FARGO — The tranquility of early mornings at the Fargo Country Club — the chirping of birds and the sight of a rising sun on plush, green grass — were replaced on Wednesday with the sounds of something else: The constant pounding of heavy duty construction.
That’s Mark Johnson’s life in the golf industry now. The former head professional at the FCC left that job in April after 16 years to concentrate on his role with Suite Shots, the outdoor golf entertainment facility being built at the northeast corner of Interstate 29 and 52nd Avenue South in Fargo.
There’s no mistaking the size of it.
The poles that will hold the netting are 155 feet at their peak (the Fargodome is about 110 feet high from street level) on a field that is 250 yards long. That combination is expected to hold a drive that carries 340 yards. In comparison, PGA Tour player Tom Hoge from Fargo is averaging 288 yards on his drives. Tour leader Bryson DeChambeau is averaging 322 yards.
Suite Shots, scheduled for a fall opening, is modeled after Topgolf facilities that are popular across the country. It will house a golf academy, indoor simulators, banquet space, bar and restaurant and 60 climate-controlled bays.
“The Country Club in many ways was my dream job so it was tough to leave the members and leave the club,” said Johnson, 52 years old. “But this was also an opportunity to grow the game. It’s a different segment. The golf entertainment segment of our business is really growing. … This is a good opportunity to grow the game in the community and I think we’ll be a really good partner to feed golfers into the golf courses in the community.”
It’s a year-around feed. The structure faces east with the theory of avoiding the cold winds from the northwest in the fall, winter and spring. The bays will be warmed with three heaters — one over the golfer, one over the adjacent table and one in the hallway — and are engineered to be 30 to 40 degrees warmer than the outside temperature.
The Fargo Country Club is still in the process of naming Johnson’s successor. Head pros at local golf courses don’t change very often; the last was when Corey Herlickson moved from the Meadows in Moorhead to Oxbow Country Club in 2018. Jay Haug replaced Herlickson at the Meadows.
Johnson will continue his role as the tournament director for the Bobcat North Dakota Open at the FCC. He's the coordinator between the Dakotas Tour professional tournament, Bobcat Company and the charity it benefits in the Village Family Service Center.
“The people,” said Johnson, when asked what he’ll miss at the FCC. “There were special times out at the Country Club; the early mornings, it’s just peaceful hearing the mowers mowing.”
There will be no mowing at Suite Shots. About the only mechanical sounds will be snowplows moving snow on the artificial turf in the winter through a zippered system in the nets to the south. If there gets to be too much snow, workers can haul it to a drainage ditch just across the street to the west.
“There are probably going to be a lot of golf balls in that snow as the winter goes on,” Johnson said, “so we’ll probably have to hire a scuba diver to get the balls out of the pond once the snowbanks melt.”
Johnson said Topgolf successfully removed snow at its facilities in the Twin Cities, Chicago, Denver and Salt Lake City. The Fargo weather is another reason Suite Shots devoted most of its ground floor to indoor golf-like simulators, a putting station and its academy.
Lucas Johnson, Mark’s son who just finished his career at North Dakota State, plans on getting into the PGA professional program and working at Suite Shots.
“We’re looking forward to being a part of something that is pretty exciting,” Mark said.