Fun is Primary Target at Topgolf

By local contributor
Tom Mackin

Even though I have been to the Topgolf facility in Scottsdale four times in the past year, it’s still hard to describe. You can go there to hit golf balls, drink at three bars, eat at a restaurant, play non-golf games and listen to live music. The company refers to it as a sports entertainment venue. What it certainly is not is a typical driving range. There are no buckets of balls; instead each ball pops out of a machine on the ground of each hitting bay after you wave your club over a sensor. There are no random targets you just whack balls at. Instead, there are eight color-coded targets that range in distance from 25 yards to 215 yards; each time your ball lands (or bounces) in a target ring, you get a corresponding number of points.

And therein lies the genius of Topgolf: you’re competing against yourself or your friends without the formality of golf’s rules and having a blast while doing it. And drinking and eating and listening to music or watching a game on a nearby television. The only regret you may have? That you didn’t think of this concept first.

The centerpiece – I think – is the long green artificial turf fairway with those targets spread across it and guarded on three sides by a 100-foot net. I have seen all types of golf swings here. The good and the bad, the tipsy and the soda-infused. In the hitting bay next to you could be college coeds teetering on high heels or awkward couples on first dates. On an upper floor you may hear the roars from a bachelor or bachelorette party. Down the way could be a group of co-workers from a nearby office cheering or groaning over shot results. At the far end could even be a serious golfer with a full bag of clubs, perhaps tuning up for a tournament of some type, somewhere. And you’ll see little kids too, making their first golf swings ever.

That wide-ranging demographic fuels the facility’s popularity. Located just off the Loop 101 freeway and opened in June 2014, it sees some of the highest customer volume in the Topgolf network, which now includes 26 cities in 17 states with another eight more in six different states on the way. More than 1 million games (there are 10 varieties to choose from) were played between January and August this year alone at Scottsdale, during which 15 million golf balls were hit from the 102 bays on three floors. In 2015, its first full year of operation, there were 1.5 million games played and 22 million golf balls hit here.

Be warned though, that popularity comes with a price. The wait for a hitting bay on a Friday or Saturday night in peak season (September through April) could be from three to five hours. That’s why there’s a long list of other things to do: billiards, shuffleboard, Jenga, X-Box, cornhole, foosball and a ton of HD televisions can occupy that period before your tee time. So can those three bars and an above-average food menu that changes twice a year (try the pulled pork sliders but leave room for donut holes that you can inject with chocolate, raspberry or Bavarian cream). And there is either a DJ or live band playing music on the third floor terrace in peak season. Doors close at 2 a.m.

While I’ve visited at night – when the targets light up (sometimes in sync to music like ACDC’s “Thunderstruck”) and the exterior of the Talking Stick Resort sports its own kaleidoscope of varying lighting effects in the distance, my playing experience has come during the sunlight hours. It’s a little less expensive ($25 per hour before noon, $35 between noon and 5 p.m., and $45 after that) but I like the daytime mountain views, especially of Four Peaks in the distance.

So call Topgolf whatever you want.  Go for a beer. Eat with some friends. Hit some golf balls. Play a game or three. Pick your target and fire away.