As a Seattle-area golfer, I have to admit to suffering a bit of FOMO when it comes to the increasingly popular high-tech Topgolf driving ranges springing up around the country. For those unfamiliar, they’re like glitzy bowling alleys with flashy targets, RFID-enabled balls and computer screens to track their flight, all letting you play a variety of games along with monitoring all sorts of stats like driving distance.
But my fear of missing out has been a bit allayed thanks to the new Toptracer Range system that quietly debuted at Seattle’s Puetz Golf Superstore this week.
Toptracer Range, owned by Topgolf, features video monitors mounted in the traditional driving range bay. They’re connected to cameras on the roof that track the flight of your ball and replicate it on the screen, along with a dizzying array of stats. It’s sort of like a cross between Topgolf and a simulator.
Toptracer Range features a number of modes and games, much like at Topgolf. For the serious golfer looking to focus on practice, there’s the driving range and “What’s In Your Bag.” I loved both of these features. They track things like total distance, carry, ball speed, launch and hang time. And in the “What’s In Your Bag” mode, you tell it what club you’re hitting and it then gives you the average of numerous swings, to help you get a true picture of how far you really hit it (one warning: this can be a humbling experience for those who’ve deluded themselves into thinking they drive the ball much farther than they really do).
What’s made Topgolf so popular is its appeal to casual and serious golfers alike, and Toptracer Range goes a long way in bringing that to the standard range. I really enjoyed one of the games that lets you accrue points by hitting at selected targets. The closer you get, the more you score – much like shuffleboard. There’s also long drive, closest to the pin and simulated course modes to spur competition for up to four players.
You can even sync Toptracer Range to an app (iOS and Android) that lets you sign in with a QR code and track your sessions to see your progress, pay for your sessions and compete against others around the country.
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I found the system to be surprisingly responsive, quick and accurate. Once you hit a ball, its flight path shows up almost instantly on the screen, just like the tracer technology you see on the PGA Tour broadcasts on TV.
In fact, the technology is what CBS and other networks use for their broadcasts. Topgolf bought the company Protracer two years ago and has incorporated it into its offerings as the Dallas-based company becomes an increasingly dominant force in golf. The company and its technology are showcased in Golf Channel’s new Shotmakers competition, airing Monday and Tuesday nights through April 30.
For now, Puetz has installed 10 Toptracer Range systems at its flagship range and is offering use for free while it tests them out (you still have to pay for your range balls).
Pricing has yet to be determined, according to Puetz COO Dave Sanders. But it’ll be some type of time-based rental, he says, where up to four people can rent the stalls by the hour.
“We’re really excited,” he says. “We’d been looking to do something like this for several years and now the technology is finally far enough along where we can offer it affordably to our guests.”
One driving range in San Diego that installed Toptracer Range is charging $25 per hour with balls included, according to Golf Magazine. Considering a single bucket can cost up to $11, it seems like a fair price for the entertainment value.
If the early response is any indication, it should be a rousing success. I met a number of people who’ve returned multiple times to play Toptracer Range in the last week after discovering it. Puetz has yet to promote it.
While there are a number of indoor simulator options around town, there’s nothing like seeing your ball actually fly. And with the added layer of Toptracer Range, it makes the driving range far more enjoyable for practice or play. Now if Puetz could just figure out how to get a liquor license.