McFeely: Planned golf facility might be peek at future of game

Indoor/outdoor range meant to draw casual players with technology, fun and time-saving

The technology that will be used at a planned Fargo golf entertainment facility allows golfers to hit real balls and track their success on monitors. Toptracer photo

Tiger Woods was supposed to change everything. When the mega-star golfer was at the peak of his powers in the 2000s, analysts believed his popularity was going to draw millions of new people into the game and golf was going to become a mainstream activity instead of the niche domain of fairly affluent white men.

Instead, the game's U.S. popularity peaked in 2005 when Tiger was rocking and has steadily declined since. About 30 million Americans played golf in 2005, compared to about 24 million today. Those numbers are according to the National Golf Foundation, which says golf participation has stabilized the last couple of years after some precipitous years of decrease.

One interesting statistic from the NGF: Almost as many people play off-course forms of the game as those who head to the local 9- or 18-hole course to chase the little white ball. The advent of so-called "golf entertainment facilities" like Topgolf or even much smaller indoor simulators like Fargo's Golf Addiction have become a popular alternative to spending four or more hours on a real course.

That's why the news that a developer is planning to build a large golf entertainment center in south Fargo is fascinating to those of us hooked on the silly game. Property Resources Group and PACES Lodging Corp. are partnering with local investors to build a 52,000-square-foot facility and a 300-yard driving range in the northeast quadrant of Interstate 29 and 52nd Avenue South. It will be on 10.5 acres.


A planned golf entertainment facility in Fargo will mix traditional golf with technology. Toptracer photo

Developer Kevin Christianson is leading the project and queries of him have been met with brief answers or no response. For example, a press release about the project said, "if the project receives the necessary support from the community" construction would start next May. It's unclear what "support from the community" means — tax breaks or further investment? — and how it could affect the project, and a text message to Christianson went unanswered.

If the project is completed and opened by March 2021 as planned, it will be an entertainment destination for those interested in golf and, perhaps more importantly, those not particularly enamored by the game. It's more about fun, food and beer than it is about golf. Picture a sports bar setting at a driving range.

The facility, as yet unnamed, will have 60 indoor, climate-controlled hitting bays on two levels from which golfers can hit balls onto the 300-yard range. But it will also include a bar/restaurant and meeting space for parties, corporate events, conferences or charity fundraisers. Golfers can order food and drinks to their hitting bays, where there will be chairs, tables, televisions and other amenities.

The main attraction (other than the food and drink) will be the technology that will make hitting golf balls into a video game of sorts. The facility is partnering with Toptracer, a subsidiary of Topgolf, which will provide camera-based ball-tracking technology to show the flight and distance of shots . It's the same technology shown on PGA Tour television broadcasts that helps viewers follow the track of the ball with colored lines.

(Here are some of the games golfers at Fargo's planned golf entertainment facility will be able to play while hitting balls to an outdoor range:)


Golfers can track every shot they hit and play closest-to-the-pin or long-drive games against each other, or they can virtually tee it up on famous courses like Pebble Beach and others. Unlike indoor simulators, though, golfers can see the full flight of their shots and then see how it looks virtually on a monitor.

The biggest difference between Fargo's facility and Topgolf locations in metro areas around the country, besides its smaller size, will be the technology. Topgolf uses radio frequency identification to track shots, with a microchip embedded into its golf balls. That's led some users to say Topgolf balls feel softer and don't fly as far as "real" golf balls. Toptracer technology allows the use of any golf ball, making it a more real experience. Whether this matters to infrequent golfers is up for debate, but regular players will enjoy a facility like the one coming to Fargo more than Topgolf.

With the limited information available, it appears the best comparison to make for Fargo's planned facility is one in the latter stages of construction in Sioux Falls, S.D. Great Shots will open soon in northwest Sioux Falls, built by Sanford Health . It will include a Sanford POWER Golf Academy and an Austad's in-house golf shop. The Sioux Falls facility will not use Toptracer technology, but will utilize something similar so golfers can hit real range balls.

Golfers at a planned Fargo golf entertainment complex will be able to play virtual rounds at famous courses like Pebble Beach while they are hitting real golf balls onto a driving range. Toptracer photo

Golf insiders believe the turn toward full-entertainment, all-weather facilities is a way to get new people in the game. The hope is that they transfer their enthusiasm for Topgolf-like games into going to local courses. Whether that will be the case remains to be seen. Two of the biggest obstacles to becoming an avid golfer are the time it takes to play 9 or 18 holes (usually four hours or more for 18) and the expense (green fees and a cart for 18 holes runs a minimum of $50).

Golf entertainment businesses rent bays by the hour, taking care of the time factor, but Topgolf facilities aren't necessarily cheap. Evening and weekend prices at the Topgolf in the Twin Cities are $50 an hour for a bay (up to six golfers per bay), plus the cost of food and drink. Stay for a couple of hours, have a few beers and a hamburger ... and it will add up quickly. One of the key factors about the Fargo facility will be pricing.

One thing is sure: The new business will be unlike anything Fargo has seen and it will allow golfers (and non-golfers) to hit balls year-around in dry, warm comfort. It has proven popular in other markets. We might know in a few years if it is the future of golf here and elsewhere.


Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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