Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Will TopGolf Revolutionize the Driving Range Experience?

The executive golf course a block from TGA HQ has had some controversy the last few weeks and it’s an interesting discussion about the future of golf.

The Lakes at El Segundo is a city-owned facility that sits on land donated by the nearby Chevron oil refinery.  The site boasts a fun and quick executive course (Par 29), good practice facilities including a two-tiered driving range and a decent 19th Hole.  It’s developed such a family-friendly environment that it doesn’t make sense for my company TGA Premier Junior Golf to partner with them because their junior programs are always sold out.

A few weeks ago the Daily Breeze broke the story that city officials were strongly considering replacing the practice facilities, clubhouse and restaurant with a concept called TopGolf.  This is a brief description from TopGolf’s website:

TopGolf is the premier golf entertainment complex where the competition of sport meets your favorite neighborhood bar. The fun is in the innovative and addicting point-scoring golf games that anyone can play. Just picture a 240 yard outfield with dartboard like targets in the ground. The closer to the center and the further out you get, the more points you receive. Add in an awesome menu and refreshing cocktails, and TopGolf is far from your average bar or golf complex. It’s not golf – it’s TopGolf.

TopGolf's concept of a driving range with targets for points
Bringing in TopGolf would also require eliminating one hole and restructuring two others.  It would be a major overhaul of The Lakes and initial estimates put the cost at $15 million.

The city says that it is necessary because the facility is losing money.  According to sources, the range does $700,000 in annual sales which is almost certainly profitable.  I drive past the course every morning and evening (and often during lunch and other times of the day) and it is always packed – like, two groups waiting on each tee packed.  If The Lakes at El Segundo is losing money, I worry about the future of all executive courses – which is concerning as I believe these types of facilities are an important part of the game’s future.

I’ve heard great things about TopGolf.  It looks like a fun, social and cost-effective way to enjoy the game in a timely manner.  You don’t have to be a good player to enjoy hitting balls.  As their website says, it’s like bowling with your friends – throw a gutter ball and no one cares… have a good laugh and another sip of your drink.  These are the types of innovative approaches we need to make golf more inviting and enjoyable.  Whether or not TopGolf is successful will depend on a variety of factors, but conceptually I think it’s fantastic.

TopGolf's "About Us" page where pics sum up the philosophy
However, The Lakes is a bad fit for it. This is one of the short courses that gets it right with their focus on families, timely enjoyment of the game and integrating with the community.  The foot-traffic at the facility and the harsh response to the city’s decision is evidence that the community doesn’t want to see this change. Thankfully it seems as though the message has been said and heard.

Short courses have been the hardest hit by the downturn in the golf industry.  While I believe TopGolf would be a failure at The Lakes, there are many other facilities that could be great spots for them.  I hope TopGolf is successful growing their business and I applaud their innovative and much-needed approach to growing the game.

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