Swing Time, a Toptracer range that offers an interactive and social experience, was built on two former golf holes of Dairy Creek Golf Course in San Luis Obispo, Calif. The idea arose from back-to-back challenges—a drought and the pandemic.
Nothing good can be expected to come out of back-to-back hits from a drought and a pandemic. But the administrators of golf facilities in California’s San Luis Obispo County have found ways to take on that double whammy and still come away with a winner.
In October 2020, the county opened Swing Time, a Toptracer range that offers an interactive and social experience for golfers of all levels, on two former golf holes of Dairy Creek Golf Course in El Chorro Regional Park. Toptracer is a subsidiary brand of Topgolf Entertainment Group, and the entertainment venue is a combination of a driving range, sports bar and restaurant, and computer technology.
“Swing Time is one of the varieties that TopGolf has created, to move golfers from TopGolf to the golf course,” says Josh Heptig, Director of Golf Operations for San Luis Obispo County Parks and Recreation.
The county’s three golf courses were struggling prior to the pandemic, so officials converted Dairy Creek to a nine-hole course, made up of Nos. 10–18, after letting the front nine go fallow. That decision was driven by the loss of 60% of Dairy Creek’s water supply, Heptig says.
The golf course receives its reclaimed water for irrigation from a nearby men’s correctional facility. However, when the state prison system was realigned to get back to 100% occupancy, the facility let half of its inmates go, resulting in the reduced water supply.
“We still needed a source of revenue, so we added Swing Time,” says Heptig.
Originally, the plan was to convert the Dairy Creek land into a regular driving range. But to get input from community members about how to best use the property, the county held meetings and created focus groups during a nine-month period from late 2017 to early 2018, and that led to thinking about something more than a typical practice facility.
And listening to the community has paid off—Swing Time has doubled or tripled the number of people on the property, Heptig says. On Presidents Day weekend in 2021, for example, the 208 spaces in the Swing Time parking lot were full and more cars were parked by the entryway.
So far this year, the nine-hole golf course has averaged 130 to 150 players daily and an average of from 200 to 220 people per day have visited Toptracer, Heptig says. About 1,500 people have been to the restaurant alone, “[and] we expect those numbers to get bigger,” he adds.
At Swing Time, people can learn to play golf, learn about the golf clubs in their bag, virtually play famous courses such as St. Andrews or Pebble Beach, participate in long-drive competitions, and play other games. Toptracer’s advanced analytics help golfers fine-tune their swings by analyzing the ball’s path, speed, apex, curve, carry, total distance, and more.
“People have the ability to hit one shot after another,” says Heptig. “It gives you feedback after every shot, so you can make instant adjustments. Targets light up and change colors when people hit them, so it’s interactive.”
Reservations are highly recommended, as Swing Time stays booked. The facility has 10 bays and each holds a maximum of four people. It opens at 10 a.m. every day and stays open until 10 p.m., Sunday through Wednesday, and until 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The property has hired additional staff members to cover all of the shifts, Heptig says.
The cost is $20 per hour per bay during the early-bird hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., $30 per hour for “Happy Hour” from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and $50 per hour in prime time from 5 p.m. to closing.
Asked to describe the target audience for Swing Time, Heptig replies with one word: “Everybody.”
“TopGolf brings in customers, and the goal is to grow the game of golf,” he says. “When people finish other recreational activities from softball to mountain biking, they will try Swing Time.”
To get them on the golf course as well, the county offers specials for Swing Time customers, such as discounts on golf carts or green fees, or a free bucket of range balls
Dairy Creek is also the home course for the men’s and women’s golf teams of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, and through that relationship, the Tom Lehman Learning Center was developed on site with pro golfer Tom Lehman. The Center includes short-game, putting, and whole-shot areas, plus Toptracer.
San Luis Obispo County also has plans to add a zipline course, a miniature golf course, go-karts, and camping cabins to the property within the next six months.
In the meantime, the Toptracer facility continues to draw people to Dairy Creek.
“I would encourage anybody to try and explore the different varieties of what golf is,” says Heptig. “It’s bringing a different demographic of crowd. The whole community is rallying behind it.”
(Editor’s Note: A video report on Dairy Creek’s Swing Time facility from C+RB’s “The Road Ahead” series can be viewed at https://clubandresortbusiness.com/getting-into-the-swing-time-at-dairy-creek-gc/)