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Friday, Aug 22, 2014
Richard Mullins Columns

Immense TopGolf megaplex underway in Brandon

Published:   |   Updated: July 13, 2014 at 09:47 PM

Above all else, Drew Boatman thought I should remember one phrase after touring the massive TopGolf construction site: “Cryo-cooled beer circulation system.”

Picture dozens of artery-like tubes flowing through a three-story megaplex — each tube wrapped in hyper-chilled glycol sheathing leading to three oversized cocktail bars around the complex. It’s enough to trigger brain freeze on any customer ordering a pint.

All this is necessary to cope with both Florida’s inhuman heat and the immense size of a TopGolf site, which could easily house a small college campus if need be. Boatman has built several TopGolf driving range/restaurants around the country. The Brandon site is just north of Causeway Boulevard on Falkenburg Road, next to the future site of Bass Pro Shops —making the area a multimillion-dollar megaplex of fishing, golfing, hunting, boating, shopping and beer drinking. In a nutshell, Ah‘merica!

“Our location in Houston,” Boatman said, “sells more beer than any single site in that city except the football stadium.”

You see, there’s just no way to adequately grasp the sheer magnitude and luxuriousness of a TopGolf unless you set foot on the construction site and gaze around.

The place immense.

A few facts to consider: The whole site, parking included, spans more than 13 acres, rivaling Raymond James Stadium. Just the driving range stretches 300 yards long and 200 yards wide.

The six target “pools” where golfers aim their shots are each the size of a municipal pool. Forming one pool alone took 54 cement trucks. To keep golf balls inside the range, hurricane-proof netting wraps the entire outfield and is held aloft by 17 poles, each one 150 feet tall. That’s taller than most airport control towers. At any given point in the day, there might be 150 to 180 construction workers on site.

Standing in what will soon be a third-story driving “bay,” one can easily look east across Interstate 75 at the Westfield Brandon mall, which starts to look a bit undersized. A rooftop cocktail lounge on the west side will look out at the Tampa skyline in the distance.

It’s a bit unfair to call a TopGolf a “driving range,” because that’s a bit like comparing a single slot machine to all of Las Vegas. When TopGolf opens here, the site will have 102 driving range bays, where golfers will thwack away at microchip-enabled balls that keep track of who’s thwacking and how close their shots land to specific targets. Those who garner the most points win.

Besides a half dozen flat-screen TVs to keep oneself occupied, ordering the food comes by way of touchscreen tablets at each bay, so golfers need only tap a finger to conjure up a prosciutto and artichoke flatbread for lunch or crab cakes Benedict for Sunday brunch.

A fresh basket of baby-back ribs and a mojito are a mere finger touch away.

There’s something truly revealing about American culture that our disposable income can simultaneously support evermore outrageous health clubs (tractor tire flipping, anyone?) and driving ranges so luxurious that we need not even speak our food order aloud — merely tap it on a touchscreen.

The invisible hand of the market may be at work here, and it clearly favors another carafe of strawberry mint sangria to soothe the pains of that wicked slice in the third round.

The whole place is so automated that frequent visitors receive a wireless card so they only have to wave it at a kiosk and stroll to their assigned bay.

All of which makes me wonder this: With all these restaurants switching to iPads on the table to order food, and all these hotels and airlines installing check-in kiosks, are we moving to a post-human world of service and entertainment?

Notably, when the Aloft opens downtown this month, frequent Starwood hotel guests don’t even need to check in at the front desk. When they arrive, the Starwood system notices their phone’s GPS coordinates and sends them a text with their appointed room number. The guest’s own phone wirelessly unlocks the door. Kind of makes the whole check-in process seem quaint as signing a guest book — with a pen and all that.

But anyway, I digress, so here’s one other thing to keep in mind about TopGolf.

BassPro may be getting a lot of headlines, but TopGolf will likely have a soft opening around Dec. 1, and BassPro will take another year to open just a couple five-iron shots to the north.

Then we can really start to talk about supersized locations, because, let me tell you, that place is huge.


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