The Dallas Morning News

Clubcorp-owned Bigshots Golf is opening its first Texas location to compete with Topgolf.

Tech-driven entertainm­ent venue takes aim at Topgolf as 1st Texas facility debuts

- By DOM DIFURIO Staff Writer ddifurio@dallasnews.com

Clubcorp-owned Bigshots Golf is opening its first Texas location this weekend as the company rolls out its vision for an alternativ­e to the popular Topgolf experience.

The new venue — north of Fort Worth at the intersecti­on of Interstate 35 and State Highway 114 — will offer tech-driven golf entertainm­ent and food that includes guilty pleasure dishes like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos mozzarella bites and, of course, cocktails and local craft beers.

It will feature virtual games suitable for kids, which are similar in mechanics but still unique compared to those offered at Topgolf, as well as balltracki­ng technology for serious golfers to analyze and perfect their game.

But can Bigshots take on the already entrenched Topgolf, which has more than 60 venues across the globe?

Dallas-based Clubcorp CEO David Pillsbury believes it can.

The expansion of Bigshots in Texas has been in the plan since Clubcorp, the largest owner of private golf courses in the U.S., bought a controllin­g interest in the company in 2018. And there’s a reason why Bigshots is opening its first Texas location north of Fort Worth near Texas Motor Speedway and not Dallas where Clubcorp is headquarte­red or in downtown Fort Worth.

It’s focused on opening locations in places where Topgolf hasn’t already entered the market. Pillsbury calls it a “land grab.”

“You can overcompli­cate the strategy, [but] it’s not that complicate­d. You go where people want entertainm­ent,” Pillsbury said.

Bigshots debuted in Vero Beach, Fla., in 2018. The Fort Worth location will be the company’s second venue, although another Texas location is expected to open in Bryan by the end of 2021.

Clubcorp is banking on its history of providing world-class club experience­s translatin­g over to Bigshots. One area where Pillsbury thinks Bigshots stands out is in the high-end foodservic­e it can offer.

Clubcorp’s relationsh­ip with the PGA and its history in the golfing space backs up a vision that it shares

with Callaway-owned Topgolf — that its venues could help attract younger audiences to the sport of golf.

The company recently struck a five-year deal with the PGA Tour to host the AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch in Mckinney beginning this year.

“There’s a ton of friction [for new golfers to get into the sport]. And we have done a relatively poor job as an industry of removing that friction,” Pillsbury said. “Now we’re very focused on that.”

Leadership challenge

The opening in Fort Worth comes just months after Bigshots CEO Tony Wehner left the company to become chief operating officer at Main Event, the chain of family entertainm­ent centers with everything from bowling and laser tag to minigolf and rock climbing.

Pillsbury described Wehner’s abrupt departure after only a year as

“very strange” and “awkward.”

“It’s still a bit of a mystery why Tony left,” Pillsbury said. “Tony did some really good things while he was here, and we appreciate his tenure.”

Pillsbury took the helm at Bigshots while it searches for Wehner’s successor.

“It is what it is and we move forward — and we’re excited about our future,” Pillsbury said.

Pandemic setbacks

Bigshots Golf franchisee O’reilly Hospitalit­y, a hotel management group based in Missouri, broke ground on constructi­on of the Fort Worth venue in October 2019. Like a number of Bigshots’ planned locations, constructi­on was held up by the pandemic as Clubcorp pulled back on expenditur­es to survive.

“We were concerned about the viability of the mothership Clubcorp. We had to first be sure that we were

going to make it,” Pillsbury said.

The pandemic also brought a legal challenge for Clubcorp in Southern California, where members of its private clubs sued over charges the company continued to collect while the facilities were shut down. Pillsbury declined to comment on the litigation, citing company policy.

More than half of the company’s revenue comes from membership dues at Clubcorp’s golf courses and clubs, Pillsbury said. In order to stay afloat, the company wanted members to keep paying membership fees in exchange for one-for-one credit that could be spent at its clubs upon reopening, he said.

“99.9% of the people loved it,” Pillsbury said. “There was nothing malicious about what we did. We’re trying to stay in business and it’s your choice whether or not you want to continue to pay dues.”

 ?? Bigshots Golf ?? Bigshots debuted in Vero Beach, Fla., in 2018. The Fort Worth location, which has been delayed by the pandemic but opens this weekend, will be the company’s second venue.
Bigshots Golf Bigshots debuted in Vero Beach, Fla., in 2018. The Fort Worth location, which has been delayed by the pandemic but opens this weekend, will be the company’s second venue.

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