The initial scoffing and scorn about the TopGolf concept has clearly been replaced by scrambling to find ways to get as much a piece of it as possible—and to expand it beyond golf to other popular sports as well.
When the Topgolf “entertainment venue” concept first made its way onto U.S. shores from England—and this wasn’t that long ago—it was initially dismissed as a gimmick that would never catch on here. Then, as it quickly generated the same kind of popularity—and profits—over here as it had amassed across the pond, it drew scorn as nothing that “golf purists” or anyone else who had true love and appreciation for the game would want anything to do with.
Now, barely a day goes by when we don’t come across industry news about new versions of the concept that are being launched throughout the country. The other day, in fact, we combined four into one report, on new venues with names like Optimum Golf, Golf Lounge 18, Five Iron Golf and BigShots Golf.
Then, not surprisingly at all, as Vegas got into the act, it wasn’t enough to limit the attraction of these places to just hitting into simulators and having your shots tracked as you “played” courses from around the world in a relaxed atmosphere while enjoying food and drinks with family or friends. We also recently ran a report—which got especially high readership, it should be noted—about the “Atomic Range,” a four-story, 92,000-sq. ft. monstrosity that will span seven acres near The STRAT Hotel, Casino & SkyPod at one end of the Vegas strip. The $70 million venue, scheduled to open by the end of 2023, will include 103 separate golf hitting bays, in addition to four bars, meeting space and a 12,000-sq. ft. “Astrocade” for other gaming.
The fervor for these kinds of facilities has even morphed into other sports that have been gaining newfound popularity at clubs. There are now similar venues for pickleball, including “Pickleball Kingdom,” a 16-court indoor facility in Chandler, Ariz. that is set to open sometime in the first quarter of 2022 and will include a lounge and room for parties and events. Its owner-operator, Mike Rodrigues, thinks providing climate-controlled space will gain favor as the game’s appeal keeps growing and players find it tougher to find places to play outdoors—and also as they get frustrated by battling the elements and how wind can affect pickleball shots.
There really seems to be no end to how far this is all going to go. Just as I was writing this, in fact, I heard from an industry contact who wanted to tell me about a “multi-sport pickleball/golf/fitness-wellness/food and entertainment complex” that he’s involved in building. (I’m guessing he might have added a few more areas that it will include, too, but ran out of slashes.)
So what’s the bottom line about all of this for the club and resort industry? Clearly, all that initial scoffing about the concept has been replaced by scrambling to find ways to get as much a piece of it as possible. BigShots is ClubCorp’s entry in the field, and Troon just announced a new partnership with Golfzon, the South Korean-based leader in the simulator space, to open ZSTRICT facilities in the U.S., starting in New York.
Both ClubCorp’s David Pillsbury and Troon’s Tim Schantz have made it clear that they see entertainment venues as part of the “new normal” of golf learning/instruction, play and enjoyment that promises to remain part and parcel of the game, and industry, going forward. (National Golf Foundation research now projects “off-course” golf play will soon surpass what’s played on courses.)
And I can’t recall any independent private club I’ve talked with over the last few years that hasn’t told me about their success with, or plans for, creating similar amenities for their members. In this issue, see our recent feature on Lancaster CC (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/lancaster-cc-defined-by-memorable-moments/), and our Design + Renovation feature on golf practice facilities (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/clubs-swing-into-action-with-indoor-golf-facilities/) for some of the latest examples we’ve seen. (Take note, too, of how Lancaster CC set up its simulator venue to be part of a casual-dining setting, and how it could be used by kids for baseball games as well.) No doubt, we’ll soon hear much more about clubs of all types adopting the same kind of approach for pickleball and other activities, too.