Can’t Top This

Topgolf Centennial is scheduled to open later this month. Let the games begin!

Two buddies are warming up on the practice range at Talking Stick Golf Resort in Scottsdale before beginning their round. One says to the other:

“You been to Topgolf yet? What a blast!”

The speaker was referring to the innovative recreational golf center located next door to Talking Stick Resort. And come late August, someone likely will be making the same comment when the first Colorado site, Topgolf Centennial, opens.
That’s because this is not an old-fashioned driving range where people mindlessly pound balls into the distance without regard for where they land. The “Top” in Topgolf, explains Kimbel Hice, assistant facility manager at Topgolf Scottsdale, stands for Target Oriented Practice. And the fun of it may be the salvation of the sport for generations that are not attracted to the traditional form.

So far, there are 13 Topgolf locations in six states, plus three in the United Kingdom, where it all began. By the end of 2016, another 12 Topgolf centers are scheduled to have opened across the United States—including the one at 10601 E. Easter Avenue, near the corner of East Arapahoe Road and South Havana Street in Centennial.

So what is Topgolf? One of the hosts at Topgolf Scottsdale, who prefers to go by only his fi rst name—Adam—puts it this way: “It’s bowling with bumpers.” Which is his way of saying not everyone who comes to Topgolf would qualify as even a passionate duffer, just as the patrons at your typical bowling alley aren’t all posting scores around 200.

“About half the people who come to a Topgolf location are not serious golfers,” echoes Casey Daniel, who will be in charge of Topgolf Centennial when it opens. Asked if she’s a golfer herself, Daniel responds: “I’m a Topgolfer.” She rarely gets out to a golf course more than once a year.

Daniel joined Topgolf eight years ago and opened five of the seven Texas locations before relocating to Denver, first to oversee the weather-delayed construction of the Centennial site then to become its Director of Operations. The site will employ 450, about a hundred of the jobs full-time.

“This is a place for people to come and have fun,” Daniel explains. “We get all ages, all skill levels—families, couples, company groups. It’s a great place for parties—kids’ birthday parties, company parties—any kind of party, really.”

That doesn’t mean serious golfers aren’t part of the mix, as well. That’s who gave birth to the idea in the first place.

As the story goes, brothers Steve and Dave Jolliffe were at a driving range in North London in 1997, and became dissatisfi ed with not knowing exactly how far their shots were flying nor how close to the flag stick they were landing. “Can’t we make this more fun?” they asked themselves.

They quickly came up with an approach that led to the formation of World Golf Systems and development of the I.D. Ball System and points-based target game concept that are the heart and soul of Topgolf. The fi rst Topgolf center opened in 2000, just outside London in Watford, and was followed in 2004 by one in Chigwell, England. The fi rst U.S. location opened in Alexandria, Virginia in 2005.

Following the blueprint of other Topgolf centers, Colorado’s first will feature a 65,000-foot, three-level structure with 34 hitting bays on each level, bars, food service, party rooms and an entertainment area with pool tables, electronic games and fl at screen TVs to occupy guests while they wait their turn. (On weekends, a four-hour wait is not unusual.) As in Scottsdale, the Centennial location will even have an area where a deejay can set up and encourage dancing when the bays are packed.

Each bay can seat up to 10 people, but accommodates only six golfers—a term that can mean grandma out with her grandkids, couples out for laughs, guys who also have a regular foursome at a course, and anyone else who can swing a club. Servers bring food and drink right to each bay. The menu is as hip as any trendy nightspot.

Just as bowlers can bring their custom balls or use “alley balls,” Topgolfers can bring their own clubs or use those that are provided. Unlike bowling, where every 10 frames constitute a line (game) and players are charged by the line, there is no charge for golf balls, number of games or number of players at Topgolf.

A bay rents by the hour, the cost varying by time of day, morning to late evening. During an hour, players can play as quickly or slowly as they choose, with pace of play dictated by laughs between shots, good-natured trash talk or a deliberate pre-shot routine.

A typical landing area (such as the one under construction in Centennial) is 215 yards long. It’s covered with synthetic-grass dotted with color-coded, circular targets, located at varying distances. Each target is divided into scoring areas, similar to a dartboard. Micro-chipped balls produced by Callaway Golf enable the tracking of every shot by each player.

Different target areas are utilized in different games that folks just out for a good time, as well as those who take it seriously, can choose to play. All involve accuracy, hence the “Target Oriented Practice” part of the name. Some examples:

In the signature game, called Topgolf, players score points by hitting balls into any target—the closer to the center of a target and the farther the distance, the more points earned.
For short-game fans, Topchip utilizes the three targets nearest the hitting bays. Each player gets five shots each at two of the targets, and 10 at the other. A shot that hits the correct target scores points; shots that hit the wrong target deduct points.

Toppressure requires a player to hit all nine sections of a given target, with penalties for hitting the same section more than once.

Topscramble is a two-player team game similar to a typical golf scramble. Others include Topscore and Topdrive, which reward distance as well as accuracy, and Topshot, an elongated version of Topchip.

Similar to bowling alleys, Topgolf organizes leagues with cash prizes for the more serious golfers. Topgolf also offers monthly memberships in four price ranges, membership cards, and discounts for children and members of the military (active-duty and veterans).

Whether golfers, Topgolfers or something in-between, everyone’s there to have fun. The format, environment and staff encourage that. As a way of building the number of golfers, Topgolf certainly serves as a cool, low-pressure introduction to a game people can eventually play on a course with their own equipment. Whether or not they will add significantly to Colorado’s roughly 440,000 golfers is anyone’s guess, but Topgolf Centennial does project revenues of $264.5 million over the next ten years.

And people will be having a blast.