One of the keys for a golf course facility's success is to get members and guests to spend time at the club before and after their rounds and even when they're not playing the golf course.
Providing excellent food and beverage service helps in that area. But another, often overlooked amenity that can keep golfers at the club is a dynamic practice facility.
Ranges with worn-out range balls, poor turf or mats-only teeing areas, undefined targets and little or no short-game area are going to attract only the most dedicated range rats and a few players just looking to warm up before a round. But in recent years, you may have noticed many facilities, from municipals to private clubs, are stepping up their practice areas in a huge way. They're adding technology, putting or short courses, and extensive instruction centers. Others are getting creative and making their range acreage multipurpose.
Investment in practice is smart business. According to Jason Becker, co-founder and CEO of Golf Life Navigators, 89 percent of more than 12,000 prospective club members surveyed say a club's practice facility is very important in making their decision on where to join.
"Golf enthusiasts who are seeking their ideal golf lifestyle in the Sun Belt rank the practice facility the no. 1 most important golf operation to their decision tree -- by far," said Becker.
Fortunately, there are many clubs and courses that do this well. Over the years, places like PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Orange County National in Orlando, and Bandon (Ore.) Dunes Resort have large, extensive practice facilities, where you can not only work on any part of your game, but the overall experience is almost enjoyable as playing golf. In the years since, more and more clubs both private and public have added new wrinkles to their facilities.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Fla.
The principle architects at Arnold Palmer Golf Design, who have a tweaked the Championship Course at Bay Hill Club (host of the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational) over the years, also designed the new practice facilities.
AP Golf Design's Thad Layton and Brandon Johnson put together a six-acre facility that can accommodate drives approaching 350 yards, but more importantly provides a variety of interesting targets to allow golfers, from pros to higher handicappers, to work on all kinds of shots. Just as important is a new two-acre short game layout that that features four different greens – with all sorts of green contours -- and seven different kinds of bunkers, including flat-bottomed bunkers in the style of Seth Raynor and deep as well as bunkers modeled after the Road Hole bunker at St. Andrews.
In a story by Golf Advisor senior writer Bradley Klein, Johnson said, "Someone could get lost in practice here for two to three hours. You can stand in one spot, hit 60-degree wedge; turn and hit a full wedge, hit every kind of golf shot – with uphill, downhill, side hill lies."
Bluejack National Golf Club, Montgomery, Texas
Besides Bluejack National just north of Houston being Tiger Woods' only U.S. design to date, it's unique in several other ways as well, including the practice facilities. The range isn't huge, but it is perfect, with impeccable turf, practice balls, plenty of targets (including short-game targets), and it's also right next to the club's Performance Center, a chef-inspired grill, and The Playgrounds (also designed by Woods), a lighted 10-hole short course perfect for kids and adults alike.
This short-game course should ensure that all the members have a pretty good wedge game because it's fun, and when you make practice fun, golfers will do more of it. Case in point: On the first hole, there's a gumball machine with golf balls, as well as a stand with other goodies, including nutrition bars, ball mark repair tools, water and sunscreen. The 10th green even has a bunker in the middle of it, ala Riviera.
Dallas (Texas) National Golf Club
Arguably the nicest club in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex before it made improvements to its range and practice facilities, Dallas National upped its game even more with a multi-million dollar investment in its new Performance Center and also became the first club ever to install TrackMan Range technology for its members to use anytime they want on the practice tee.
Using the free TrackMan app, Dallas National members can review and analyze their shots with eight ball parameters, including ball speed, launch angle, launch direction, height, carry, total, and how far they are from the pin. To achieve better distance control, range ball data can even be converted into premium ball data, making the practice session even more "course play" realistic. The base technology behind TrackMan Range is the same that is currently being used by the majority of the world's top players every week on tour. This information isn't just helpful, of course; it's fun. So it would be understandable if members spent as much time on the range as they do the course.
In addition to the TrackMan Range installation, the Dallas National's new Performance Center also has four TrackMan 4 launch monitors and an indoor TrackMan Simulator.
Balsam Mountain Preserve, Sylva, N.C.
At Balsam Mountain Preserve, a private residential community near Asheville, a new concept in practice and fun just opened. To go along with the 18-hole Arnold Palmer Signature Course there, Balsam Mountain Preserve recently debuted its Palmer Practice Park. The new five-acre park offers a par-3 course, driving range and pitch and putt with six greens and three bunkers.
The park also features multiple teeing grounds, creating an unlimited number of ways to set the course up each day. The idea is to promote a low-pressure, smaller-scale game designed to appeal to golfers of all abilities.
Top of the Rock at Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale, Mo.
Big Cedar Lodge, with its four courses and another (the Tiger Woods-designed Payne's Valley) on the way, is one of the most unique resorts in the world in so many ways, including its incredible driving range. Located next to the Jack Nicklaus-designed Top of the Rock Golf Course, the only par-3 course in the world that's used to contest a PGA Tour event (the PGA Tour Champions Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, which also features the Tom Fazio-designed Buffalo Ridge Springs course).
Simply put, you have to see the driving range at Top of the Rock to believe it. Designed by Arnold Palmer, this synthetic range is has target greens perched above limestone rock outcroppings, ponds and waterfalls. It impresses everyone. "That was some driving range," PGA Tour Champions player David Toms said the first time he teed it up at Top of the Rock.
In addition, Top of the Rock also features a Tom Watson-designed putting course, meaning you can spend the whole day out there having a great time just practicing and playing the par-3 course.
Mistwood Golf Club, Romeoville, Ill.
Mistwood Golf Club is one of the most popular daily fees in the Chicago area for so much more than its golf course. Its customer service, food and beverage and practice facilities are among the best in the Midwest. The last item continues to improve over the years, offering golfers a great place to practice, get fitted for clubs or take lessons.
The range is located on a deck in the back of the Mistwood Performance Center, where there is also a bar and grill, so you can get a bite to eat and a beverage while you practice. During colder days, the bays on the range are heated. And if you need help with your swing, there are two covered bays with all sorts of technology available, including Toptracer, which is not only used at Topgolf facilities throughout the United States, but on TV as well to graphically show the shots of the tour pros. (The nearby Mistwood Golf Dome also has Toptracer and offers indoor simulator experiences. It's been a real hit for Mistwood since it debuted in 2018.)
The Performance Center also offers extensive clubfitting throughout the bag, as well as a club repair and club-building shop. Additionally, Mistwood has a very nice short game area.
Tranquilo Golf Club at the Four Seasons Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
It’s not as if Tranquilo Golf Club, home of the LPGA Tour's Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, didn't have a pretty nice practice facility before, but the new one that opened in 2018 is double what it used to be at 18 acres.
Designed by Tom Fazio's son, Logan, Tranquilo's new practice digs include a huge driving range with a short-game target greens and another half dozen target greens that are well-bunkered and look and feel like Fazio bunkers. During certain hours of the day, they turn it into a par-3 course to give players the perfect place to practice their short game (a growing trend that can also be found in places like Ak-Chin Southern Dunes and Moolight Basin, among others). The practice facility is also equipped with technology that includes fiber-optic cable outlets at strategic points, allowing the Golf Channel to conduct live broadcasts throughout. (Read more about Tranquilo's range)
Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Ga.
There's a lot to love about Reynolds Lake Oconee, a resort/private club community located about halfway between Atlanta and Augusta, Ga., including its incredible practice facilities. The centerpiece of that is the TaylorMade Kingdom of Golf, which offers indoor hitting bays as well as an outside range and even a tour trailer to build clubs on site after golfers are fitted. A recent expansion added new technology, which includes TrackMan launch monitors, Quintic putting analysis software, and the GEARS system, a full-swing, club-and-body-tracking system that produces a three-dimensional image of a player and the golf club during the swing.
Just as impressive, however, is the incredible short-game area at Reynolds. Located next to the Kingdom, this sprawling collection of greens, bunkers, and chipping areas was designed by Dave Pelz. And it's also beautiful, complete with a water feature and scenic backdrop.
Sea Island Golf Club & Resort
Known for its top-notch instruction program as well as being a Forbes Five-Star Resort, Sea Island upped its game significantly in 2018 when it opened its brand new Golf Performance Center at the Sea Island Golf Club on the coast of Georgia.
The 17,000-square-foot facility, which is part of a $30 million enhancement program at the result, has just about every technical bell and whistle you can think of as well as six instruction and clubfitting bays, a putting studio designed by renowned putting instructor Phil Kenyon (who is also the director of putting at Sea Island), a full-service golf club workshop, gym with locker rooms, spacious retail area, and indoor and outdoor meeting and event spaces.
In addition to the new Performance Center, in 2018, Sea Island also debuted its new 18-hole Driftwood putting course, designed by Davis and Mark Love. The Love Brothers are also currently redoing the Plantation Course, which Rees Jones reworked in 1992. (The course is expected to reopen this fall before the PGA Tour's RSM Classic, a FedEx Cup event.) In short, there might not be a better place to practice on the East Coast, especially when you combine it with a faculty of teachers that serve under the director of instruction Jack Lumpkin.
Campbell River (British Columbia, Canada) Golf & Country Club
Located in a rather remote part of Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada, Campbell River Golf & CC has plenty of new wrinkles when it comes to its range and practice area setup. Last August, the club unveiled its newly renovated course – which is unique as well with seven par 3s – but it also debuted its new "Velocity Lounge," which turned its old tired driving range into a place where locals and visitors spend plenty of waking hours.
It's sort of like Topgolf, except at a course. Using much of the same technology as the popular multi-deck covered golf experiences around North America, golfers at Campbell River's Velocity Lounge can hit shots and play different games, using Toptracer technology. And since it's lighted, the fun goes on into the night, complete with plenty of good food and craft beers.
According to our Jason Deegan, who wrote a story on the opening last year, the idea for the facility was to be next level. "We wanted to go above and beyond," said the facility's general manager, Amanda Raleigh.
Papago Park Golf Course, Tempe, Ariz.
Papago Golf Course in Tempe, Ariz., is one of the best places to practice in the Valley now, thanks to a new range and new clubhouse. The range is solid with plenty of green grass, targets, a short game area and Ping demos and clubfitting right there onsite. In an interesting twist, the target greens are dormant in the wintertime, while the rest of the range is overseeded, making for a striking visual.
But more than the range, this is a place where golfers like to hang out now because the new Lou Grubb clubhouse (dedicated last December). The open-feel layout includes Lou’s Bar & Grill, which features a great menu, craft beers and signature cocktails. So you can hit a few balls, get a burger, fish tacos or salad, hit a few more and then hang around to watch sports on the big screen or listen to live music on the patio overlooking the golf course.
It's also worth mentioning that Papago is also the new home to the Arizona State University men's and women's golf teams. And with the help of its most famous golf alum, Phil Mickelson, those practice facilities (though not accessible by the public) are some of the best in the world.