Golf+ tees up an A-list of investors

A virtual reality idea that took hold in 2021 now has the backing of golfers Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Ben Crenshaw, along with Tom Brady, Stephen Curry and Mike Trout

In the modern entrepreneurial startup world, "venture capital" are the magic words that can inject a turbo shot — or even a double — into a small company with an innovative concept but too little funding.

That’s certainly the hope for Golf+, a new company whose product is virtual reality golf. So far, it’s been good enough to alternately partner with Topgolf, Callaway and the PGA of America.

Now comes a new opportunity. Led by Breyer Capital of Austin, Texas, the list of Golf+ investors has both breadth and depth. It is headlined by Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Tom Brady, Stephen Curry, Mike Trout and Ben Crenshaw.

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Valhalla Golf Club's par-4 13th hole as it appears in the Golf+ game.

The rest, while not necessarily household names in golf, are well-known in C-suites around the country. They include 1-800 Contacts founder Jonathan Coon, former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano, Pennybacker Capital founder/CEO Tim Berry, Kendra Scott CEO Tom Nolan, Silicon Labs founder Nav Sooch, Stephen Curry’s production company Unanimous Media, BoostVC, and Capital Factory.

One name well-known to golf insiders is financier Jimmy Dunne, vice chairman and senior managing principal of investment firm Piper Sandler. He was one of the founders of Sandler O'Neill + Partners, which was one of the firms who lost employees in the 9/11 attacks on New York.

Dunne is an accomplished amateur golfer who holds the grand slam of club memberships — Augusta National, Pine Valley, Seminole and Cypress Point — among others. He knows everyone who knows anyone who knows where the money in golf is located.

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And perhaps more than the millions of dollars that are expected to be injected into Golf+ as the result of this venture capital deal will be the connections and introductions that will be made on behalf of the company by Dunne and others.

"Thankfully, for us, unlike many startups, we've actually been cashflow positive for quite a while," says Ryan Engle, Golf+ co-founder and CEO. "We've been able to grow a bit of our own war chest and we've tried to operate pretty scrappy. So, we didn't do venture capital primarily for the money. We did it for the strategic value of the investors."

Golf+ is designed to be complementary to traditional golf, and the VR route allows users to play anywhere at any time, and has both single and multiple player options. Golf+ is currently available on the Meta Quest 2 platform for $29.99 and comes standard with Valhalla Golf Club, host of the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup, as well as three other fictional course designs. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and Wolf Creek Golf Club can be added for $7.99.

"Golf+ has the potential to bring the game that I love to millions of households worldwide," Rory McIlroy said in a statement. "The platform makes the sport so much more accessible to new audiences while also additive to experienced green grass golfers. This fun, immersive experience brings golf into the virtual era, and I believe it will have a positive impact on the game of golf."

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Ryan Engle

Engle started his tech startup career with an app called Golf Scope, which used augmented reality (AR) to allow players to read putts by using their phone camera to create a 3-D map of a green. In 2018, Engle moved into virtual reality (VR) and created a putting simulation that became Pro Putt by Topgolf and later, when full shots were added to the app, Topgolf with Pro Putt. In 2021, the name changed to Golf+.

"We think that using virtual reality, we can create a much smoother on-ramp for people to experience golf for the first time or to reengage with the sport if they're not able to play as often as they want, especially over the winter," says Engle, whose company reports that more than 500 million shots have been hit in the first 10 months of full-course play — or roughly 6.94 million rounds of 72 scores.

Engle, who lives in Austin, was introduced to Jim Breyer, of Breyer Capital, by Engle’s angel investor, Jonathan Coon, co-founder of 1-800 Contacts, who also lives in Austin, which is becoming Silicon Hill Country.

Breyer was an early investor in Facebook as well as AR and VR companies like Niantic, which created Pokemon Go. Breyer is also an avid golfer and is a part-owner of the Pebble Beach Company.

"That's why we were very specific in kind of trying to find people that have a love for golf and have some involvement with the game," Engle says. "Obviously, we have Rory (McIlroy) and Jordan (Spieth) and they play at a completely different level from anywhere else in the world. But we have folks like Stephen Curry and Tom Brady and Mike Trout, and they love golf, but they're not professional golfers.

"So, for us it was really important to kind of find a group of people that all have a love for golf that all want to see growth. And with all of our investors, we spend almost all of our time kind of talking about that opportunity.

"Because of that, the investment group has just made some incredible introductions that would have been very difficult for us to do as quickly as they have happened. We've been able to connect with pretty much every golf company you can imagine. And we're in talks with quite a few to develop partnerships there."