Worth the drive: An inside look at Topgolf’s newest high-tech sports venue — within range of Seattle
The view from a top-level bay at Topgolf in Renton, Wash., where the high-tech golf and gaming venue opened on Friday. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
A modest tee shot away from Boeing’s airplane assembly factory in Renton, Wash., golf balls are taking flight at a sprawling new Topgolf sports and entertainment venue that opened on Friday.
Topgolf Renton-Seattle is the company’s 78th location and first in Washington state, and golfers of all skill levels streamed into the place in the midst of a heat wave to smack golf balls, play games, eat, drink and take in the atmosphere.
Topgolf uses Toptracer, a ball-tracing technology which powers the tech-enabled driving range experience. Each ball hit from 102 different bays on three levels is tracked by cameras which instantly relay stats such as speed and distance back to video monitors. Golfers can plays such games as “Angry Birds” or “Jewel Jam,” or pretend to shoot on famous courses around the world.
But being a good golfer is not par for the course.
“Seventy-five percent of the people who come in here don’t consider themselves golfers or have never swung a golf club before,” Paul Howard, director of operations for the facility, told GeekWire during a tour. “It’s kind of a misconception that Topgolf is just about the golf. It’s more about having a good time, getting together with friends.
“And obviously all of this,” he added, gesturing to the more than 65,000 square feet of space that includes numerous bars, outdoor patios, lounge areas, private meeting rooms, an executive conference room, three indoor Swing Suite simulator bays, and more.
One of the massive TV screens above a bar and lounge area in the main atrium of Topgolf Renton. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Topgolf arrives as tech-enabled golf culture is on the upswing in the Seattle area. Five Iron Golf, a high-tech indoor golf experience with 10 other locations in the U.S., opened in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in March. Hip-hop star Macklemore, who also owns a golf fashion store called Bogey Boys, took an ownership stake in Five Iron and will act as brand ambassador.
Renton is one of two “prime” Topgolf locations, meaning it comes with more bells and whistles than one of the company’s traditional venues.
The ground floor features a skylit central atrium architectural design and two massive video screens for broadcasting whatever big sporting event might be on TV. There’s a retail store, main bar, shuffleboard, air hockey and foosball tables. Outside there are more TVs, games and fire pits on patios at every level.
The space can hold hundreds of people and Howard expects them to get close this weekend, as the venue is already sold out on reservations for Saturday. While they take walk-ins, Topgolf also hosts special events.
“We consider an event everything from Johnny’s 10th birthday party, for two [hitting] bays, to Boeing buying out the entire building,” Howard said.
Friends from a variety of tech companies fill a bay at Topgolf in Renton, Wash., on Friday. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
The location, 30 minutes south of Seattle, feels “centrally located,” Howard said, and Topgolf is confident it will draw from a number of different directions in the state as well as from the big tech companies in the Puget Sound region.
“In other locations, people will drive two to three hours just to get to Topgolf and have that experience,” Howard said. “We might be getting guests from Vancouver, B.C.”
Topgolf’s arrival in Renton is the latest sign of change for this suburb of Seattle rooted in manufacturing. GeekWire spent time here back in 2018, chronicling the city’s history and growth aspirations. Topgolf is a 3-minute drive from the new Southport complex, a sprawling property along Lake Washington that has more than 700,000 square-feet of office space available.
Topgolf Renton, which will employ approximately 500 associates, is also located near The Landing, a sprawling shopping and dining development that opened in 2007.
Phil Vannavong drove down to the new Topgolf from Marysville, Wash. The government engineer brought seven friends with him to play. He’s been to Topgolf previously in Austin and Las Vegas and was happy that he now had an option closer than Portland. He figured he might come to Renton once a month.
“They’re not working … or, they’re supposed to be!” he laughed as his friends rattled off their workplaces, including such companies as Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Compass.
Andrew Irvin of Puyallup, Wash., takes a shot as his wife Vanessa watches at Topgolf. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Andrew Irvin of Puyallup, Wash., was playing with his wife Vanessa and young sons Jordan and Trey.
“This is a place where you don’t have to be a golfer to play,” Irvin said. “You can enjoy yourself without everybody criticizing your swing. You get your own bay and do whatever you want.”
I took my own swings (see tweet below) from a bay on the third level on Thursday. Using a driver from the selection of provided clubs, I hit 40 balls over the course of an hour and worked up a good sweat trying to reach the furthest targets on the range. I was intrigued by the ability to watch the trajectory of my ball on the nearby screen and get the distance for each shot.
I had a drink and bites of a sandwich and some tasty “cheesy mac bites” between swings as I watched golf balls fly from all directions.
Misty Skeeter of Kent, Wash., had never golfed, and brought along her three kids, Malaysia Myres, Jamaica Myres and Nekaylah Skeeter. Jamaica’s girlfriend, Jordyn Lewis, played golf at Garfield High School in Seattle.
Malaysia heard about Topgolf through Instagram and her mom booked a couple hours.
“It was fun,” Misty Skeeter said. “It was a little difficult, figuring out the right way to hit it or aiming at what you’re supposed to aim at. But it was fun.”
A view of one of the outside patios at Topgolf in Renton, Wash., with Boeing’s factory across the street. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Joe Lynch of West Seattle and his friend Jon Blevins of Bothell, Wash., were “playing” Pebble Beach and enjoying some beers. Blevins has previously played Topgolf in Arizona, Las Vegas and at the “Lounge by Topgolf” indoor facility at Google’s Kirkland Urban campus east of Seattle.
“I drive hours for golf anyway,” Blevins said when asked if he’ll regularly make the trek to Renton. He’s drawn to the technology, drinks and food in one spot, and the party atmosphere for golfers and non-golfers. “It’s good for kids or for buddies on a day out.”
Asked whether Topgolf is a place where he might work on his golf game, Lynch said it was more for the fun.
“After a couple of these you’re not working on your game anymore,” he laughed, pointing at their pitcher of beer.
Keep scrolling for more photos:
The front entrance of Topgolf in Renton, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)The main bar at Topgolf in Renton, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)A private indoor Swing Suite at Topgolf in Renton, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)Topgolf in Renton, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)The pro shop at Topgolf in Renton, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)Golfers for the day, from left, Misty Skeeter, Malaysia Myres, Jamaica Myres, Jordyn Lewis, and Nekaylah Skeeter at Topgolf. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)Joe Lynch of West Seattle at Topgolf in Renton, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)Some of the available games on a screen in a driving bay at Topgolf in Renton, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)Topgolf in Renton, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)Topgolf in Renton, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)