A humble golf ball was launched away from Boeing’s aircraft assembly plant in Renton, Washington, as golf balls began their journey at a sprawling new sports and entertainment venue in Topgolf that opened Friday.
Topgolf Renton-Seattle is the company’s 78th and first location in the state of Washington, and golfers of all skill levels flock to the venue in the midst of a heat wave to hit golf balls, play games, eat, drink, and enjoy the atmosphere.
Topgolf uses Toptracer, a ball-tracking technology that supports technology-assisted driving field experience. Each ball hit from 102 different bays on three levels is tracked by cameras that instantly transmit stats such as speed and distance to video screens. Golfers can play games like “Angry Birds” or “Jewel Jam” or pretend to shoot at famous courses around the world.
But being a good golfer isn’t the same as the course.
“Seventy-five percent of people who come here don’t consider themselves golfers or have never swing at a golf club before,” Paul Howard, the facility’s director of operations, told GeekWire during a tour. “It’s kind of a misconception that Topgolf is just about golf. It’s more about having a good time, getting together with friends.
“And obviously all of this,” he added, pointing to more than 65,000 square feet of space that includes several bars, outdoor patios, lounge areas, private meeting rooms, an executive conference room, three simulated bays of indoor swing suites, and more.
Topgolf has arrived just as the tech-enabled golf culture is experiencing a revival in the Seattle area. Five Iron Golf, a high-tech indoor golf experience with 10 other locations in the US, opened in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in March. Hip-hop star Macklemore, who also owns a golf fashion store called Bogey Boys, has taken an ownership stake in Five Iron and will serve as the brand’s ambassador.
Renton is one of two “prime” locations in Topgolf, which means it comes with more bells and whistles than one of the company’s traditional venues.
The ground floor features an architectural design for the central lobby and two large screens to broadcast any major sporting event that may be on TV. There is a retail store, main bar, shuffleboard, air hockey, and soccer tables. Outside there are more TVs, games and fire pits in the yards on every level.
The space can seat hundreds of people and Howard expects to get close to it this weekend, as the place is already sold out in reservations for Saturday. While they are walking, Topgolf also hosts special events.
“We consider an event everything from Johnny’s 10th birthday party, for two [hitting] Howard said, “Boeing is buying the entire building.
Howard said the site, about 30 minutes south of Seattle, feels “central,” and Topgolf is confident it will draw from a number of different trends in the state as well as from big tech companies in the Puget Sound.
“At other locations, people would drive two to three hours just to get to Topgolf and get that experience,” Howard said. “Maybe we’ll have guests from Vancouver, British Columbia”
Topgolf’s arrival at Renton is the latest sign of change in this Seattle suburb that has its roots in manufacturing. GeekWire spent time here in 2018, recording the city’s history and growth aspirations. Topgolf is a 3-minute drive from the new Southport complex, a sprawling estate along Lake Washington with more than 700,000 square feet of available office space.
Topgolf Renton, which will employ approximately 500 employees, is located near The Landing, a sprawling shopping and dining development that opened in 2007.
Phil Phanafong drove to the new Topgolf from Marysville, Washington, where the government engineer brought seven friends to play with. He’s been to Topgolf previously in Austin and Las Vegas and was glad he now had a closer option than Portland. He thought he might come to Renton once a month.
“They don’t work…or they are meant to be!” He laughed when his friends were gossiping at their workplaces, including companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Compass.
Andrew Irvine of Puyallup, Washington was playing with his wife Vanessa and young sons Jordan and Trey.
“This is a place where you don’t have to play golf,” Irvine said. “You can have fun without everyone criticizing your swing. You get your own bay and do whatever you want.”
I took my own swings (see tweet below) from the bay at Level Three on Thursday. Using a driver from a selection of clubs available, I hit 40 balls over the course of an hour and ran a good sweat trying to get to the furthest targets at range. I was fascinated by being able to see the ball’s trajectory on the nearby screen and get the distance for each shot.
I grabbed a drink, bites of a sandwich and some delicious mac and cheese between the swings as I watched golf balls fly from all directions.
Misty Skeeter of Kent, Washington, had never played golf and brought her three children with her, Malaysia Myris, Jamaica Myris and Nikaila Skeeter. Jamaican girlfriend, Jordyn Lewis, played golf at Garfield High School in Seattle.
Malaysia heard about Topgolf through Instagram and booked her mom a few hours.
“It was fun,” said Misty Skeeter. “It was a little tricky, figuring out the right way to hit it or aim for what you’re supposed to. But it was fun.”
Joe Lynch of West Seattle and his friend John Blevins of Bothell, Washington were “playing” Pebble Beach and enjoying some beers. Blevins previously played Topgolf in Arizona and Las Vegas and at the “Lounge by Topgolf” indoor facility on Google’s Kirkland Urban campus east of Seattle.
“I drive for hours to golf anyway,” Blevins said when asked if he would regularly go on a trip to Renton. He was drawn to technology, drinks and food all in one, and the party atmosphere for golfers and non-golfers. “It’s good for kids or their friends on a day out.”
When asked if Topgolf is where he might work on golf, Lynch said it was more for fun.
“After two of those things, you’re not working on your game anymore,” he laughed, pointing to their pitcher of beer.
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