TopGolf Takes Flight
By Richard Wright
You don’t have to wait for the 19th hole!
TopGolf is about fun, competition, good food and cold drinks; it’s about socializing with old friends, making new friends and – oh, yes – it’s also about improving your golf game.
TopGolf makes driving ranges look like the antiquated Model Ts that they truly are. This is an upscale experience. The newer, modern venues being built by the company over the past few years have 102 bays on three levels of 34 bays each. The bays can each accommodate six people; that’s a total of 612 people – or chairs.
Hundreds more can be handled in the large bars, one on each level (think bar stools), or in front of a pool table, shuffle board, X-box or PlayStation. On the third floor there’s an outdoor patio with a small stage for live DJs and live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.
But, for the most part, the bays are the attraction. There, the combination of drinking, eating, socializing and competition keeps the evening humming. Isn’t that why many bars have dartboards and pool tables?
It works, and TopGolf has taken it to the next level.
There are 11 targets in the field, ranging from four red targets just 25 yards from the tee line, all the way to the back trench at 215 yards. The golf clubs provided include everything from a wedge to a three-wood; left handed clubs are there for those who need them, as are two sets of clubs in each bay – one for men and one for women.
“Top,” by the way, stands for Target Oriented Practice; the idea, of course, is to get your ball closer to the target than your competitor’s.
“The history of the company is rather funny,” says Jason Evans, Media Relations manager. “Back in London in 1997, twin brothers Steve and Dave Jolliffe – who enjoy competition – were hitting golf balls at a driving range. They began arguing about whose ball was closest to the pin; it was quite difficult to tell.”
That was the beginning of the Eureka idea.
“They felt they should be able to determine exactly whose ball was closest, so they started a company that put microchips in the balls. They are so tiny that they don’t change the flight of the ball at all,” but they do track it perfectly.
A few years later they had created three TopGolf locations in the London suburbs. From London they moved to the States, opening venues in Virginia, one near Chicago, and in Dallas.
Up to that point the business plan was to purchase existing driving ranges and retrofit them to suit the concept. That changed in the mid-2000s when the company was purchased by a group of private investors that included Callaway Golf.
With fresh funds came a fresh concept. “No longer would the company purchase and retrofit existing driving ranges; it would build TopGolf venues from the ground up,” says Evans. “It would build really upscale entertainment facilities to surround the TopGolf driving range concept, and make them into full entertainment experiences – upscale, fun destinations.”
To complement the upscale architecture and interior decor, the company chose Woodard woven bar stools and deep-seating groups, as well as Tuuci shade products.
“The new concept was first built in Dallas,” says Evans, “then in Houston, and now in cities all over the U.S. such as Phoenix, Atlanta, Tampa and, over the next year, Oklahoma City, Kansas City and Denver. One is going into California and another into Washington, D.C.
“Three years ago the company had six locations; six or eight months ago there were still only nine or 10. We will have more than 50 locations by the end of 2017.”
The Business Plan
“If you’re going to play the game, then we have to keep track of you and your scores,” says Evans. “So we have a $5 lifetime membership. After that, you pay by the hour. A bay is between $20 and $45 an hour, depending on the day and time of day. Obviously, Friday and Saturday nights are more than Tuesday mornings. Those rates are not per person, but for the bay. If four people were to get lunch at TopGolf, say a burger, and play an hour of golf, the bill would be around $25 per person. That’s very reasonable.”
Evans is proud of the food served at TopGolf. “Our kitchen staff is in excess of 75 people,” he says. “This is not bar food, not your typical sports bar food. About 90 percent of our food is fresh, not frozen.”
He’s also proud of the fact that these venues are taking the fear out of playing the game for the first time. If you recall the feeling you had when you initially stepped up to the first tee, with many others watching you, then you know what Evans means. TopGolf could be considered a farm system for golf. It’s a way of attracting new recruits to the sport in a very unintimidating manner.
“Nationally,” says Evans, “only 15 to 18 percent of golfers are women. At TopGolf, more than 30 percent of our guests are women. It’s not the traditional golf crowd coming out to TopGolf.”
About half the people who go to TopGolf are regular golfers, according to Evans. “They recognize how much it can improve their game, and they’re also coming out to compete with friends and have a good time. We have one to two PGA-certified teaching pros at each of our locations, and we spend a tremendous amount of time teaching people the game of golf and making them better at it.
“We have nine different games; some of our games are designed for the neophyte, others are for very good golfers. Part of the genius of this concept is that it appeals to both groups.”