For years, members of the golf community have hoped that Topgolf will be able to help grow the game — and help funnel new players onto green-grass golf courses.
But I, for one, did not expect it to happen so literally.
Enter Topgolf El Segundo. The first Topgolf in southern California is set to enter development this month. The site for the new double-decker range? A municipal golf course. (Another Topgolf is also being developed for nearby Ontario, Calif.)
As part of a deal with the city of El Segundo, Topgolf will assume operations of the 9-hole municipal course at The Lakes at El Segundo, which abuts the iconic Pacific Coast Highway. The footprint of the course itself will shrink slightly — the first and ninth holes will be shortened by a combined 100 yards — but it will undergo a renovation that includes lights for night golf and an enhanced pro shop and clubhouse. The facilities are scheduled to open in 2022.
At the risk of sounding like I’m doing PR for Topgolf, this seems awesome. Let’s run through the reasons why this plan is music to my ears:
For starters, night golf rules.
Secondly, Topgolf is very fun.
Third, the current golf course was in need of a revised business plan. The Lakes was losing $275,000/year, according to The Daily Breeze. Instead, the city will now turn a profit to the tune of $100 million over the next 50 years, according to the longest version of the proposed agreement. That includes lease payments, a percentage of beverage revenue and various tax payments to the city. The community could also gain more than 400 full-time jobs, according to Topgolf’s business plan.
If all goes according to plan, the proposed development is about as clear an example as you can get of a rising tide lifting all boats. People who love the golf course can continue to play on a revamped version. They can play at night, they can practice on putting and chipping greens (triple the size of the current footprint) and they can eat at a new restaurant at the clubhouse. People who love Topgolf get easy access to the new-age driving range/entertainment experience they’ve grown to love while also getting easy access to the “green-grass” experience of stepping onto a real golf course.
As someone who reads (and writes) an awful lot about city-owned golf, I can tell you that munis that take up significant acreage in urban areas are under increasing pressure to justify their existences by turning a profit. The opportunity cost of the land they occupy is exceptionally high, and eager developers are always waiting in the wings.
What has me most eager for the future of Topgolf El Segundo, though, is that I’ve seen a version of this model work just down the street from me. Interbay Golf Center is Seattle’s closest cousin to the model proposed here. The golf course at Interbay is a par-28 with tons of character. The double-decker range offers Toptracer in almost half its bays. The hot dogs in the cafe are addicting — and fairly priced! Eighteen holes of mini-golf rounds out the property’s offerings, which helps it appeal to a maximum variety of golfers, from experienced low-handicaps to first-timers.
The tee sheet is typically jammed, the Toptracer bays are a hot commodity and the range/course combo gives golfers the ability to choose: Play nine holes of “real” golf or stay dry and warm by playing 18 holes at Pebble Beach? It’s a revelation.
As a result, the clientele looks an awful lot more diverse than other sectors of the golf world, in age, race, gender and golf experience. That’s a great thing, and it’s why Topgolf taking over a nine-hole muni could cast a wider net for potential golfers.
“This is an opportunity for us to transform and create potentially a model for municipal golf in this country,” Topgolf’s Director of Real Estate Devin Charhon told the Daily Breeze.
That’s not to say the community has gotten 100 percent behind the changes to the course. A group called “Save the Lakes” pushed back against the potential development. A Los Angeles County Board of Education member compared the Topgolf to building a casino by a community pool. Other locals lamented potential rising prices and a loss of the “sense of family” that the course currently possesses.
Here’s hoping Topgolf heard those concerns and will do their best to keep El Segundo’s appeal as broad as possible to both old friends and new. That’s how the existing course and the new Topgolf can help each other — and take a tangible step towards growing golf as a game for everyone in the process.
This is part of our Muni Monday series, spotlighting stories from the world of city- and county-owned golf courses around the world. Got a muni story that needs telling? Send tips to Dylan Dethier or to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow Muni Mondays on Instagram.
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