As the PGA Tour stops this week in Austin, TX, for the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play I’m reminded of what an indelible mark is being made by Topgolf, which has a busy location in the capital city. For those living in a cave, Topgolf is the inventive and high-octane golf complex that’s attracting millennials in record numbers. Essentially, it’s a modern driving range that boasts games, practice and entertainment as well as being a social hot spot with its attractive food and beverage menu. In many ways, one’s experience at Topgolf resembles bowling in its heyday. It’s a climate-controlled recreational diversion where just about anyone can participate and have a fun time.
At the Austin location, Topgolf has over 100 hitting bays in a triple-decker complex. Employing 300 people, it offers a full-service bar and restaurant with over 200 HD televisions and free WiFi spread throughout the facility. After being checked in and issued a required card reader, a player is assigned a designated hitting bay, mindful of an assigned alley and seating at a bowling center. Players can bring their own clubs or take advantage of ones offered at the hitting bay.
The 240-yard outdoor range itself sports 11 dartboard-like targets at various lengths and dimensions. With a microchipped embedded ball, a player takes aim at these targets and gets points for both accuracy and length. And the scoring is done automatically. To make it easier to score points, the landscaping around these targets are contoured and shaped to accept short shots. Naturally, very high hitting nets are used surrounding and protecting the outdoor field. There are also some protective nets in front of the hitting bays at the second and third tier levels.
Reserving the bays by the hour, players select from a variety of games from an electronic console that also automatically dispenses the balls. One of the most common games is Topgolf, where players score points by hitting balls into any targets. The more accurate the shot and the farther the distance, the more points you earn. In this game, each player is assigned 20 balls.
The marketing manager at the Austin facility is Brandon Gabay, an energetic and affable sort who majored in statistics at University of Texas. In many ways, Gabay typifies one of his popular customers. Before he landed at Topgolf, he wasn’t a golfer but he quickly was enamored with the game in its new format. “Not only because I work here, but I really enjoy playing the game and getting better at it,” said Gabay who says he’s also taking lessons from the teaching pros there.
The social and entertainment aspect of Topgolf remains one of its strongest appeals. Over the past New Year’s Eve holiday, Gabay launched a highly successful promotion which featured reserving a bay for six people from 9 p.m to 2 a.m. on the main floor with exclusive access to a Signature Event Room with a Chef’s Choice Buffet. Priced at $450, which also included a bottle of champagne and party favors, the event was a sell-out.
Founded by a pair of brothers bored by their driving range experience in England, Topgolf appears to be an ideal antidote to cure millennials’ dissatisfaction with golf. It effectively counters the oft-heard argument that the traditional game is too slow, too expensive and too difficult.
In a recent letter posted on The Morning Read, a reader wrote: “My son-in-law does not have the time to play 18 holes, but he and his buddies can go to Topgolf and spend an hour or so and a have few beers, bet and enjoy the camaraderie…less time, less expense…and much less frustration.” Most interestingly, Topgolf claims that 37% of its customers are non-golfers!
Likewise, our visit to Topgolf was very entertaining. The service was prompt and efficient and the games were simple and fun even for my six-year-old granddaughter. There was one technical glitch in our game console but it was quickly fixed by a Topgolf staffer. And by the sound of customers’ banter and laughter, other people were having a good time, too.
With the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” playing over the speakers, there was an unmistakably positive vibe filtering throughout Topgolf. As a few raindrops fell outside, the rock ’n roll classic seemed a fitting anthem. As golf battles the winds of change, Topgolf has a chorus of adherents warning, “If I don’t get some shelter, Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away.”
Of Topgolf’s more than thirty locations nationwide, currently there are no Topgolf locations in Michigan. The closest ones are in Cincinnati and Chicago. Visit www.topgolf.com
images courtesy of Topgolf