On Friday nights, millennials are flocking to a driving range to play a sport that experts say they have little interest in.
Some even say the sport is dying, citing the lagging sales of golf equipment and apparel and steep decline in television ratings. In April, the final round of The Masters drew its lowest ratings since 2004, and this month the U.S. Women’s Open garnered just 760,000 viewers, its worst showing on record.
But Topgolf, a high-tech driving range and entertainment company, has set out to prove otherwise. It thinks millennials might well be the key to reviving interest in the sport. The company has tapped into the social potential for golf, creating a space best described as “where a lounge meets a tee box.”
Topgolf is at once old-fashioned (a little bit like Skee-Ball) and modern (technology lets you track your performance, shot by shot – and compete with your friends). And the setting is loud and lively, not your typical back-nine fare.
After launching in England in 2000, Topgolf came to the states in 2005 when it opened in Alexandria, Va. It now has 30 U.S. locations and 33 worldwide. The Dallas-based company has plans to add 10 more locations this year. On Thursday, the company received approval to build in National Harbor, where it plans to one day relocate its Alexandria location.
“Our core business is really nice,” Topgolf CEO Erik Anderson said. “If you go from 30 to 40 in a year, that’s 33 percent. So that’s pretty good.”
“Clearly we have struck a chord with millennials,” he added.
At Topgolf, customers can play a number of games, but in the most common one they hit golf balls with a microchip inside to measure the distance it travels into a field of roughly five targets. The farther the ball flies — if it hits a target — the more points. The farthest target, at the back wall, is about 215 yards from the tee box.
While one person is playing, the rest of the group…