Connecticut Post (Sunday)

Virtual golf lounges coming to Danbury, North Haven

- By Alexander Soule

More than two years after Red Robin bolted from Danbury Fair, the mall has teed up a replacemen­t tenant — a virtual golf entertainm­ent chain with existing locations in Orange and at the SportsPlex@Fairfield.

Golf Lounge 18 has bays equipped with TrackMan systems that allow golfers to simulate a round on virtual renderings of courses projected onto big screens. Many courses are renowned like Pebble Beach and Ridgewood Country Club — the New Jersey links, not the course in Danbury — and options include playing a rugged fictional course circling an extinct island volcano.

Food and drinks are served, with the venue available for private events like parties.

Golf Lounge 18 has yet to pin an opening date for this year at Danbury Fair mall, where Shake Shack is on the cusp of completing a newly built restaurant on the perimeter road, with LongHorn Steakhouse to follow. Newbury Comics opened in August overlookin­g the Danbury Fair food court, with Urban Outfitters currently fitting out the former Microsoft Store for a new location.

“I think they are getting creative with the spots they have vacant,” said P.J. Prunty, CEO of the Danbury Chamber of Commerce who reached out to Golf Lounge 18 after hearing about the concept to gauge their interest in the mall. “It’s not strictly retail — it’s experience.”

Danbury Fair is one of three new locales Golf Lounge 18 is planning, along with its first Massachuse­tts outlet at the Northshore Mall in Peabody and another in Connecticu­t. The company also has a location at The Westcheste­r Mall in White

Plains, N.Y., which carries higher rates than those at its Connecticu­t venues.

North Haven is about to get a virtual golf lounge from a different startup — Golf Cove, which uses simulators made by TruGolf. Golf Cove will be located at 336 State St. in North Haven. Co-owners Chris McDowell and Paul DeStefano indicated the venue is currently eyeing a mid-November opening.

Golf Lounge 18 CEO Ajit Padda said the company considered several markets for the next Golf Lounge 18, including South Norwalk at the new SoNo Collection mall. The company is hiring up to 10 staff in Danbury.

“Looking into the demographi­cs and looking into the number of golf courses in the area, that was a key factor,” said Padda, who lives in Trumbull.

Golf Lounge 18 emerged from a wish by Padda and his partners Ajay Gautam and Purnendu Kagtada to be able to play golf year round, with their homes lacking the space to accommodat­e a high-end simulator.

They chose the SportsPlex@Fairfield as their first location both for the array of businesses there catering to athletics — they include a rock-climbing center, ice rink and varying specialty sports and fitness studios — as well as for the close proximity to the train, allowing the partners to get some swings in on the commute home from day jobs in New York City.

For the new Danbury location, Padda said they were sold on the idea of the Red Robin space and an adjacent restaurant space occupied previously by a sushi bar. In addition to the commercial kitchen, the Danbury Fair mall space has the high ceilings needed to accommodat­e swing radius. And the storefront has an exterior entrance in addition to the interior mall entry, allowing patrons to unload clubs before parking at the adjacent mall garage.

Another potential benefit is the presence of Dick’s Sporting Goods at Danbury Fair, which has a large inventory of golf clubs and other gear. Dick’s uses the TrackMan system at its Danbury store as a tool to let buyers try out clubs in making a purchase decision.

In Fairfield and Orange, Golf Lounge 18 bay reservatio­ns are $45 an hour Monday through Thursday, and $60 on weekends. A typical round takes 90 minutes for two people and twice as long for a foursome.

Membership­s cost $600 a month at the Connecticu­t venues or $3,900 a year. Golf Lounge 18 also runs leagues in which pairs team up for a sevenweek schedule of different courses, at a cost of nearly $750.

Golfers can bring their own clubs or use the stock at Golf Lounge 18, which includes clubs for lefties.

In addition to Golf Cove landing in North Haven, existing virtual golf lounges in Connecticu­t include ZStrict at Chelsea Piers in Stamford, Brookfield Virtual Golf co-located at Maggie McFly’s Craft Eatery & Bar, Fore Seasons Golf Club in Bethany, CT Virtual Golf in Waterbury, Essex Indoor Golf, and Oakwood Virtual Golf in Glastonbur­y.

And several golf clubs, ranges and restaurant­s statewide have golf simulators, including Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantuck­et and Bobby V’s in Stamford.

Padda said that virtual golf is popular for both experience­d players and newbies — and in the case of the latter group, perhaps a particular­ly good option for those who might be embarrasse­d by a hook or shank onto an adjacent fairway, or having to stand aside so that faster groups can play through.

According to the National Golf Foundation, about 45 percent of the people who use golf simulators nationally do not play regularly if at all, giving some in the industry hope that the proliferat­ion of virtual golf centers will spur renewed interest in the real-life game.

The TrackMan system can be used to analyze a golfer’s swing, giving them the opportunit­y to tinker. Golf Lounge 18 also offers individual­ized instructio­n.

“You come here — there is no intimidati­on,” Padda said. “Fifteen TVs — you can watch a game, have a quick drink . ... We can have people feel comfortabl­e and try to pick up a club to swing a few — and if they like it, get into the mix.”

 ?? TrackMan / Contribute­d photo ?? A TrackMan golf simulator, the model that Golf Lounge 18 uses at its venues including one planned for late 2021 at Danbury Fair mall.
TrackMan / Contribute­d photo A TrackMan golf simulator, the model that Golf Lounge 18 uses at its venues including one planned for late 2021 at Danbury Fair mall.

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