Tom Hoffarth / FartherOffTheWall.com
Shot a respectable 176 playing Pebble Beach Golf Links the other day.
Pounded down a couple of George Lopez brews, tipped the valet and got home in time to take a nap before the Chargers-Chiefs game.
If you’re driving toward, away from, or involved in a police pursuit near from LAX on Pacific Coast Highway, and this magnificent black-and-gray kingdom East of El Segundo’s landmark Chevron Oil Refinery catches your attention, perhaps you’ve reached your unintended destination. Proceed with caution.
One must be prepared there is a seduction into believing a) golf really isn’t all that challenging, demanding or demeaning, b) you’ve got time to prove that theory and c) your credit card limit can be extended in emergency circumstances.
Or, just leave your wallet in El Segundo and pursue another quest.
For the last 20-some years, Topgolf has become this bedazzled and beguiled business model on how to successfully spray tee shots to all corners yearning for legalized torture chambers under the ruse of an entertainment venue.
Sparked by its successes in Las Vegas, Austin, Scottsdale, Nashville and all the other up-and-coming 21st Century upwardly mobile resorts, Topgolf somehow seizes onto one of God’s historically problematic endeavors — as in, “G-D-it, I just lost another $5 Top Flight in that ditch” — and dupes all comers into considering this could be as recreational enjoyable as when their grandparents ran off on Saturday nights for their bowling leagues back in the ‘60s and came home smelling like a carton of Lucky Strikes.
There’s crying in golf. Tears, and fears. And no bumpers in the gutters. It spares no one.
Topgolf is stimulation through simulation. A grip-and-rip, multi-tiered launching pad that makes you forget it’s a multilevel marketing scheme.
It took until last April before getting this escape room pried opened in Southern California (after one was strategically planted first near the Ontario Airport). Airport-adjacent sites seem to be targeted now in Southern California where property can be easily transformed. It’ll only get worse if California passes sports betting legalization.
This one here in L.A. non-proper came after years of resistance from the local neighbors, led to believe this would attract the most undesirables elements. You know, the Bogey-Man Syndrome.
Now, look at the parking lot, on any day, any time. It looks like a new Carvana just set up shop.
For the uninitiated and somewhat inebriated, think of a typical mundane golf driving range now amped up with an assortment of bells, whistles and cart girls hustling over a range of food and beverage — and advice — that will push you down a path of ego punishment.
They provide the clubs, an arsenal of Callaway drivers, hybrids and wedges, all compliments of Topgolf’s new parent company. The have the balls, filled with electronic diodes, for you to whiff over, top, slice, hook and fade, by accident or on purpose. The fake grass and the rubber tees are standard. Now add in more flatscreens than the video section at Costco that tell (or mock) you, upon impact, just what your recorded as far as trajectory, speed, arch and landing spot. It’s as if you’re on a CBS telecast, the celeb partner of Phil Mickelson’s at the AT&T Pro-Am.
(Maybe a poor choice of PGA Tour pro to use here, since he’s taken his talents to that farcical Saudi league to pay down his latest gambling debt.)
So, yeah, that’s a faux Pebble Beach Course, all right. One of four in the simulator’s evil storage unit. You trust it is telling you the truth on where to aim and, when you’re a decent distance from the pin, how to chip toward the 57-yard target, make it in the middle part of the netting, and somehow accept responsibility for a triple-bogey. If at any point you use more than 10 swings, an alert pops up — you’ve exceeded your limit — so you’re stamped a certified loser and ushered ahead to the next hole. By the time you’ve taken the walk of shame to the Famous No. 18, the phony Pacific Ocean on the left and the phony sea lions barking at you is a welcome relief.
But wait, there’s more.
For those who need the grit and grime of playing an actual round that involves walking and talking and pulling a cart, this is the L.A. tour stop unique with its own modified actual course next door. It was once upon a time called El Segundo Golf Course (where many of us in the South Bay learned the game on a bunch of short par-3s, ending with an elevated 9th tee box where we were all but encouraged to launch Rockflights across PCH and into the refinery long before security cameras could do anything about it).
In its latest carnation, it was The Lakes at El Segundo, and now it takes on the new Topgolf identity by, after the traditional nine holes, it adds a funky 10th hole, calibrated with a cameras and more technology to show you on a big screen what you’d see if you were up in the hitting bays.
Don’t expect to conquer this Pebble Beach in an hour. It’s not a kid-friendly video game. This is real time, and when the meter starts screaming that it’s about to go dark, you panic, search out someone with a name tag, re-tap your Discover Card and then discover you’ve already charged about $200 just on chicken tacos, tater tots and a fourth round of Maker’s Tipsy Palmers.
Just follow the rules and no one gets hurt. Allegedly.
Of course, you don’t have to play one of the simu-courses. Go attack virtual Angry Birds if necessary. Aim at targets for points. Bring your own sticks and pretend you’re really on your game, then realize you’ve missed the whole point.
Golf inherently isn’t fun. It’s a sweaty grind, made easier by electric carts and hybrid alloy attached to comfortable grips. Good walks can be spoiled just walking up to the third level to your Topgolf bay after a stroll through the gift shop.
Just don’t lose sight: The objective is wait for your turn, drop a ball, launch, and after it lands somewhere near a recycling bin on Rosecrans Blvd., stand aside and admire the horrible whiffs and partial swings displayed by a gaggle of office women who are on an extended lunch break with a co-worker named Fez celebrating his latest 21st birthday.
So here’s the dilemma: You should go now to lay claim of having visited this place before the weight of its $20 million construction fee starts sinking the city coffers. The land is too valuable for this frivolity. Groups who searching for convivial social interaction will realize there are less expensive places to be humiliated. You’ll be talking about it like we do now about Marineland, Busch Gardens, Pacific Ocean Park and Japanese Village and Deer Park.
By 2032, a full-on state-of-whatever-the-art-is virtual reality miniature golf course company surrounded by senior living homes and two urgent care facilities — all owned by Steph Curry with an endorsement from LeBron James Jr. — will occupy this place to continue the evolution.
And then we can say, thanks for the memories, Topgolf. Holey moley.