Seattleites got a taste of Topgolf this weekend at Safeco Field.
Topgolf, the high-tech golf entertainment complex operator, brought a “pop-up” version of its driving range-meets-bowling-alley concept to Seattle on President’s Day weekend. It is the company’s first-ever “Crush” event, which lets people experience what Topgolf is all about in cities that don’t have a permanent Topgolf facility.
GeekWire checked out the action on Friday evening. We entered Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, on the 200-level at the First Base Terrace Club, where Topgolf set up several pods on top of the stadium seats for attendees to take golf shots and aim at six targets set up across the baseball field.
This is not your typical driving range. There were people hooting and hollering after hitting good shots; the drinks were flowing at the bar; and the DJ was bumping tunes all night. Attendees ranged from golfers who play on a regular basis to groups of 20-somethings that were just enjoying a Friday night while taking some swings.
The vibe reminded me much of my experience at the new Topgolf in Hillsboro, Ore., which opened this past summer and is Topgolf’s first Northwest facility.
“I was here at 9 a.m. and we already had people drinking beers and hitting golf balls,” Topgolf Entertainment Group CEO Erik Anderson told GeekWire. “It’s intended to be fun.”
One key part about Topgolf is the technology. Each shot is tracked by sensors and tracers, and golfers score points based on how close they come to the targets and how far they are hitting the ball.
At Topgolf’s traditional facilities, the balls are equipped with RFID chips; Topgolf Crush is different because it uses Protracer cameras to track shots from each bay based on accuracy and distance. This lets golfers see the flight path of their golf ball in real time on TV screens. It’s the result of Topgolf’s acquisition of Protracer last year and has yet to be rolled out at other Topgolf facilities.
We shared our bay with folks from a local radio station, as well as Tennessee Titans nose tackle Austin Johnson, who was in town visiting friends. It was fun watching people take swings, high-fiving each other after good shots and sharing a little trash talk when necessary.
The Topgolf experience is fun and entertaining even for those who don’t play traditional golf on a regular basis. The secret sauce seems to be a combination of being able to score points, having food and drink readily available, and a general party vibe, all of which creates a unique atmosphere.
“It’s not like going to the driving range and seeing how many balls you can hit by yourself,” Anderson noted.
Next stop for Topgolf Crush is Orlando next month. The pop-up concept seems to be a win-win for Topgolf and venue operators — the company gets to have people try Topgolf, while a team like the Seattle Mariners can utilize its stadium during the offseason.
The Crush concept also creates ways for Topgolf to sell advertising and merchandise.
Anderson said there will be 14 million visits to more than 30 Topgolf facilities this year. He added that the company is in discussions with a few groups interested in helping open a permanent complex in the Seattle region, where there are plenty of golfers and many beautiful courses.
“We have to find 12 acres of real estate, which is a little tricky in a growing, booming city like Seattle,” Anderson said. “But we’re optimistic that we’ll get here in the next couple of years.”
Here’s what the traditional facilities look like:
After two brothers launched Topgolf in the U.K. 16 years ago, the company partnered with investors like the WestRiver Group to help bring Topgolf to the U.S. in 2005. Anderson, who is based in Seattle, is president of WestRiver Group and also chairman of Topgolf International, one of three divisions of the Topgolf Entertainment Group.