Friday’s 4-1-1, The What’s and How’s of a Modern Driving Range – Top Golf

Top Golf

What do you get when you combine RFID technology with a driving range? You get Top Golf, a modern version of the tired, old place you go to hit golf balls into a wide open field.

I’ve seen and heard of these places around Dallas for the last few years, but I hadn’t ever experienced it for myself. Until last week. And let me tell you, it’s a night full of fun.

The place is popular and always crowded and a large part of the draw is the technology behind the experience. Of course, no one really cares about the specifics of the technology – they just want it to work – but it’s the technology that creates the draw. Or rather, it’s the technology that enables the experience that creates the draw. Without the technology, the place wouldn’t be nearly as popular or crowded. It would essentially be a swanky, country club version of a driving range. But the technology separates and elevates it from any other driving range experience you can have. So, let me tell you about it.

The game – the place is one of those multi-level driving ranges. There are 3 levels with at least 30 bays on each level. The bays are complete with lounge chairs, tables, sofas, and the like – and enough plasma screens to distract you from what you’re there to do. One of the plasmas is your scorecard, very similar to the what you have and see in today’s bowling allys.

Top Golf scorecard

The range is filled with targets – close, mid, and far-range and you play games trying to hit the targets. There are a number of different games you can play – from Top Chip to Top Drive to just random Top Golf. Each are centered around trying to get as close to the center of each of the targets with your 20 balls. At the end of 20 balls, the person with the highest score wins.

Top Golf targets

The technology – the balls and the targets have RFID sensors in them and the targets have different point totals assigned to them. So, when the ball makes it into any of the targets, it recognizes the points you’re supposed to get and sends the score back to the scorecard. On top of that, when you hit a target (in most cases), the next ball you hit is worth double the points. So, if you hit multiple targets in a row, your score is multiplied. This means the system must keep track of your specific ball and your specific activity throughout each game. To understand and appreciate the sophistication of this system, now multiple 20 balls by 200 people (I think this is on the low-end of the average number of people at a peak time). That means the system has to keep track of 4,000 different and building “instances” for hours on end. That’s pretty remarkable.

What works – the sheer complexity of what the technology has to do and do on a regular and consistent basis goes completely unnoticed (for the most part) to the players. It just works. And that’s what works about the experience. It’s not a headache. You’re able to go and enjoy for hours at a time. Can you picture yourself spending hours – literally, hours – at a driving range? I can almost guarantee a fun time at this one, even if you don’t like golf. The technology is one of the components that makes it fun.

What doesn’t – not much. There were a few times where we experienced bugs in the technology. The most common was hitting a target and the score not registering. But the system is set up where you can manually enter in your scores, based on where you hit on the target. So, there’s a back-up, which is essential in an experience like this. Bugs are to be expected on this scale. The great thing is – they don’t hamper the experience.

“Uh-huh” – this is a great example of enabling technology enabling a different kind of experience than we’ve had in the past. It serves as a technology to better an experience (the game) and make easier a utility (score keeping). And for a business (Top Golf), generate revenue.

“Duh” – if you’re ever close to one, go. There just aren’t that many of them around. The technology, the entire operation, and the scale probably make it quite prohibitive, but this is certainly an experience we can expect to become part of our daily lives (and activities) in the future.

As always, I can’t thank you enough for reading. I hope you all have a great weekend!

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