For weeks I’ve listened to friends gush and babble over TopGolf… this ‘cool, new futuristic place’ where you hit golf balls into high-tech holes… I’ve looked with suspicion on them all. I grew up in Naples, FL where the ratio of golf courses to residents was almost one-to- one yet I’ve never been to a driving range before. Never. Like many in my generation, I viewed golf as the sport for rich men who like wearing plaid. So it amazed me to see eyes gloss over at the mention of Tampa’s newest hangout.
A friend’s birthday brought me there. Even approaching TopGolf from I-75 produced giddiness; a curious theme park of flashing lights and screens. Soon I was elbow-to-elbow with a cross-section of humanity: moms herding kids, giggling teens, men with golf bags. All colors and all kinds of people dressed in all ways. This place attracted them all.
After my one-time payment for a membership card our group was led to the top floor where our bay waited complete with dining table, collection of clubs, putting green, and a smiley server. By swiping our cards, our names instantly appeared on the screens ready for the first person to take a shot. I grabbed a club I liked (just because it had the highest yard number on it) and stood at my bay’s green. The golf balls instantly appeared with a wave. It didn’t take long for the criticisms to fly.
“You’re not holding it correctly!”
“You need to squat more!”
“Turn your whole body!”
But these were just guesses. None of my friends had played golf either.
Standing at your bay’s edge is exhilarating. From above, below, and nearby you see golf balls shooting from scores of other bays at the same time all hoping to land in one of the flashing, ringed holes. The further holes are worth more points as well as landing closer to the center of the rings. As soon as your ball lands, your results instantly appear on the nearby screens. How does the machine know? Magic!
Half the time our golf balls briefly flew only to crash land upon leaving the bay. But it was so IN YO FACE when I managed to land in the hole. Ahem—I did better than expected.
It costs just $20-$40 per hour for the rental of one bay which can be divided among your group. TopGolf’s profit will most likely come from the food and drink sales (you will definitely crave something) which hovered around sports bar fare but didn’t wow us. There’s also a restaurant at the entrance but we didn’t try anything from there. Besides dining, other ways to escape your golfing party are from the scattered lounges where anyone can enter to relax at the couches or play Xbox Kinect or arcade games.
With a handful of locations around the country and plans to double, I totally understand its explosive expansion (Tampa is TopGolf’s only Florida presence). TopGolf is more than just some arcade, fun zone, one-time-and-you’re-good place. This doesn’t seem to be a fad. Most likely I’ll still never go to a real golf course and I still view it as a sport for plaid men, but I definitely had fun here and left with plans to return.
10690 Palm River Road