Five Iron Golf and Topgolf are adding to the indoor golf simulator market in popular Chicagoland areas. Jared Solomon, CEO and co-founder of Five Iron Golf said, “The younger generation gets bored just going to a bar.” Bars and restaurants are offering more than just food and drinks, leading to the introduction of everything from shuffleboard to ax throwing to virtual skydiving—along with a resurgence of concepts like darts, bowling and arcades.
Chicago is about to discover a new definition of “hitting the clubs,” when competing indoor golf concepts open in the city over the next few months, the Chicago Tribune reported. New York-based Five Iron Golf plans to open what it believes is the largest urban indoor golf-and-entertainment venue in the country on Chicago’s Near North Side by October.
Topgolf recently unveiled plans for two of its own indoor venues in Chicago, the Tribune reported.
Retail and real estate experts say it may only be the beginning for the growing industry, the Tribune reported. It’s part of a broader trend in large cities, where bars and restaurants are offering more than just food and drinks. In Chicago, it has meant the arrival of everything from shuffleboard to ax throwing to virtual skydiving—along with a resurgence of concepts like darts, bowling and arcades.
“You’re going to see simulators and other experiential concepts taking over urban markets in the next several years,” said Jared Solomon, CEO and co-founder of Five Iron Golf. “The younger generation gets bored just going to a bar.”
Five Iron Golf has leased about 11,000 sq. ft. of retail space at the base of the 60-story Millennium Centre residential tower, the Tribune reported. The space, mostly below street level, is nearly twice the size of the company’s two New York locations, Solomon said. The company, founded in 2017, chose the location because its proximity to offices, residential towers and a lot of nightlife, Solomon said.
With 12 simulator stations, it is believed to be the largest such indoor facility in the country by both total size and number of simulators, Solomon told the Tribune.
Five Iron and rival concepts feature high-tech simulators that closely mimic playing on a course, the Tribune reported. Players hit golf balls into screens, and sensors measure specifics like swing speed and spin to determine where a shot winds up on the virtual course.
Many simulators also provide other video games and similar urban indoor facilities offer food, drinks and other entertainment, such as ping pong tables.
Golf simulators are helping fill vacancies from traditional retail, partly in response to young adults’ preference for experiences when they go out, Phil Golding, who works for commercial real estate firm CBRE, told the Tribune.
“I think you’ll see golf-oriented concepts continue to grow in this market,” Golding said. “It’s part of the larger experiential wave.”
Five Iron also is set to open soon in Philadelphia, and the concept could expand into other cities, Solomon told the Tribune.
Topgolf, already known for suburban facilities with outdoor components such as driving ranges, has been pushing into densely populated cities, the Tribune reported. The Dallas-based company recently unveiled plans to open Topgolf Swing Suites in two Chicago locations known for tourism and heavy foot traffic. It will open in the Chicago Athletic Association hotel on South Michigan Avenue this summer and in the 900 North Michigan Shops vertical mall later this year. Other concepts are likely to arrive in Chicago.
“There will be more players,” Solomon said of indoor golf concepts. “It will all come down to who can execute the concept the best. It’s still a customer service business.”
Simulators can’t match fresh air, scenery and feel of actual golf. But Solomon told the Tribune they can help offset some of the shortcomings that have led to decreased participation in the sport, including the large time commitment and cost of playing.
There were 24.2 million Americans who played on a golf course in 2018, a sharp decrease from the peak of 30.6 million in 2003, according to the National Golf Foundation. But there are now almost as many people, 23 million, who play off-course, such as by using simulators or driving ranges, the Tribune reported. Of those, 9.3 million play exclusively off-course. That led to a 4 percent overall increase in participation in the sport last year, from 2017.
Five Iron charges $65 per hour for groups of four during peak hours in New York, the Tribune reported. Memberships, which include unlimited use of simulators during off-peak hours, cost $260 a month. Pricing is expected to be similar in Chicago, and youth programs will be offered, Solomon said.
Five Iron facilities also include club fitting and equipment sales, the Tribune reported.
“We want to build the game and get people into golf,” Solomon said. “We pride ourselves on creating new golfers.”