November 29, 2018

A look inside as Topgolf prepares to open $12.5 million complex in Auburn Hills

by Kurt Nagl

Crain’s Detroit

New venue to open before end of year

Features 65,000-square-foot entertainment complex and driving range

Cost starts at $25 per hour for up to six people

Topgolf International Inc.’s new 65,000-square-foot entertainment complex and driving range in Auburn Hills is nearly ready.

Players will tee it up from the three-tiered hitting bays by the end of the year, the Dallas-based company promises. An exact date will be announced next week, said spokeswoman Morgan Wallace. Construction for the $12.5 million project started in January.

The new entrant into the local golf and entertainment market aims to bring a high-tech, glitzy twist to a sedate game at a time when golf is broadly declining in popularity.

A preview party Wednesday night attended by company executives, community dignitaries and an assortment of VIP guests, including members of the Detroit Pistons, offered a look at what will be on offer.

Wallace said around 500 people have been hired at the venue.

With 40 locations around the country and 15 more planned, Topgolf has become a popular destination for many. This will be the first in Michigan, although the company opened one of its Swing Suites in MGM Grand Detroit last year.

“This is unbelievable,” said Luke Schuett, of Grand Blanc, as he tried out the range Wednesday. “It’s a cool concept that I think will do well here.”

Located at I-75 and Joslyn Road, the complex’s driving range backs up to the freeway with towering poles and netting. A total of 102 climate-controlled hitting bays promise comfortable play year-round, while 270 big-screen TVs, food and alcohol will keep nongolfers entertained. There’s also 3,000 square feet of event space.

A new look on the range

The driving range isn’t your typical empty field marked with a handful of flags. It stretches 205 yards and is surrounded by 175-foot-tall netting. Throughout the range, there are circular targets in the ground designed as dart board-like greens that players aim at and earn points depending on where the balls land. Two massive video boards are set up at the back of the range to play anything from football games to music videos.

Each ball has a microchip that tracks location and distance, with results displayed on screens at each bay. Players take turns playing one of nine different games in a sequence akin to bowling.

Players are charged hourly, and the cost depends on time of day. It is $25 total per hour to rent a hitting bay from 9 a.m. to noon for up to six players. The cost is $35 from noon to 5 p.m. and $45 from 5 p.m. until the venue closes, usually midnight or 1 a.m. Hours have not been finalized.

There is also a “fast pass” system during busier times that allows groups to jump to the front of a line for a bay by paying more money. In addition, several private bays can be rented out for parties, business meetings or other events.

Inside, there is private dining space and a full bar with nine large-screen televisions and a dozen beers on tap, including offerings from Bell’s Brewery and Founders Brewing Co.

Topgolf enters the market during a general decline in the popularity of golf around the country. In Michigan — a destination for the sport which boasts some of the highest-ranking courses in the country — a lack of business has forced scores of courses to close. At the same time, “concept venues” — think gimmicks like fowling and axe throwing — are flourishing. Topgolf is marketing itself to both golfers and those seeking new, unusual experiences.

Topgolf was founded in the United Kingdom in 2000. The company says its locations average 35,000 visits per day and 13 million customers per year. It has locations in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, New Jersey, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California, as well as in the U.K. and plans for Canada, Mexico and United Arab Emirates.