "That's the way you will be sure the product you have will be successful and people will like it."
 
It has taken hard work and a watchful eye to achieve success, he says.
 
"Sometimes I feel that people are not taking or seeing the opportunities, but when you come from another country, you're looking with a different perspective," Wekara says. "Everything needs hard work. You're not sitting there laid back with your hands open, waiting for something; you've got to get those hands working."

Chloe Farmer is a Rochester Business Journal intern.
 
Small Business is a weekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at sjacob@rbj.net.

8/10/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.
 


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