Topgolf Vegas: A driving range for date night

A rendering of Topgolf Las Vegas, which is preparing for a late-May opening.
A rendering of Topgolf Las Vegas, which is preparing for a late-May opening.

Golf is hardly the most energetic of sports. Its crowds are hushed, its shirts collared, its athletes rarely break a sweat. It even has its own form of appreciation: the golf clap, so named because it's restrained enough to not disturb the concentration of those on the green.

So golf would hardly seem the most fitting sport for mass appeal on the Las Vegas Strip, where cutting loose is par for the course and rowdiness is written into the marketing campaigns. Who can sink a tough putt when they're chasing last night's hangover with a Bloody Mary and Calvin Harris is blasting in the background?

Well, MGM Grand is betting that golf and the Strip are as winning a combination as gin and tonic, and they're not worried about your short game. That's because the casino is putting a Vegas twist on the classic driving range, partnering with Topgolf to open the flagship location of the party golf venue adjacent to the resort at the corner of Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane.

Topgolf, which already has 24 outposts in the U.S. and U.K. with 10 more expected to open in 2016, is the brainchild of a pair of British brothers who wanted to make the driving range a more interactive and personalized experience.

"They came up with the idea of putting a chip in the ball and putting targets in the outfield," said Bryan O'Reilly, a partner in Topgolf Las Vegas. "When you hit your ball, it's actually registered to you and you actually get points when you hit certain targets in the outfield."

A rendering of one of five bars at Topgolf Vegas.

O'Reilly said the game is modeled after bowling and darts, meant to be social and played in groups.

Each group is assigned a climate-controlled hitting bay for an hour at a time where they can order food and drinks from a full-service menu that includes dishes like bahn mi sandwiches and mac and cheese burgers. Then players take turns stepping up to hit balls at whatever target is assigned, racking up points and competing against each other in the process. The name Topgolf is derived from the term "target-oriented practice."

But you don't have to be a golfer to spend an afternoon at the new Vegas facility, which will sit on the former location of MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park.  

"It's for everyone," O'Reilly said. "Seventy-plus percent of the people who come to Topgolf aren't avid golfers. ... In Austin, Texas, it was named the No. 1 place to have a date."

The Vegas outpost, however, will stand apart from other Topgolfs scattered across the country.

"This is the Topgolf flagship, and in many ways it's taken everything Topgolf and Vegas-ized it," O'Reilly said.

For one, it will be larger, measuring 105,000 square feet to the standard venue's 65,000 square feet. It will stretch over four levels with two kitchens, five bars, 108 hitting bays, a small concert venue and a Calloway fitting center where guests can be fitted for clubs or sign up for a hitting lesson. And lest visitors feel torn between spending the day poolside and swinging their clubs, Topgolf Las Vegas will also feature two pools with the requisite cabanas.

Yes, O'Reilly said with a laugh, you can play in a bikini or board shorts.

A rendering of the pool area at Topgolf Las Vegas.

"I think the only thing that's the same in Las Vegas is the way you hit the golf ball," said Adrienne Chance, Topgolf director of corporate communications. "Everything else is completely different."

Chance said the company usually looks to place its venues in fast-growing cities that have been recognized as the best places to work or live. They focus on high-traffic areas with dense corporate businesses. Current locations include Alexandria, Va.; San Antonio; and Tampa.

She added that the company has been eyeing Las Vegas for a few years now, citing its benefits as a market to introduce the brand to new customers and welcome current fans who've already played closer to home.

"We set out our goal a few years ago that we would be on the Strip," Chance recalled. "It took us a little while to find the right partner."

Now that MGM Grand has signed on to the project -- the only driving range connected to a Strip casino, though the Wynn has an 18-hole course -- Topgolf is hiring for more than 850 positions and preparing to open in late May.

How will the new venue compete in such an entertainment-saturated market?

Chance said the company recognizes the need for some creative advertising and marketing to translate Topgolf to Las Vegas visitors and help them understand the complex's many options and amenities.

"At first glance, people think it's a driving range, but it's so much more than that," she said. 

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