DES MOINES, Iowa — Golf is having a moment in the Des Moines metro.
Not just the kind played on a course at a park or a country club, though that boomed as outdoor pursuits exploded in popularity during the masked-up phase of the pandemic.
Now it’s digitally driven spinoffs and other versions that are grabbing people’s attention, led by the Topgolf climate-controlled, computer-tracked driving ranges, replete with food and beverage service, that have sprung up in 80 cities around the nation. It’s a club West Des Moines is now slated to join.
At least two other bar-restaurants offering a Topgolf-style experience are planned for the metro. Jessica Dunker, Iowa Restaurant Association president and CEO, said it’s part of the “experiential dining” trend.
Eateries that offer various forms of entertainment — whether a special ambiance or “vibe,” or activities like a driving range — are now top of the list for people seeking an outing that includes a meal, she said.
Golf is a natural focus because it’s a sport that draws participants who tend to have disposable income, Dunker said.
“Golfers spend money,” she said. “They spend money on food and drinks when they’re out there. So catering to the income levels of a lot of golfers, that would make a tremendous amount of sense.”
While specific development plans for the West Des Moines Topgolf haven’t been announced, operators broke ground last week for a competitor, Bombers in Johnston.
Here’s a look at what it and others are teeing up.
Bombers counters Topgolf with expanded offerings
Bombers, which recently broke ground in Johnston, is one of several golf-focused drinking and dining establishments planned for metro Des Moines.
Bombers originally was slated to be primarily an adult-oriented driving-range concept using the proprietary Topgolf technology, Toptracer. But it pivoted to include more options when Topgolf announced its plans to build in West Des Moines last year.
Allen Stoye, principal of Johnston Golf Development, said Bombers will have 36 hitting bays, down from the 60 initially planned, although 18 more could be added if demand warrants. But that doesn’t mean the overall facility will shrink. Initially slated for 35,000 square feet, it’s now shooting for 80,000, Stoye said.
“We made a few adjustments at that point,” he said.
That extra space will house an ax-throwing center, a 12-lane bowling alley and an arcade. An indoor mini-golf course will snake through the arcade, Stoye said.
Outside will be a putt-putt golf course similar to those at Tiger Woods’ upscale Popstroke restaurants in Florida, Texas and Arizona, which eschew the windmills and plastic dinosaurs for settings that look like miniature versions of traditional golf holes.
PopStroke’s seventh location in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo: Todd Kelly/Golfweek)
Stoye describes the concept as a “professional putting course … with realistic lies” and greens similar to those found at local country clubs like the Hyperion Field Club or the Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
Also on site will be a Dave & Buster’s-style restaurant, he said. Renderings show pickleball courts. And a neighboring hotel has been part of the project since its conception.
Construction will start in April and will likely be complete in 2024, Stoye said.
Ambitious concept a good fit for Iowa’s weather
Most of the features were planned, but after Topgolf announced its coming, those aspects became a much larger part of the project, Stoye said.
The driving range, however, remains a key component. Stoye said playing to golfers’ preferences, its bays will be on the second and third levels, rather than at ground level.
“When we knew we would have potential competitors for the golf, we had to pivot a little,” Stoye said, adding, “If somebody comes to bowl and it’s a 45-minute wait, they’re going to grab a bite to eat or have a beverage or discover something else in our facility. A little bit of something for everyone is what we’re hoping to do.”
A rendering of a Bombers location planned for Johnston which features a golf driving range, ax throwing, bowling lanes and more. (Rendering courtesy Keen Project Solutions)
Dunker described Bombers as an ambitious concept, but one that’s in demand in Iowa.
“For one thing, the weather isn’t great year-round,” Dunker said. “So we’re looking for things as families and friends and individuals to go out, eat and drink.”
Feeding off the new Ignit youth sports complex
Bombers’ site is across from where Johnston’s 200,000-square-foot Ignit Recreation Complex is being built. Stoye thinks Ignit will drive business to Bombers and that Bombers’ nearby location will attract youth tournaments to Ignit.
“When I was coaching and having to decide where we would go for tournaments, we would often choose places that had a destination,” Stoye said.
He envisions Bombers as catering to a mix of Des Moines-area residents and tourists attending games at Ignit.
Places like Topgolf and Bombers tend to draw people from smaller communities without similar attractions, Dunker said.
“I consider them a tourism draw,” she said. “The experience is the entire thing. It’s upscale food, it’s upscale beverage, it’s craft cocktail, and it’s an experience that goes along with it.”
Suite Shots hopes to rise in the shadow of Topgolf
Also predating the Topgolf announcement was Suite Shots. Slated for an undeveloped 26-acre tract of land, its design calls for three levels of climate-controlled hitting bays and, of course, a bar and restaurant.
A rendering for Suite Shots, which has a location planned for West Des Moines, Iowa. (Rendering courtesy of Christianson Companies)
Despite lawsuits filed by residents of a nearby neighborhood who are concerned about lights, traffic and noise, the West Des Moines City Council last May approved the site plan. It also calls for a hotel, four office buildings, and quick-service and sit-down restaurants.
The schedule for construction ― and how it may be affected by the June 2022 announcement that Topgolf is coming to a nearby area ― is unclear. Local developer Paul Cownie, who is heading the project, did not respond to requests for comment. But Cownie told the Business Record in January that the project is moving forward.
Topgolf construction could start in fall, property owner says
Representatives of Topgolf also didn’t respond to calls. But Richard Hurd, president and founder of Hurd Realty, the owner of the site it’s slated to occupy, said he hopes construction will start this fall.
Hurd said the plan for the 12-acre tract has the approval of the West Des Moines Board of Adjustment and now is awaiting an OK from the city’s staff.
“Like anything, it just takes time,” Hurd said.
A renderng of a Topgolf planned for West Des Moines, Iowa. (Rendering courtesy of Topgolf)
The Topgolf plan calls for 72-climate-controled hitting bays with a bar and restaurant. Topgolf Chief Development Officer Chris Callaway said in the news release at the time of the announcement that “our focus is on creating more ways for people to play the game of golf in a fun and unique way, and the Des Moines area is the perfect place to kick off our growth within the state,” Callaway said.
X Golf, McDivot’s join established virtual golf spots
The fascination with golf also is taking other forms.
Pubs with golf simulators started popping up across the metro in the middle of the last decade. Players hit against a screen depicting a fairway or hole, and software shows where their shots would have landed on a real course.
Two more have recently opened to capitalize on the growing golf mania:
X-Golf launched in February. It has seven indoor golf simulators, a full bar, TVs and food options. It’s just half a mile from where Topgolf is planned.
X-Golf America, which features seven indoor golf simulators, opened earlier this year in West Des Moines, Ioeas. (Photo: X-Golf America)
McDivot’s Indoor Sports Pub, which began operating in August 2022, with four golf simulators, a bar and restaurant.
Range Grill + Golf, which originally opened in 2017, upgraded its six golf simulators in December 2022, and offers full food and craft cocktail service, ranging from chicken wings to Korean bison filet mignon, available in each bay.
Yet another venue, Putts & Pins, planned for Jordan Creek
Also slated to soon join the growing segment is Mitchell and Eric Kann’s Putts & Pins. The upscale mini-golf restaurant and bar will have 24 holes, duckpin bowling and other arcade games.
Kann, Stoye’s former business partner, acknowledged the golf, drinks and dinner segment is becoming crowded.
“My brother and I were really focusing on something the state does not have,” he said. “With our high-tech, gamified mini-golf, we feel that we have indirect competitors for this type of social space. We don’t have any direct competitors in this space.”
Stoye acknowledged the growing competition, but said he believes his Johnston site, with its proximity to Ignit and a hotel, is well-positioned.
“I wouldn’t put up a new place in West Des Moines because there are a lot of options out there already,” he said. “There are not in this area.”
He’s looking at partnering with sports-gambling companies to host promotions at Bombers and planning events around football games. Stoye hopes to emulate the success of similar upscale game venue-restaurants like Smash Park in West Des Moines.
“We’re going to capture a bigger segment than just the millennials,” Stoye said. “We’re trying to emulate some of those successes that we’ve seen (at) other places such as Smash Park on college game days or NFL Sundays.”
Can smaller cities sustain Topgolf-type restaurants?
Topgolf and its many imitators will find plenty of customers, Dunker predicted. Smash Park, offering an arcade, foosball, pickleball, shuffleboard and more along with food and adult beverages, was one of the first experiential dining establishments in the Des Moines metro area, and proved the concept worked, she said. It’s expanded to Pella and has its sights set on Minneapolis and Omaha, Nebraska.
“I do think that as family-focused as the greater Des Moines area is, we do have room for these places. Especially if it caters to all ages,” Dunker said.
Will golf-oriented drinking and dining spread outside Iowa’s largest metro area, which at 720,000 will be the second-smallest of Topgolf’s Midwest markets after Wichita, Kansas? The chain itself is exploring the potential of smaller markets, announcing a plan in 2022 to open locations outside the major metros where its business is currently focused, according to Golf Inc. Magazine.
In 2021 Topgolf subsidiary Toptracer announced plans to construct a Pinseekers driving range and restaurant in Tiffin, a 4,000-resident suburb of Iowa City. The 56-bay, $30 million project is expected to open this summer.
Pinseekers is a planned indoor Topgolf facility powered by Toptracer in Tiffin, Iowa. (Rendering courtesty of Pinseekers)
Dunker expressed confidence that the affluent Iowa City metro, with about 171,000 people, can support the venue. But she said she is unsure the concept can succeed in smaller cities.
“What I don’t know is, could a community the size of Mason City, or Fort Dodge … sustain a place like that?” Dunker said. “That’s where the jury is out on these experiential dining places that include golf and ax throwing and those things.
“It’s a bigger risk to take this, even if it’s unique to a community, to a smaller community,” Dunker said.
This content was originally published here.