Topgolf continues growth with a twist

A new facility opening in California this spring will be the first next to a real golf course.
A recent aerial view of the Topgolf El Segundo under construction adjacent to the nine-hole Lakes of El Segundo Golf Course.

Other than a blip of temporary closures during the heart of the pandemic, Topgolf has continued its torrid growth the past two years.

The popularity of Topgolf has led to 74 facilities being built across the globe the past two decades, including 67 in the United States. That growth shows few signs of slowing down. After opening 10 new facilities last year, Topgolf has nine more currently under construction in destinations like St. Petersburg, Fla.; Colorado Springs, Colo. and Baltimore.

One of them will be unlike any other and mark a key milestone for the company. Topgolf El Segundo in Southern California will open adjacent to the Lakes at Segundo, a nine-hole executive golf course the company will manage. It is one of two facilities scheduled to open in greater Los Angeles in 2022. A Topgolf with access to real grass and real golf holes is close to becoming a reality.

"Our whole thing is to bring new people into the game and make sure they are having fun," said new Topgolf Chief Marketing Officer Geoff Cottrill. "If you’re not a golfer, it can be intimidating (to learn the game). We take that away. If it (the Topgolf experience) is fun and memorable, they will come back. It’s a really fun place to be."

Growing the game at Topgolf

Golf insiders have always debated the merits of Topgolf's impact on the sport. Is it really growing the game? Are Topgolfers becoming real golfers? The National Golf Foundation has long been a supporter, tracking golf's participation on and off the course. The NGF reported in May 2021 that golf participation rose 8 percent in 2020 to 36.9 million when combining golfers who play on and off the course. It predicted that off-course-only golfers (12.1 million) would likely pass on-course-only players (12.6 million) at some point, although last year's numbers aren't out yet. Roughly 12.2 million golfers embraced the game in both places. 

National Golf Foundation statistics show "off-course" golfers are gaining versus "on-course" golfers.

"Our research tells us that the approachable, non-intimidating environments of Topgolf, and venues like it, help to cultivate interest in the traditional game," NGF President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph F. Beditz, Ph.D., noted in an email. "Course operators in proximity to these golf entertainment venues should be doubling down on their marketing and player development investments, as there are an increasing number of customer prospects being generated right in their backyards." 

Cottrill is living proof. As the CMO at Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Cottrill got the chance to play with Jordan Spieth in a charity outing in 2019. He wasn’t a golfer, so he ended up walking and watching instead of swinging. Spieth challenged him to take up the game. Cottrill said he bought clubs and took lessons for more than a year at Topgolf Atlanta. He used it as a practice range, along with the nearby Bobby Jones Golf Course. “I never imagined I’d go to work there,” he said of Topgolf.

Now he's charged with continuing its momentum. Topgolf's success has led to a bunch of spinoff competitors - notably Drive Shack Inc. and BigShots Golf. Just this week, Troon Golf announced a new three-level "golf entertainment facility" with 60 bays will open in Bettendorf, Iowa, in 2023. Cottrill said Topgolf is more focused on its product than worrying about others.

"I worked at Coke for a long time," he said. "Talk about competition [with Pepsi]. The way I think about it: we’re focused on being the best possible version of ourselves. We keep our eyes and ears open in the entertainment space, certainly in the golf space. Every day we look at being the best version of Topgolf. If we do well, we are confident we will continue to grow. Is there competition? Certainly. We look to continue to innovate, whether it is new games and tech, whether it is new food and beverage. We are constantly improving."

The vision of Topgolf El Segundo

Both the new El Segundo and Ontario facilities surrounding L.A. will sport the traditional Topgolf look with three levels of 102 bays, a full-service restaurant and bar and space for corporate and social events. The Ontario location on 14 acres of San Bernardino County-owned land adjacent to Cucamonga-Guasti Regional Park will eventually add a unique mini-golf course: another first for Topgolf.  

The El Segundo property along the legendary Pacific Coast Highway will be an interesting case study to see how well a green-grass course and a Topgolf facility with soaring nets can coexist. Topgolf has committed to improving the city-owned Lakes at Segundo, a par 29 of 1,340 yards, by adding lights for night golf and enhancing the pro shop and clubhouse. A bonus 10th hole will feature Toptracer technology, where golfers can watch their tee shot being traced on a screen. The line tracking the ball flight is similar to what golf fans see during PGA Tour coverage on network TV and Golf Channel. Golfers will be able to share the video through social media. "We think it will be a unique experience," Cottrill said.

Could this be the way of the future for struggling golf courses - using extra land currently housing a third nine, a rundown clubhouse or a range to add a Topgolf-like facility that could attract young beginners who love technology, while mixing in green grass for their next step, as well as serving traditional golfers? The idea seems to make a lot of sense. “We are excited," Cottrill added. "If it works and we have other opportunities (to build near a golf course), we would be open to do that. We have no immediate plans, but we would not close the door on that."

A rendering of Topgolf El Segundo shows what the facility will look like when it opens later this year.

It seems only a matter of time before Topgolf reaches 100 facilities world-wide and expands into Canada. Cottrill said the company will build where the location makes geographic and economic sense.

"We’re open to go anywhere there is an opportunity for people who want to learn (to play) and have fun," he said. "We've got a mindset of growth. We have big plans ahead. We are looking for the right places in terms of cities and economic models. We want to bring new people into the game. We try hard to make our experience unique and different and fun. We want golf as the centerpiece. We see the game getting younger. We are a part of that now. If you look at golf in 10 years, golfers who play at all levels, we hope at some point they play at one of our venues."

What are your thoughts on the Topgolf experience? Share them in the comments below.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Topgolf continues growth with a twist