GOLF can be stuffy. It can be intimidating. It can be expensive. And perhaps even boring to those who haven’t played before but just watched from afar.
Certainly, it's not competing with sports like soccer, tennis or even swimming in getting kids involved at a young age.
And unless you’re a golfer, television is unlikely to draw you into the game.
Enter TopGolf a new form of driving range which has taken America by storm with over 20 centres built in just a few years and countless more planned.
Next year, Australia will have its first centre on the Gold Coast and as part of a temporary stay in Fort Worth, Texas, (we're starting our first project in the US at Shady Oaks), my colleague Jason and I took a drive to Dallas to see what the fuss was about.
On entering, TopGolf looks more or less like a driving range but rather than the traditional method of buying a bucket of balls with a set number of shots you instead pay for time in a bay.
Whether you have 10 people or two it doesn’t cost any more so it caters for groups especially well. Behind the bays you have somewhere to relax between shots plus a full service bar and food - with waitresses of course.
Music plays constantly so it has a party atmosphere, and at $20 to $40 an hour depending on time of day, it’s a pretty cheap party.
Pros are available for lessons but from what we saw TopGolf appeals more to those wanting an hour's fun rather than dedicated practice.
Interestingly, the original idea for TopGolf stems from a couple of brothers who were trying to add a bit of interest to their regular sessions at the local range. In their words, they were tired of just ‘aimlessly swatting balls’.
The range is set up with nine different targets which are essentially circular depressions in the ground of varying sizes – typically, the further away the larger they are.
The targets look a little like a dartboard with more points awarded the closer to the bullseye.
Microchips have been added to the balls so the system can work out which shot belongs to which player (there are literally hundreds of balls flying out into the range at any one time) and you get some feedback on distance and score with each shot.
Jason and I initially played a points game taking it in turns to shoot to different targets – the harder the shot the more points were on offer.
But there are other games available – pitting yourself against the rest of the centre, trying to best your past scores and so on.
In some ways it feels a little like going ten pin bowling. Hit a few shots then sit down and have a drink and watch the tv (or your partners attempts to beat you).
It's a lot of fun and a great hour or two out with the family or friends ... or even a first date (it's supposedly the number one destination!)
Rather cleverly, the ground slopes forward slightly up to the first few targets so even a duff will run and be unlucky if it doesn’t find one of the targets.
Because of this, TopGolf is still fun for the first time or casual golfer and in fact you could see a good player losing to a hacker if they greedily aim for the end targets and miss.
Whilst TopGolf may not appeal to the traditionalists it is managing to attract people to the game who otherwise would never put a club in their hand.
In an era when everyone seems to be talking of growing the game, this is a business that’s clearly doing it.
And whilst it's sure to not be seen by some as ‘proper’ golf, how can it be a bad thing?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mike Cocking is an architect and partner with one of Australia's leading golf design firms - Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead. Click here for OCCM's website
Mike is currently spending his time at Peninsula – Kingswood CGC on major course improvements – a project especially dear to his heart, having joined the club as a 15 year old and representing the club for almost two decades.
After completing a Bachelors degree in Environmental Engineering in 1998, Mike gained a scholarship with the Victoria Institute of Sport's golf program.
Over the next few years he represented Victoria and Australia in various team events, winning a number of major competitions including the 2000 Victorian Amateur Championship. Travelling extensively for competition play also allowed Mike the opportunity to seek out and study many of the world’s best courses.
His passion for the game and his inquisitive nature fuelled his interest in golf course architecture, and in 2000 he launched his career as a designer. Major projects have included redesigns at Bonnie Doon (Sydney), RACV Healesville, RACV Torquay and Royal Canberra.
Mike is also a keen artist and a selection of artwork can be found on his website.