Living & Entertainment

Can’t wait for Topgolf? More high-tech options coming to Tacoma

Architectural Photography by Michael Baxter, Baxter Imaging LLC
Architectural Photography by Michael Baxter, Baxter Imaging LLC Baxter Imaging LLC

If Topgolf comes to Tacoma, it won't be the only game in town.

With fewer people playing traditional grass golf, many traditional courses and ranges nationwide are changing their offerings to draw in a younger crowd and more revenue.

To cater to a new generation of golfers, Tacoma Firs Golf Center will close in September to build a $10 million addition and will open in spring 2019 as Gamerz Golf.

The new driving range at 4504 S. Tyler St. will include a full-service restaurant and an interactive, video game-like feel for 60 of its 80 driving bays.

It's a change, said Colleen Hall Barta of Gamerz Golf, that will appeal to a new generation of golfers.

"The days of Dad getting up on Saturday morning to play a six-hour round of golf and have lunch with his buddies are gone," she said. "They are spending time with their families."

And millennials, she said, "aren't spending five hours on the golf course, either."

While the number of golfers on grass has declined, those playing golf other ways has climbed. So much so that the National Golf Foundation took note two years ago and started adding those people, who before were not considered "golfers," to its ranks.

Enter the gamification of golf. Think video games, instantly knowing where your shots fall or getting points for hitting specific virtual targets such as inflatable animals or islands.

Topgolf, the Dallas-based company with 41 locations worldwide, has applied to put such a venue costing $30 million near the Tacoma Dome on nearly 11 acres the city wants to turn into an entertainment district.

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Barta said nontraditional forms of golf are bringing people back to the sport.

"With the millennial generation, competition is a huge thing for them," she said. "It comes from the computer gaming platforms they've all grown up with."

There's good reason retailers are catering to millennials, who were born from 1981 to 1996. By 2019, they will outnumber baby boomers as the largest living adult generation, the Pew Research Center says.

The average golfer is about 43 years old and plays nearly 20 rounds a year, according to the National Golf Foundation.

These older golfers have something the younger generation might not: money. Annual memberships at private clubs can cost thousands of dollars on up. Even a round of golf at a public course, such as Chambers Bay in University Place, can cost upwards of $200 a person, depending on tee time.

Many millennials can't afford golf memberships because they're climbing out of mountains of student loan debt that last year averaged nearly $40,000, according to College Investor.

Meanwhile, country clubs and golf courses are making more money than ever. In 2015, golf was a $21.8 billion business, up 12.6 percent a decade earlier, according to U.S. Census data.

That's not a trend seen at local courses, Barta said, hence the change in programming.

"We determined it was time to move on and address the change in the golf range customer," she said.

At Gamerz Golf, cost to play per bay at peak hours or over the weekend will be $30 an hour, Barta said.

Metro Parks Tacoma is offering alternatives to traditional golf as well.

Meadow Park Golf Course in South Tacoma opened the state's first FootGolf course in 2014, and hosted the Northwest's first pro tournament the next year. The sport is played by kicking a soccer ball instead of hitting a golf ball with a club.

Starting next month, Metro Parks will offer Glow Golf for the first time.

Golfers will start a round of golf between 10 p.m. and midnight, using lighted golf balls. Fairway will be lined in flickering lights, and holes will be marked with a light stick instead of a flag.

"Other than that the course will be dark," according to Metro Parks. "So the terrain, and its risks, won’t be visible."

The $40-per-person cost includes the golf ball, two drink tickets and a glow necklace.

Kate Martin: @KateReports