Golf for mil­len­ni­als: fast, ar­cade style and boozy

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

build in Na­tional Har­bor, where it plans to one day re­lo­cate its Alexan­dria lo­ca­tion.

“Our core busi­ness is re­ally nice,” Top­golf CEO Erik An­der­son said. “If you go from 30 to 40 in a year, that’s 33 per­cent. So that’s pretty good.”

“Clearly we have struck a chord with mil­len­ni­als,” he added.

At Top­golf, cus­tomers can play a num­ber of games, but in the most com­mon one they hit golf balls with a mi­crochip in­side to mea­sure the dis­tance it trav­els into a field of roughly five tar­gets. The far­ther the ball flies - if it hits a tar­get - the more points. The far­thest tar­get, at the back wall, is about 215 yards from the tee box.

While one per­son is play­ing, the rest of the group can carouse at a ta­ble just be­hind the tee box, or­der­ing food and drinks from wait staff. And Top­golf hopes its guests will down­load its app to track their scores over time - and of course take lots of pho­tos to share on so­cial me­dia.

“The way they pro­vide en­ter­tain­ment is rev­o­lu­tion­ary,” said Ni­cholas M. Watan­abe, a sports and en­ter­tain­ment man­age­ment pro­fes­sor at Uni­ver­sity of South Carolina. “They have taken the idea of sports en­ter­tain­ment and put it into golf. It’s like hav­ing the ‘Happy Gil­more’ crowd [be] into golf with­out be­ing in ‘Happy Gil­more.’”

Top­golf also has an el­e­ment of the coun­try club ex­pe­ri­ence, where peo­ple pay up front for a mem­ber­ship and can bring guests. The com­pany, which is pri­vate, de­clined to pro­vide any fi­nan­cial fig­ures. Per per­son, it costs $8 a game. A cheese­burger costs about $12, and the cheap­est pitcher of beer is $15. It says that more than 10 mil­lion peo­ple played at its sites in 2016.

Sameer Gupta, 18 and a fresh­man at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia, said he plays a de­cent amount of golf, but he goes to Top­golf with his friends be­cause of the at­mos­phere.

“It’s a place where a lot of kids just so­cial­ize and hang out, apart from the golf,” he said. It’s also fun, and “gives peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to play with­out judg­ment.”

The com­pany does a Top­golf tour, which con­sists of two-player teams in a brack­et­style tour­na­ment, which cul­mi­nates at the com­pany’s Las Ve­gas lo­ca­tion. The win­ners get $50,000.

Top­golf’s suc­cess doesn’t seem to re­flect the broader for­tunes of the game. Ac­cord­ing to Matt Pow­ell, a sports in­dus­try an­a­lyst at the NPD Group, a mar­ket re­search com­pany, mil­len­ni­als been slow to pick up the game. Af­ter three rough years, sales are down 20 per­cent this year.

Mil­len­ni­als seem turned away by the ex­pense of the game (which can cost hun­dreds of dol­lars in lessons, clubs, gear, course fees) and time re­quired to play (four to five hours for a round). It’s also a fussy game with a lot of rules, and not par­tic­u­larly suited for large groups.

An­der­son said he saw those ob­sta­cles when he first got in­volved with Top­golf, and the com­pany works around a lot of those draw­backs.

“This was an au­then­tic golf ex­pe­ri­ence that would en­tice a lot of peo­ple and re­move a lot of the bar­ri­ers,” he said.

So can Top­golf bridge en­list mil­len­ni­als to save the sport?

Chad McEvoy, an avid golfer and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor at North­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­sity, sees lin­ger­ing chal­lenges.

“The trick is sort of con­ver­sion,” he said. “Let’s just say some­one has fun at Top­golf and goes to play 18 holes the first time. Will they be turned off by the lack of mu­sic and the no-wait staff? That might be a tough ob­sta­cle to over­come if you think about the in­dus­try try­ing to con­vert those peo­ple to reg­u­lar golfers.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.