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Topgolf hopes its mix of sport and entertainment draws new golfers

Architectural Photography by Michael Baxter, Baxter Imaging LLC

(Architectural Photography by Michael Baxter, Baxter Imaging LLC)

A night at Topgolf feels a lot more like a night at the bowling alley than a day on the links or at the driving range.

Groups of golfers reserve bays where equipment is already available and balls are dispensed from machines. They can track scores on one TV screen, right next to another screen playing ESPN. Employees serve bar food staples and beer.

Topgolf has found success in the United States marketing this golf and entertainment hybrid since it opened its first location in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2005.

The company has since expanded to 28 locations across the country, including another northern Virginia franchise, and it plans to open another seven to 10 locations every year.

In fall 2018, Topgolf will open its first Maryland location, in Germantown.

What is Topgolf?

At the core of the Topgolf experience are microchipped balls and sensored targets, developed by twin brothers Steve and Dave Jolliffe and World Golf Systems. Topgolf opened its first locations in the the United Kingdom.

Originally, the brothers just wanted a microchip to help track distances on their shots. But Topgolf expanded the concept in the United States to include targets and different games on the driving range.

“Today, we see Topgolf as a place for everyone,” said Topgolf Chief Operating Officer Craig Kessler. “The experience encompasses play, food, music and community, which appeal to all.”

At the range, which comes with golf clubs provided, groups of about four to six can fill a bay and play several different games using the microchipped balls. Competitors try to see who can come closest to targets on the field or just who can hit the ball for the most distance.

Architectural Photography by Michael Baxter, Baxter Imaging LLC

Architectural Photography by Michael Baxter, Baxter Imaging LLC

But the experience includes more than just golf.

Golfers can order beer and food from the restaurant, which is also open to those waiting for a bay, those who finished playing or anyone just hanging out.

Most locations include other activities. Oklahoma City’s location includes lounges, pool tables, shuffleboard, foosball and a rooftop terrace. Las Vegas has swimming pools.

“There’s a variety of different experiences that can happen within the venue,” said Morgan Lewis, a Topgolf spokesperson. “It’s more of an entertainment venue than a practice range.”

Growing the traditional golf game

Topgolf presents an opportunity for the game to grow and counts supporters from the PGA Tour to local golf club management.

“By working with Topgolf, the tour has a new avenue to reach millennials — an audience that is extremely important for the future of golf,” Kessler said. “Likewise, the tour is helping Topgolf reach more traditional golfers and provide unique programming that helps non-golfers transition to green grass.”

Topgolf estimates that around half of their customer base includes nongolfers. About 30 percent of the company’s business comes from hosting corporate events, which can introduce plenty of nongolfers to the concept.

“Topgolf is having tremendous success attracting golfers and nongolfers alike by providing a fun, casual atmosphere at its venues,” said Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, in a statement.

At the local level, clubs see an opportunity to bring more people out and get them involved in the game, said Keith Miller, chief executive officer of the Montgomery County Revenue Authority, which oversees the county’s nine public golf courses.

“We view it as a positive,” he said. “What we view and we know from the industry is that Topgolf is getting nongolfers involved in the sport.”

He compared Topgolf to other approaches to the game, such as FootGolf, which uses a soccer ball, and FlingGolf, which uses lacrosse sticks.

“All of these little things are basically introductions to the game in a different format,” Miller said. “Topgolf is really bringing an entertainment factor into the game, making an easy introduction into the game of golf.”

The Germantown expansion

For Topgolf, the expansion into Germantown represents a continuation of success in the Washington-Baltimore metroplex.

“Our Washington venues, they do extremely well,” Lewis said. “We wanted another opportunity for residents to be able to enjoy the venue.”

Stylistically, the new venue will be similar to the location in Loudoun County, Virginia. It will include three levels, all of which have climate-controlled bays, allowing Topgolf to stay open all year.

Once it opens, the company anticipates creating around 500 jobs. The company said that about 120 jobs at each location are full time.

With an opening still more than a year away, Miller said he hopes to have opportunities to interact with Topgolf once it opens so the facility helps grow the game at local Montgomery County courses.

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