MYRTLE BEACH — The Dave & Buster's of golf is coming to South Carolina.
Topgolf, which operates complexes that are part restaurant, part bar and part high-tech driving range, has announced plans to open two locations, in Myrtle Beach and Greenville, at the beginning of next summer.
"I think it’s really good for golf," said Chip Smith, who manages Myrtle Beach's public course, Whispering Pines. "I think it’s just more people that are maybe even not avid golfers that get introduced to the game."
The experience of Topgolf is more similar to a combination of arcade and a bowling alley than a typical day on a green-grass course. Patrons pay by the hour for their own hitting bay, which faces a driving range filled with targets. Each ball is micro-chipped, and relays information about its speed and trajectory. A server shuttles food and drink to the bays, which can hold up to six people.
Topgolf's flagship location in Las Vegas includes two pools, five bars and a concert venue for 900 people. But its push into South Carolina is motivated by a more modest version of the entertainment complex.
Company spokeswoman Morgan Schaaf said the expansion is part of a broader strategy to bring scaled-down buildings to smaller communities with a lack of entertainment options. Both the Myrtle Beach and Greenville buildings will have 72 hitting bays, instead of the typical 102, she said.
"The biggest thing with Greenville was just how attractive it is to the families that live there and just the need the community had for entertainment space," Schaaf said.
Meanwhile, on the Grand Strand, Topgolf is likely to fit well in a golf-crazy area with millions of annual visitors looking for entertainment options.
Chris King, a spokesman Myrtle Beach Golf Tourism Solutions, said there are already 3.2 million rounds of golf played annually in the region. Golf Tourism Solutions is a marketing collective formed by Grand Strand course owners from Georgetown to Brunswick County, N.C.
"It can be another part of the Myrtle Beach golf experience," King said. "People don't necessarily play golf after dark, so I think it’ll be an extension of the experience here."
What's most appealing about Topgolf, however, is its potential to attract younger players to the game. Schaff said that most patrons are between 18 and 34, and the company's research shows that people who go to Topgolf often start playing the traditional form of the game as well.
On the Grand Strand, golf season is most robust in the spring and fall, with groups of men playing rounds during "buddies trips," King said. But those players tend to be older, a difficulty for the industry.
"The reality is 23-year-olds don't take many golf trips, and that’s been the challenge for generations," King said.
Jay Karen, chief executive officer of the National Golf Course Owners Association, said part of that conversion might be due to the cost of Topgolf. The hourly rate for a hitting bay runs from $20 to $45, depending on the location and time of day, not including food and beverage.
"Anything that puts a golf club in someone's hand is good for golf and golf courses everywhere," Karen said. "There are some symbiotic opportunities between a Topgolf facility and the existing green grass courses."