Worth the drive An inside look – Golf balls are taking flight at a sprawling new Topgolf sports and entertainment venue that opened on Friday, just a short drive from Boeing’s aeroplane assembly plant in Renton, Wash.
Topgolf Renton-Seattle is the company’s 78th location and the first in Washington state, and golfers of all skill levels flocked to the venue during a heat wave to smack golf balls, play games, eat, drink, and soak up the atmosphere. [Worth the drive An inside look]
Toptracer, a ball-tracing technology, is used by Topgolf to power the tech-enabled driving range experience. Each ball hit from one of 102 different bays on three levels is tracked by cameras, which instantly relay stats like speed and distance to video monitors. Golfers can play games like “Angry Birds” or “Jewel Jam,” or they can pretend to shoot on famous courses all over the world.
However, being a good golfer is not standard operating procedure.
“75% of the people who come in here don’t consider themselves golfers or have never swung a golf club before,” Paul Howard, the facility’s director of operations, told Tech News Forum during a tour. “It’s a common misconception that Topgolf is only about golf. It’s more about having fun and socialising with friends.
“And obviously all of this,” he added, pointing to the more than 65,000 square feet of space, which includes numerous bars, outdoor patios, lounge areas, private meeting rooms, an executive conference room, three indoor Swing Suite simulator bays, and other amenities.
Top golf arrives as the Seattle area’s tech-enabled golf culture grows. In March, Five Iron Golf, a high-tech indoor golf experience with ten other locations in the United States, opened in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood. Macklemore, who also owns the golf fashion store Bogey Boys, has invested in Five Iron and will serve as a brand ambassador.
Renton is one of two “prime” Topgolf locations, which means it has more bells and whistles than one of the company’s standard locations.
The ground floor has a skylit central atrium architectural design and two massive video screens for broadcasting whatever major sporting event is on television. A retail store, main bar, shuffleboard, air hockey, and foosball tables are available. Outside, there are more TVs, games, and fire pits on each level’s patio.
The venue can hold hundreds of people, and Howard expects them to get close this weekend, as reservations for Saturday are already sold out. Topgolf accepts walk-ins and also hosts special events.
“From Johnny’s 10th birthday party for two [hitting] bays to Boeing buying out the entire building,” Howard explained.
The location, 30 minutes south of Seattle, feels “centrally located,” according to Howard, and Topgolf is confident it will attract customers from all over the state, as well as from the major tech companies in the Puget Sound region.
“People will drive two to three hours just to get to Topgolf and have that experience,” Howard said. “We might have visitors from Vancouver, British Columbia.”
The arrival of top golf in Renton is the latest sign of change in this manufacturing-based Seattle suburb. Tech News Forum spent time here in 2018 documenting the city’s history and future plans. Top golf is only a 3-minute drive from the new Southport complex, a sprawling property along Lake Washington with over 700,000 square feet of available office space.
Topgolf Renton, which will employ 500 people, is also close to The Landing, a sprawling shopping and dining complex that opened in 2007.
Phil Vannavong drove down from Marysville, Washington, to the new Topgolf. The government engineer brought seven friends to play with him. He’d been to Topgolf in Austin and Las Vegas before and was relieved to find a location closer to Portland. He planned to visit Renton once a month.
“They’re not working… or they’re supposed to be!” he laughed as his friends listed their places of employment, which included Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Compass.
Andrew Irvin of Puyallup, Washington, was having fun with his wife Vanessa and their two young sons, Jordan and Trey.
“You don’t have to be a golfer to play here,” Irvin explained. “You can have fun without everyone criticising your swing. You get your own bay and can do whatever you want with it.”
On Thursday, I took my own swings (see tweet below) from a bay on the third level. I hit 40 balls in an hour using a driver from the selection of clubs provided and worked up a good sweat trying to reach the farthest targets on the range. The ability to watch the trajectory of my ball on a nearby screen and get the distance for each shot piqued my interest.
I had a drink and some tasty “cheesy mac bites” between swings while watching golf balls fly in all directions.
Misty Skeeter of Kent, Washington, had never played golf before and brought her three children, Malaysia Myres, Jamaica Myres, and Nekaylah Skeeter. Jordyn Lewis, Jamaica’s girlfriend, attended Garfield High School in Seattle.
Malaysia discovered Topgolf via Instagram, and her mother reserved a couple of hours.
“It was a lot of fun,” Misty Skeeter said. “It was a little difficult figuring out how to hit it or aiming at what you’re supposed to aim at. But it was entertaining.”
Joe Lynch of West Seattle and his friend Jon Blevins of Bothell, Washington, were “playing” Pebble Beach while drinking beers. Blevins has previously played Topgolf in Arizona, Las Vegas, and at Google’s Kirkland Urban campus east of Seattle’s “Lounge by Topgolf” indoor facility.
“I drive hours for golf anyway,” Blevins said when asked if he’ll make the trip to Renton on a regular basis. He’s drawn to the technology, the convenience of having drinks and food all in one place, and the party atmosphere for both golfers and non-golfers. “It’s great for kids or friends on a day out.”
When asked if Topgolf is a place where he can improve his golf game, Lynch said it’s more for fun.
“You’re not working on your game after a couple of these,” he laughed, pointing to their pitcher of beer.