High-tech indoor golf practice and teaching facilities allow members of all abilities to see the game in a new light.
Reports on the challenges that face the golf industry are relentless, citing time constraints, uncontrollable weather, and the overall daunting nature of the sport as some of the reasons inhibiting its continued growth.
|Summing It Up
• Though indoor golf facilities are often in stand-alone structures, making the exterior similar to the clubhouse allows them to blend in with the property.
• Use additional, unused space to expand the social aspect of golf.
• Neutral, warm colors can be welcoming to newcomers who may find golf daunting.
But bringing golf indoors with simulators, hitting bays, and putting and chipping greens can help to eliminate some of those barriers. Golf staffs are taking the opportunity to build golf from the inside, teaching lessons using the latest technology while also building more productive relationships with members who have either never touched a golf club or have just let their games slide during the off-season.
An Upstairs Gem
The golf shop at Manchester Country Club in Bedford, N.H., has been in operation since 1923. An update in 2013 expanded the building, now known as “The Golf House,” to nearly 10,000 sq. ft., adding to retail and bag storage on the ground floor and creating underground cart-storage space with charging stations. Then a February 2015 renovation created “The Attic,” a 3,250-sq. ft. golf performance and entertainment space located on the building’s top floor.
The original goal of the upstairs space, says Head Golf Professional Todd McKittrick, was to add a golf simulator so members can continue to hone their skills even in the winter, when the golf course shuts down. The Troon-managed club installed a custom-constructed AboutGolf PGA Tour Simulator measuring 24 feet wide and 12 feet tall that is curved to give a 180-degree viewing area. Three tables and a wet bar are in the back of the room.
“The simulator was always part of the plan,” says McKittrick. “The second half of The Attic evolved before we finished the installation. We talked to members who said they went to indoor gyms that had nothing more than a net to hit into.”
Topping It Off
Over the past few years, Topgolf has made a name for itself as the wildly popular newcomer to a traditional industry. Its first facility in the U.S. was built in 2005 in Alexandria, Va., and the company now has 21 venues open and operating, with seven more in various stages of construction.
Across each of its venues, Topgolf employs a modern aesthetic, while staying mindful of building its own brand.
“From the exterior, we want our venues to be iconic, exciting and increasingly recognizable,” says Kevin Miner, Vice President of Design and Construction. “On the interior, we want them to feel fun, inviting and open, so that the energy becomes something tangible that permeates the environment.”
The design team for Topgolf eschews “traditional interior themes associated with golf clubs,” such as dark colors, low lighting, and forest-green plaid. “Throughout our venues,” Miner says, “you will see lots of glass to create brighter spaces, metal finishes, LED lighting, and more exciting color combinations that lend themselves to the vibrant atmosphere.”
The look of Topgolf’s venues has evolved over time. The first facility, a renovation of an existing driving range, is significantly smaller than the others, with about 20% of the interior square footage of other locations. Now, all newly built venues are at least three levels, with a capacity of around 1,000 guests, and the teelines run along the main building “so the spaces could feed off each other,” Miner says. One of the newest facilities, in Las Vegas, features four levels, a stage, water features, VIP cabanas and multiple bars throughout.
More than 50% of Topgolf guests do not consider themselves golfers, adding to the properties’ casual atmosphere and making the game less intimidating for those looking for a test swing.
“Once new guests realize that half of the people there are no more experienced than they are, and everyone is having a good time eating, drinking and playing Topgolf games, any performance pressure they might have felt is removed,” Miner notes.
With some leftover square footage in The Attic, Manchester CC opted to expand player development with its indoor practice and teaching center. The space features a TrackMan Launch monitor with two cameras, a large hitting bay with retractable netting, club-fitting equipment, a putting area with indoor turf, and weights and other equipment along the perimeter of the room for light fitness. The club worked with TrackMan to meet its requirements, and drew up the rest of the design internally.
“We tried to make the space work for what we wanted,” McKittrick says. “Our members are really involved in the space, so rather than a sterile environment, we wanted it to be comfortable and warm.”
A small seating area is between the simulator room and performance center. Combined, the three spaces create an ideal location for social events. With the simulator available to rent by the hour, members often use the space for gatherings, including entertaining clients, that feature golf-related activities.
The rooms use warm tan and green colors throughout, with granite surfaces and dark cabinetry. The simulator side is illuminated with standard can lighting, and all windows have blinds on them. The performance side is well-lit to enable high-speed photography, and the flooring in the performance space is compressed sports foam, to absorb shock. Tall ceilings throughout help to enhance the open-space feeling.
In all, the additions cost about $250,000, McKittrick estimates, but the payoff has been substantial. Manchester CC has seen a 160% increase in golf-lesson sales year over year, and merchandise sales have gone up 21% as a direct result of the staff and members using the space.
“We have a member who is 89 years old taking lessons, all the way down to three-year-old kids hitting balls,” McKittrick says. “The Attic has really expanded player development and activity to groups who wouldn’t normally be involved.”
To get members, existing and prospective, in to see the space in the first place, the club staff makes an effort to ensure that everyone knows what facilities are available. “It’s our closing room for prospective members,” McKittrick says. “We show them the clubhouse and dining spaces, but we always end up in The Attic, showcasing the performance center and simulator room. It has that ‘wow’ factor that allows them to make the decision to join the club.”
Conditions of Play
When Tom Ream left his previous job at Pinehurst to join Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C., as Director of Instruction, it was under the condition that the facility construct a golf learning center. The 2,200-sq. ft. facility was first built five years ago, and has seen steady updates since.
This year, the latest addition is a slot wall that is used to organize the club-fitting process. The single-level structure’s two bays were originally open, but Prestonwood has since added a wall between the two for privacy, so lessons can be quieter and with an enhanced one-on-one emphasis. Technology has also been expanded over time, from one TrackMan unit to two.
“Our Director of Golf has a history in building and project management, and our parent company has its own building division, so all the work was done in-house,” Ream notes.
The stand-alone building is located about 300 yards from the main clubhouse on the far right side of the driving range, and is attached to the range operation, where balls are retrieved, cleaned and dispensed. Hardy plank is used on the exterior of the building, which fits in with the club’s Georgian-style architecture. A covered outdoor hitting area and tee space is just outside the building.
A satellite kitchen with a sink, cabinets and refrigerator space is at the entrance of the building, to allow members to host outings at the facility. The building also includes bathrooms, a sitting area, and Ream’s office. Outside of the hitting bays, the walls are a neutral beige/green, and the flooring is carpeted throughout to make cleaning easier.
“The look and feel is like a high-tech garage,” Ream says. “It’s very comfortable—we wanted people to be impressed, but also relaxed.
“We do not have heaters in here,” Ream adds. “We find them to be noisy. It’s easier to just put on some Under Armour and get to it.”
When it comes to how the space is used (and by whom), Ream says the personality of the instructor matters more than the space itself. “It’s up to the teacher how they use the technology and how they interact with the student,” he says.
“Even though it’s high-tech, the personality of the instructor should put beginners at ease.”
Through a partnership with the University of Montana, The Ranch Club in Missoula, Mont., opened a new 1,500-sq. ft. indoor practice facility in November 2015 that benefits both the club and the school’s Grizzlies golf team.
“It’s a unique partnership,” says General Manager Nick McKethen. “The Ranch Club had the real estate and driving range for the prime location, so we donated the space.” In exchange, the university handled the financial investment for the $150,000 facility.
Construction took about four months, using contractors who were also club members. The Ranch Club was responsible for the exterior finish work, ensuring that the building blended in with the rest of the property, while the university took charge of the interior.
On the outside, the building has what McKethen describes as a “rustic, barn-like finish,” with wood custom stain work over a stainless-steel structure (to save money, the university ordered the pre-made building from Florida, used discounted building supply costs, and incorporated putting and chipping greens from a different facility).
The building faces the club’s two-sided, 375-yard-long driving range. As is often the case in “Big Sky Country,” the club had “excessive space for what we needed,” McKethen says, making the building, and the range, an ideal way to use the space.
On the inside, McKethen estimates that about 80% of the facility is taken up by the putting green and chipping area, allowing 5 to 6 people on the green at a time. The facility features four heated bays and four garage doors that open up to the driving range, allowing golfers to hit shots year-round.
One bay includes a large monitor for teaching, and there are also a few lockers available. The facility is “strictly a hitting building,” McKethen notes, but a nearby maintenance facility is used for restrooms and storage. “We hope to add a gripping and club repair station within the next year,” he adds.
The flooring is made up of three types of low-maintenance synthetic turf, with undulations on the green and five permanent holes, plus temporary ones. Caged fluorescent lighting lines the 14-foot-tall ceilings, allowing for the occasional pitch shot, and a heater is positioned near the roof line. A number of custom decals, in maroon, that show the University of Montana team’s accomplishments cover the white walls.
“From the outside, it blends in with The Ranch Club—but inside, it’s the home of ‘Griz’ golf,” McKethen says.
As such, the university’s golf team has primary access to the facility. Matt Higgins, head golf coach for the University of Montana, creates a schedule and sends it to McKethen, who then lets members and guests know when they can use the space. During the school year, McKethen estimates, student golfers make up about 75% of those who use the facility. But closer to Christmas, when many students head home, the usage split is closer to 50-50.
One challenge the project faced was snow. Early in the season, Missoula was gifted with 10 inches of powdery snow that McKethen says stuck around for two months. “The plan for ball recovery was trial and error,” he says. “Once we started rolling the surface and compacting the snow, balls were much easier to find. But before that, the team had to go out and hand-shag balls off the range.”
Seasonal changes, however, are what make an indoor facility like The Ranch Club’s necessary.
“One of the challenges in a seasonal environment is to keep membership engaged and interested,” McKethen says. “The relationship from member to member is important, and it’s often lost in the wintertime, but [the indoor facility] has allowed us to make those relationships a priority. Now, a lot of men’s and women’s league players have additional drive to get out and grow relationships.
“It takes experienced golfers to the next level,” McKethen continues. “If they’re not going down south, they will have a place to take their game to the next level year-round, and that’s invaluable.”