Food, drink, swing speed technology and incredible popularity… Topgolf is the future and it’s for the people the sport forgot
- Topgolf attracts a diverse mix of people and shows a welcome innovative edge
- Each bay contains an area where you can eat and drink at a driving range
- Clubs and balls are supplied, as is the technology showing your swing speed
- Last month, it announced a $2billion merger with Callaway and is still growing
During the 84th Masters, I got a glimpse into the future of golf — but it wasn’t at Augusta National.
Barely a mile from the entrance to Magnolia Lane, past restaurants containing few diners and across the street from a cinema with a near-empty car park, there was a brand new Topgolf facility which truly was a sight to behold.
The first eye-opener was being told we’d have a wait of approximately 45 minutes for use of one of the driving bays. You’ve got a town that’s deserted. How can that be? Then you looked to your left and right — and each bay, containing as many as six people, was occupied.
Topgolf is exploding in popularity and there is a diverse clientele who enjoy it
The biggest jaw-dropper was the audience. My two golf-writing colleagues and myself were just about the only members present from what you might call the sport’s traditional core constituency — oldish, white and male.
Everyone else looked under 40, and most were considerably younger than that. Most heartening was the significant number representing those sections of the human race that golf forgot, and notably in Augusta — black people and females.
So, is this the new Friday night in America? Forget the movies and 10-pin bowling, let’s head on down to the golf?
If you’re unfamiliar with the Topgolf idea, it’s quite a bit different from your typical driving range. Each bay contains an area where you can eat and drink. Clubs and balls are supplied, as is the technology showing your swing speed — how on earth does Bryson DeChambeau get up to 211mph? — and how far your shots are travelling into the floodlit ether. Points are awarded each time you hit a target, so you can have a game against your mates.
Looking down the bays, it was clear the concept appealed to golfers and raw recruits alike. On one side we had a group where one girl had a swing that looked like she belonged on tour, and another whose first three attempts were air shots.
On the other, three young black guys who were all beginners. They were just messing around for the most part, until one had his moment of epiphany, catching the sweetspot with a drive and the look of rapture on his face said it all: he’ll be back.
There were large screens showing evening highlights from the Masters, but hardly anyone was watching. I’d wager a goodly number present had never heard of the man who would end the week in a green jacket.
Topgolf started on this side of the Atlantic in Watford 20 years ago and got a sniffy reception from the industry when it began. You could say times have changed. Last month, it announced a $2billion merger with Callaway.
On the back of the boom in participation levels, Callaway CEO Chip Brewer said the plan was to move from 58 sites at present to more than 200 in the near future. More are likely in Britain to complement the three currently dotted around London.
The future of golf? For young people in the age of the virus, it’s clearly a perfect night out.
Topgolf started on this side of the Atlantic in Watford and has exploded in popularity
NO SWING IN FORM FOR RICKY
Not every high-profile player who changed their swing during lockdown came up smelling of roses. Buried amid the hype surrounding Bryson DeChambeau’s change of method and body shape has been Rickie Fowler’s alarming decline.
Fowler took the bold decision to change swing coach at the end of last year and came out after the resumption with high hopes.
Sadly, there has been no discernible improvement in his results to this point. Just the opposite, in fact. The Californian has played in 18 consecutive tournaments without so much as a top-10 finish and is now on the brink of falling outside the world’s top 50 for the first time in a decade.
That’s quite some fall for a man who won six times between 2015 and 2017 after finishing in the top five in all four majors in 2014.
Rickie Fowler has been in an alarming decline after deciding to change his swing coach
It’s another illustration that while golf might be the slowest of games, it has a fast-changing landscape. Who could have imagined just five years ago that Jordan Spieth and Fowler, back then the two golden boys of American golf, would both be ranked outside the top 50 and all but forgotten heading into 2021?
At 27 and 31 respectively, it’s too glib and easy to say they will be back. It’s certainly the hope given they’re two of the game’s nice guys.
The bald truth, however, in a mentally shattering game, is it’s far from a given.
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