I may be stating the obvious, but having a kid changes things. Take something like hobbies. Over the years, the number of activities I’ve done has slowly declined. This hasn’t been on purpose, but a mixture of things – moving out of London, having a kid, friends getting partners, becoming older etc – just makes your life different to what it once was.
These days, after being with the toddler all day, my hobbies mainly revolve around sitting on my arse – playing FIFA on the Xbox, watching boxsets, being on the laptop or sleeping. Apart from playing 6-a-side football every two weeks, I get very little actual sporting action – something I used to love.
As such, when golf entertainment venue Topgolf dropped me an email, I thought it sounded a great way to try a new hobby. Although I’ve never been a golfer – well, apart from crazy golf – I was well up for trying something a little different. They initially invited us as a family, but at just under three, Toddler L is a bit young to fully appreciate it. As such, I asked if I could go on a toddler-free, dads-only man date with a mate.
They agreed and asked us to come check out their Eat, Drink & Play offer. This gets you two games, a drink and a meal for £16 per adult any day of the week between 11am-1pm and 4pm-6pm. That sounded like a pretty decent deal to me – £16 didn’t feel much for a bit of grub, a few games of golf and a couple of hours with another adult talking about stuff that isn’t Peppa sodding Pig.
Topgolf has three UK sites – Watford (Hertfordshire), Addlestone (Surrey) and Chigwell (Essex) and 28 in the USA. I tried to see if they’d sort out flights and accommodation for us to travel one of the latter, but for some reason, they weren’t keen. As such, we plumped with Watford and made the short drive to the venue – ironically, it wasn’t the only short drive happening that day.
We pitched up a little early, but didn’t have to wait – a fella behind the desk told us that our bay was ready and gave us our playing cards preloaded with credit for a few games. Before you start at Topgolf, you need a playing card as this does clever things like track your scores, put your name onto the scoreboard and allow you to collect your golf balls. You can either get a Taster Card for £2 which lasts for 30 days, or get a Saver Card which costs £20, lasts forever and comes with four included games.
Once you have your card, you need to get your golf balls from the machine – this is like a snack vending machine where your only option is golf balls. We put a basket below, popped in our cards and 40 golf balls were spewed out ready for us to attempt to hit.
Our bay was on the first level, so we headed up there. What you’re greeted with is an individual area which consists of a table, chairs, golf clubs, scoring screen, a patch of astroturf, a couple of tees and two black boxes. In front of you, there’s a pretty cool view over the area where you’re hitting the balls – a 240-yard field with a number of holes in the ground with nets.
It reminded me of what would probably happen if you crossed the films Return Of The Jedi with Tin Cup. It appears to be a normal driving range, but there’s actually nine different sized Sarlacci from the Great Pit of Carkoon scene where Jabba is going to feed Luke et al to the multi-tentacled alien beast in the ground. Yeah, Topgolf is basically that.
Anyway, back to reality. There are a few different games you can play, from TopBreak to TopChip to TopShot. We played the signature game of TopGolf. The aim is simple – score as many points as you can by hitting your balls into the targets. The more accurate your shot and the further the distance, the more points you score.
Each hole on the floor is actually divided into sections – a bit like a giant dartboard. If you manage to get your ball in the small centre section, you receive more points than if you were to hit it into a larger outer section. This is because each ball is microchipped and assigned to you, so it’s whereabouts can be tracked. If you miss the target, then you don’t get any points and blame it on some random distraction.
The only other thing to note is that before every shot, you need to drop your ball through the hole in one of the black machines by the tees. This scans your ball and puts it ‘in-play’, so that its location can be tracked and subsequent points allocated. You soon get into the habit of doing this and checking that the little light comes on to confirm it’s ‘in play’, but there were a few shots during the first game which weren’t counted because we’d forgotten to do this.
And that’s basically it. Choose a club, scan your ball, pop it on the tee, hit it and aim for a target – or, if you were at our level of ability, go with the good old hit and hope. After each shot, your score is added to the scoreboard, which is displayed on a screen in your bay – a bit like ten pin bowling. This screen gives you other info too, for instance, how far you hit the ball and where in the target it landed.
We both had a lot of fun – so much so that we even decided to have another two games after the initial free ones. We were more than happy to pay for these additional games, but the staff weren’t having any of it and added extra credit free of charge. If they wanted to impress me with their customer service skills and give us a VIP experience, they certainly did.
As expected, we were far from pros. There were a fair few air shots, multiple miss hits and the atrocious weather added a number of water hazards to the course. The 11am beer probably didn’t help either. However, this all added to our competition and gave us plenty of excuses for our low scores. We did get into the swing of things though. I even hit a couple of balls so well that I nearly had a stroke.
Like any other competitive scoring-based game where you try to outdo yourself and your opposition, we found it really addictive. There was something both relaxing and stress-relieving about smacking a golf ball as far as you can. I managed to win our mini series 3-1, although it was close to being 4-0 with just a one point difference on our last game. Luckily, my superiority did not drive a wedge between us.
As it approached lunchtime, we were hungry – it’s par for the course. We could have ordered the food to our bay whilst playing, but decided to sit down in the bar / restaurant area instead. The Eat, Drink & Play menu was a smaller menu than the main one, but it included some tasty looking options nonetheless and came with a drink. Being a huge pulled pork fan, I went for the BBQ pulled pork sandwich and my mate went for a shredded chicken wrap – both with seasoned chips. The food was nicer than I expected and I’d more than happily eat it again.
All in all, we had a good time and have talked about going back for a another toddler-free man date. It’s the type of thing you don’t have to be good at to enjoy because it’s not as serious as a proper driving range or golf course. It’s also a different option to other sports-based leisure and entertainment activities like bowling, darts or snooker, plus the sports bar atmosphere gives it a bit of life.
Who knows, maybe we’ll soon be good enough to get involved in the Topgolf Tour – a two-person team golf competition giving you the change to win an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas and $50,000. Watch this space…!
Have you ever been to Topgolf before? Have you found your hobbies have subsided since you’ve got older? Let me know below!
N.B. This is a commissioned post written in collaboration with Topgolf. We were provided with complimentary games, food and drink in exchange for me sharing my experiences.