Stadiumlinks and What's Wrong with the Growing the Game Initiative

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Stadiumlinks Chicago

An experience unlike any other

Efforts to grow the game have been popping up all over the world of golf. Entrepreneurs and long-established equipment brands are partnering together to increase access to the game, hoping to attract new players. Others, like the folks behind Stadiumlinks, are offering incredibly unique golf experiences open to anyone with some money to burn.

We had the opportunity to enjoy an evening at Guaranteed Rate Field (it’s still Comiskey to me, dammit!) in Chicago to experience Stadiumlinks first-hand.

We had a great time, took some amazing photos, and saw more of the stadium than we would have otherwise. It was what we didn’t see that sticks out the most from our experience.

What is Stadiumlinks?

Stadiumlinks is a company that temporarily converts professional and college football and baseball stadiums into driving ranges. Players hit golf balls from the upper perimeter of the stadium down onto the field, where makeshift “golf holes” await. Yes, there are actual holes cut into the grass and marked with real flagsticks, in case you were wondering.

Tee boxes are basically scaffolding with driving range mats positioned in the stands, tucked into nooks and crannies in which you’d otherwise never sit during a regular game. Scoring is simple: hitting a ball into the inner-most ring near the target flag earns you a birdie; hitting the “green” yields a par; everything else is a bogey. Players are given a plastic bag with 18 golf balls, which you will hit two of at each tee box, taking the best of the two for that hole’s score.

You can learn more about some of the locations Stadiumlinks has visited on their website.

So, how did it go?

Overall, the experience was incredibly fun. Our foursome of baseball fans got to live the dream of hitting golf balls in a Major League baseball stadium. Staff at Guaranteed Rate Field, while somewhat uncomfortable due to the rain and colder weather, were pleasant and helpful with directions and rules.

Everything was well organized and the flow of the afternoon was seamless. We hardly ever waited for a tee box, and the views of the field were absolutely incredible. Staff also allowed us to take pictures from different angles, understanding that these four golf maniacs were soaking everything in.

Inside the concourse, food and beverages were available for purchase (we may have ordered more than we should) and TV’s were playing everything from football to hockey.

It wasn’t until we each sat back and started talking about the experience that we realized what actually went into planning the afternoon, and what could be improved.

Costs were substantial

Stadiumlinks is not an inexpensive experience.

Understanding the unique nature of the event, tickets were $90 a person. That’s just to get in the door and reserve yourself a tee-time. Included in the price is access to the nine holes, 18 complimentary range balls to hit onto the field, and access to Tour Edge (sponsor) clubs available at every hitting bay (we chose to bring our own clubs).

There were also putting and chipping challenges available, which were an additional cost and totally optional. For example, we each tried the chipping challenge — which consisted of hitting 10 balls onto a cardboard box with scoring holes cut into it — for $10 a player.

What was also optional were the aforementioned food and beverages. Beers ranged from $6 - $10, and the limited food vendors were similarly priced. All things considered, you can expect to easily spend over $100 per person, which can be a considerable expense for the casual golfer.

However, I’m not so sure the “casual golfer” was the target demographic for Stadiumlinks, which is unfortunate.

Finding the right balance

Therein lies the challenge of any effort to grow the game. Stadiumlinks is definitely not going to bring more people to the game, and to be fair, they never make that claim anywhere on their website or promotional materials. However, there was an underlying sense of exclusivity built in to its business model.

During the four hours we spent goofing around, taking pictures, drinking, and hitting 18 golf balls each, none of us saw who could be considered “new golfers.” Everyone at the event were clearly experienced players who are comfortable hitting somewhat difficult golf shots while dozens of people watched. That’s intimidating.

Accessibility was also an issue. I’ll be blunt: if you need assistance walking or climbing stairs in any way, you’re not going to enjoy this walk. Many of the tee boxes required climbing stairs to some degree, and I didn’t see any alternative routes (elevators, etc) to reach the highest hitting locations.

Unintentionally, it seemed this was an experience to be enjoyed by a select few.

I realize all of that makes it sound like I did not enjoy Stadiumlinks, which is not true. I had an absolute blast and would go back in a heartbeat if they came around again in the future (Wrigley Field or Solider, anyone??). In fact, if they offered a replay option of, say, $30 I may have gone around a second time.

It’s just difficult to overlook the potential this experience had to excite the hell out of new players who would otherwise never think this would be a good time. For example, hitting golf balls at a discounted rate from a single location on the ground floor could be a less intimidating option.

I picture the conflicting efforts of growing the game while offering fresh experiences for established players as two trains of differing speeds heading in the same direction. The former, while slower, is gaining speed thanks to efforts like Top Golf and the #InviteHer campaign. Comparatively, the faster of the two remains to be that of the core golfer.