Anyone who has spent some time perusing golf social media accounts has probably heard of Top Golf by now. The very Instagramable driving range chain has been heavily promoting itself through social media, by reaching out to golf writers, social media stars and professionals. Top Golf recently opened a location in Edison, New Jersey, not far from the Outerbridge Crossing. I made the pilgrimage from my apartment in Brooklyn to see what the buzz is about.
That said, to call Top Golf a “driving range” might be something of a misnomer. As an avid golfer, I do not think I’d return for my regular practice session. Top Golf is more of a golf experience. They make some mention of attempting to be like a bowling alley, and I think that’s a fair comparison.
At Top Golf, you don’t make your way to a driving stall, and just wail away on 100 or so balls, and head home. Instead, you share a stall with whomever you arrived with, and using Top Golf’s technology, you aim for circular light-up targets down the range to score points.
Upon arriving at your stall, after a brief registration process to obtain membership cards (for a $5 fee), all of the players swipe into a computer mounted on the wall of the stall. You then select which type of game you wish to play. There are several varieties, with the most basic game having the objective of scoring the most points, with the furthest targets being worth more. The only other game my companions and I had the opportunity to try was the chipping game, in which you must shoot for a designated target at 25, 50 or 85 yards, and you lose points for hitting the wrong target.
The balls at Top Golf are not your standard driving range fare. The balls are equipped with ID chips. When the hopper releases a ball, it matches that ball to the player who is selected on the wall-mounted computer. When that ball lands in one of the targets, it is read by a scanning mechanism in the targets, and registers a score on the screen. The targets also have sub-divisions, with more points being awarded the closer you are to the flagstick in the center of the targets.
The balls certainly don’t fly as well as even traditional balls. My experience is the balls fly a club to a club and a half less than your normal club yardage. Hence my 100-110 56* wedge, was only flying to the 85-yard target with a full swing.
I went to Top Golf with two buddies who golf, and my girlfriend, who doesn’t. I would highly recommend Top Golf as an enjoyable night, even for people who don’t golf. Several factors made it enjoyable for non-golfers. First, Top Golf has waiter service at each stall, with cocktails, beer, wine and food. There are couches in some stalls and stools in others, with a table for drinks and food. Second, each driving stall comes equipped with a two sets of golf clubs—one men’s and one women’s—for use by those who do not have their clubs. Third, the competition keeps everyone engaged. Finally, they have TVs in the stalls, with various national and local sports channels available to watch.
There are several reasons I would not recommend this for your regular practice session. First, the range only goes to 215 yards. Second, the balls definitely have a different feel to them, and don’t fly the same as standard golf balls, even standard range balls. Third, it was not cheap during normal practice hours (evenings after work for me), with a bay running $50 per hour. Four people, including one complete beginner, we were able to smack 240 balls total during our two-hour session. Fourth, the atmosphere is very casual, with music playing and lots of non-golfers enjoying themselves, and hooting and hollering over their ongoing competitions.
Despite sounding like a cranky old man with that last point, I did really enjoy Top Golf for what it was, a golf experience, and I will certainly be back in the future. I also am hopeful that Top Golf continues to expand (hopefully to Long Island), as I think a fun experience like this could be a great way to grow the game of golf, a belief I was heartened in to see so many teenagers and young adults at the Top Golf in Edison.