It’s finally here.
After a long, torturous gestation, the Albuquerque outpost of Topgolf, the wildly successful chain of driving ranges, is open for business.
The project’s early stages were mired in controversy after the city rolled out a $2.6 million package of tax incentives to help lure the business to Albuquerque. Mayor Tim Keller opposed the incentives, but the City Council overrode his veto. In 2019, the project broke ground at the former site of The Beach water park, just southwest of Montaño and Interstate 25.
The driving range’s netting had just risen over I-25 like a gigantic spider web when COVID-19 hit, pushing the planned 2020 opening to 2021.
Now only two months into its existence, Topgolf Albuquerque appears to have caught on with the
locals, judging by the paucity of reservations available in the coming weeks.
Often characterized as a driving range for millennials, Topgolf got its start about 20 years ago in the United Kingdom and now has more than more than 50 locations in the U.S. The appeal is obvious. Instead of baking in the sun at an old-school range, would-be golfers can tuck themselves into a climate-controlled bay surrounded by screens that track the arc and distance of each shot. Food and drinks are never far away.
It’s meant to appeal to novice and seasoned golfers alike, although the crowd on a recent weekday afternoon definitely slanted to the former. I was there with my son for a Thursday 1:15 tee time, and the players around us – mostly groups and couples in their 20s – were chopping their clubs down on the ball as if it were a pest they wanted to kill. Club heads hammered the synthetic turf in the tee boxes, and golf balls sprayed all over the place. Occasionally, someone would whoop with joy when they sent one flying toward the numerous colored targets in the distance. There was a cordial vibe to the place, a shared sense of relief at finally being out among people having fun.
The complex is set in a barren hillside next to a big, shadeless parking lot. When you enter the lobby, a concierge directs you to your bay, a trip that involves passing through a high-ceilinged lobby with a bar, some enormous TV screens and a shop selling golf gear, hats and T-shirts.
All the staffers were masked up. Patrons are required to wear a mask unless eating or drinking.
Once you find your bay, a server comes by and gives some quick safety instructions. It’s a good idea to pay attention, because the bays are a little cramped, and its easy to imagine getting a driver upside your head if you’re not careful.
Instead of a bucket of balls, there is a dispenser that belches a ball up every time you wave your club head over a sensor.
As for the food, Topgolf offers a decent selection of high-calorie pub grub done well, with an emphasis on shareable plates. Prices are a few bucks higher than comparable items at other nearby spots, but then again, you can’t hit golf balls at Red Robin or P.F. Chang’s.
The menu starts off with bites and shareables such as tacos, nachos and cheese fries, with prices mostly a little over $10. The bone-in chicken wings ($11.25) are tossed in a notably tangy buffalo sauce that gave off a bit of a burn. There were about a dozen, served in a metal tray with ranch dressing, celery and carrots.
Cheesy macaroni bites ($8.50) delivered the promised cheesiness, although the pasta under the crispy fried bread crumb coating was barely tangible. It comes with ranch and creamy marinara dipping sauces.
Instead of pizza, Topgolf serves up a few different flatbreads; in other words, pizza made with unleavened dough. The gluten-free pepperoni flatbread ($13.25) is made with a cauliflower crust that was very thin and cracker-like around the edges. It had a good balance of cheese, sauce and pepperoni.
On the sandwich side, the base burger with lettuce, tomato and onion is $10.75; add-ons range from $1 to $2. I had mine with bacon and blue cheese ($13.75). Instead of asking for my preferred degree of doneness, the server asked if I wanted “pink or no pink,” meaning medium or well-done. I asked for pink and got well-done. Still, it was a solid burger with a thick patty, chopped lettuce and just the right amount of blue cheese. The thickish fries were salty and pleasingly free of
The menu also offers three desserts and a couple of breakfast items that are served until 2 p.m. Everything on the menu has a calorie count next to it, and most register in the quadruple digits: another reason to share.
Like golf balls, booze is in abundant supply at Topgolf. There’s an ample selection of beers, wines, seltzers and mixed drinks. The Topgolf Tea ($10.50) is a variation on a Long Island iced tea with everything but the tequila. It’s an enduring mystery how something so freighted with alcohol can taste like sweetened iced tea, but that’s how it registers. Take your time with it, or an errant tee shot will be the least of your problems.
Customers pay a premium for these amenities. Bay rentals run $25 to $45 an hour, depending on the time of day, and first-time users must pay a $5 lifetime membership fee. For those prices, you could hit about 500 range balls at Los Altos.
But it’s undeniably fun, and the food and drinks augment the experience. No doubt this place will be packed throughout the summer, as people work off some of the energy they’ve stored up during the pandemic.