By DANIEL J. HOLMES, CRANSTON HERALD
It’s not just Cranston.
Search Google for “What are they building with those giant poles?” and you’ll find confused citizens all the way from Fishers, Indiana, to Charlotte, North Carolina, asking the same question that has been puzzling passers-by in Garden City lately. In all cases, the answer is the same: Top Golf.
But what is Top Golf?
“It’s not a golf course or a driving range” says Kelly Coates, taking the two most obvious answers out of the running. A glance at the size of the facility is enough to rule out mini golf, too.
Instead, Coates (President of the Carpionato Group, that will lease the facility to Top Golf) says that the venue will offer visitors an entirely unique golfing experience.
“This isn’t ‘golf.’ It’s a high-tech, ‘golf entertainment’ experience,” Coates explains. “It’s less a place for serious athletic competition than somewhere for family outings, birthday parties, cooperate team-building events – honestly, anything from a bachelorette party to a bar mitzvah.”
The chain has expanded rapidly since having been founded in the United Kingdom in 2000. In 2021, it merged with American-based golf giant Callaway to become Top Golf Callaway Brands.
The rules of play seem to borrow elements of both a driving range and traditional golf. Parties of golfers can book one of the facility’s 102 climate-controlled balconies and take turns competing to hit their ball into one of several illuminated holes on the field. The series of 125 foot poles which currently line the perimeter will eventually become supports for a large net designed to prevent golf balls from raining down on Route 37.
These holes have been considerably scaled up, however, making aiming a bit easier. Another advantage at the player’s disposal is Toptracer, a computerized ball-tracking program that allows golfers to refine their aim, as well as enabling a variety of different game modes. Coates says that the tool can make a round of golf into child’s play… literally.
“There are plenty of times when families will go out to Top Golf where dad is a golfer and nobody else in the family really plays,” he explains. “And I’ve seen it happen that dad will try to show off how far he can drive the ball and he ends up missing all the holes, so the kids win because they’ve been playing with a better strategy. And you should see the look on a kid’s face when they beat their dad at golf for the first time.”
The Carpionato Group’s Frank Montanaro has also experienced some surprising Top Golf reversals. “We took a family trip to Florida recently and I convinced my wife to travel a little out of the way to visit the one in Tampa so I could get an idea of what this will look like when it’s finished,” he relates. “She’s not usually a big golfer, but by the end of it she was the one who wanted to book another hour.”
Coates says that the experience is more similar to a bowling night than a traditional game of golf. “Everyone is sitting together, laughing, drinking, taking turns to go up and hit their ball while everyone else cheers for them,” he says. “It’s just a great family activity.”
Of course, there will be more to do at Top Golf than hit balls. When it’s complete, the 25-acre complex at Sockanosset Cross Road will include a 470 car parking lot, three levels of golfing pavilions, two bars, and a restaurant. A two story building beside the main facility will be developed into what Coates describes as an “experiential retail” space, which will also include live music and entertainment.
“If you’re running a brick-and-mortar store, you need something to compete against Amazon and other online retailers,” he says. “You need to give people a reason to want to leave their house and come to your store – and that means you need to offer them something they just can’t get online. Top Golf is designed to offer that experience.”
Specific retailers will be announced as development continues, Coates says.
The Carpionato Group has owned the Sockanosset site since 1997. It previously held Citizens Bank headquarters and, more recently, the state’s temporary Covid treatment and vaccine distribution location.
The $40 million investment is expected to draw business to Cranston from all over Southern New England, creating 150 full-time and 300 part-time jobs in the process.. “There’s nothing like this in the region. There’s another Top Golf in Canton [Massachusetts], but that won’t be a full-size complex,” Coates explains. “So we’re hoping to attract visitors from Connecticut and Southern Mass and bring them here to Cranston. And we’re happy to do that because the City of Cranston has been very easy to work with. Ken Hopkins was a big supporter even before he got elected and has really been pivotal in keeping this going.
From the city’s perspective, the Top Golf project seems like a hole-in-one. “The mayor is absolutely thrilled,” says Cranston’s Chief-of-Staff Tony Moretti. “This is going to attract business from all over the region, and we managed to work it out without any tax treaties or preferential treatment. It exemplifies what makes Cranston such an amazing business environment: we offer a fair deal, together with an easily accessible and safe location.”
According to Moretti, Top Golf is expected to generate a quarter of a million dollars for Cranston per year in tax revenue, not counting economic spillover to other local businesses. The dining facilities will also contribute to the state’s meal and beverage tax.
“The amazing thing is how seamless the process has been so far,” Moretti says. “There haven’t been any major snarls. As far as I know, there haven’t even been any minor snarls. This is shaping up to be the perfect project for Cranston.”
Top Golf is scheduled to open for business in the fall.