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New spin on golf attracts fans of all kinds, grows game

PHOTO/BRENT FUCHS Topgolf, such as this one in Oklahoma City, adds entertainment and competition to a session at the driving range.

One day in the 1990s, twins Steve and Dave Jolliffe headed to a driving range in a suburb of London to work on their swings.

Looking for a way to make the experience more exciting and competitive, the brothers conceived of the idea to install a microchip in the golf ball to track the accuracy and distance of their shots.

In 1997, the Jolliffes united business efforts with friend Jeff Emerson and World Golf Systems was born with the goal of developing that perfect microchipped golf ball.

After two years of testing and perfecting, WGS fine-tuned its I.D. Ball System, which allowed for golf balls to be tracked using radio-frequency identification while still performing to the same high standards as nonchipped balls.

Committed to the Jolliffes’ desire to make the driving range experience more entertaining, WGS combined its I.D. Ball System with sensor targets to fully develop the Topgolf game concept, and the first Topgolf location opened in 2000 in Watford, England.

COMPETITION, ENTERTAINMENT

Five years later, Topgolf made its way to North America with the opening of Topgolf Alexandria in Virginia. Additional investors became involved as the business expanded.

Today, WestRiver Group, Callaway, Dundon and Providence Equity are the lead investors.

“It wasn’t until Topgolf expanded to the U.S. in 2005 when our strategy broadened to reach beyond the traditional golf community,” said Topgolf chief operating officer Craig Kessler.

Part driving range, part arcade game, Topgolf marries the competitiveness of golf to the comforts of an entertainment destination.

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

28 U.S. LOCATIONS

Topgolf has 31 locations, 28 in the U.S., with at least 12 more American locations planned. More than 10.5 million visitors participated at Topgolf in 2016.

While little or no golf skill is required for someone to enjoy Topgolf, the games at each stall are designed to be competitive for even the most skilled golfers.

The variety of games will challenge any golf skill level.

“We have made golf accessible to all ages and skill levels, eliminating some of the traditional barriers to entry for the game,” Kessler said. “… You can wear what you want, cheer as loudly as you want or play as long or as little as you want.

“You don’t have to invest in equipment because we provide everything you need.”

RESTAURANTS, OTHER ACTIVITIES

Topgolf offers more than just golf games.

Additional attractions at the Oklahoma City location, for example, include a restaurant, multiple lounges, bar areas, complimentary pool tables, shuffleboard, foosball, Xbox Kinect and a rooftop terrace with a stage for bands or a disc jockey. At Topgolf Las Vegas, two swimming pools are available.

Fees vary by location. Topgolf requires everyone to buy a membership, with prices starting at $5.

The next step is bay rental, an hourly fee, and each bay can accommodate up to six people.

500 JOBS AT EACH LOCATION

Topgolf adds wealth to the community beyond providing entertainment.

“On average, a venue creates $264.5 million in economic output to the local community over a 10-year period,” Kessler said. “In addition, 500 new jobs are created per venue, including 125 full-time positions.”

For cities without a Topgolf location, there’s Topgolf Crush, a traveling tour set “pop-up” style in stadiums. The Crush launch site was at Safeco Field in Seattle in February, and the tour visited Orlando’s Camping World Stadium in March.

INROADS IN NEW JERSEY

The December 2016 opening of the Edison, N.J., location marked the beginning of Topgolf’s emergence in the Northeast. Another New Jersey location is planned for Mount Laurel near Philadelphia and could open late this year.

“It is our hope that Topgolf Edison will establish our brand presence throughout New Jersey and New York City and build brand recognition for future openings in the tri-state area,” Kessler said.

Topgolf has attracted the attention of the traditional golf world, including the PGA Tour and LPGA.

“We’ve teamed up with PGA Tour and LPGA to create new golf fans, participants and enthusiasts … ,” Kessler said. “Our partnership has enabled us to reach audiences we might not reach or connect with otherwise.”

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