Texas-based TopGolf eyes Dedham Street location

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With 12 locations in the United States, another one opening in a few weeks in San Antonio, and dozens more slated to be built over the next two years, Dallas-based TopGolf is in the midst of a rapid company expansion and is poised to become the ‘next big thing’ in the sports entertainment industry.

TopGolf in Houston (Photo courtesy of TopGolf)

TopGolf in Houston (Photo courtesy of TopGolf)

Combining a unique, hi-tech golf experience with upscale dining and “best-in-class” entertainment, the company has already become something of a phenomenon across the Midwest and South in recent years. And judging from its apparent interest level, TopGolf could soon be making its way to the Northeast, starting, perhaps, with a location right here in Canton — if all the stars align and a few regulatory hurdles can be cleared first.

As it stands, TopGolf is merely exploring its options for expansion in the region, and the property that they have looked at in Canton — the former Cumberland Farms headquarters on Dedham Street — is one of a number of sites that they are considering, according to TopGolf Director of Real Estate Zach Shor.

“There are a few sites [in the area] that we are looking at,” acknowledged Shor in a recent telephone interview. “There is no signed agreement. However, if it were to come to fruition [in Canton] — and that’s a big if — it would be the first one in New England.”

Shor did say that TopGolf “likes the area and is very interested in learning more,” and judging from the warm reception that Shor received from the Board of Selectmen in December, it appears that the interest is mutual.

“I think it’s fair to say that the board views any new business coming to Canton as something of interest,” acknowledged Selectmen Chairman Victor Del Vecchio. “This particular project sounds novel, and I think we’d be interested in learning more about it. It sounds like an exciting prospect.”

What is clear is that TopGolf, which was founded in 2000 by British twins Steve and Dave Jolliffe, would be unlike any other entertainment facility currently operating in the region, featuring a year-round golf experience, climate-controlled hitting bays, and patent-protected, microchipped golf balls that instantly score each shot’s distance and accuracy. Players hit the balls at various targets on an outfield, which the company likens to a “larger than life outdoor dartboard.”

The Jolliffe brothers sold the company to a group of private investors in 2011, and TopGolf has since undergone a major rebranding with a renewed emphasis on food, drinks and fun.

“It is a wildly popular concept,” Shor said of TopGolf, which expects to open 10 more locations this year and 12 more in 2016. “We’ve been really blessed as a company to have such a great customer base and a great following.”

Shor stressed that TopGolf “really appeals to everybody,” from the serious golfer to families with young children to the young professional and corporate crowds. The facilities also host parties and events and provide space to middle and high school golf teams.

Shor added that TopGolf would be a welcome addition to New England, and he thinks that the greater Boston area could ultimately support more than one location.

“We are really an all-weather, 363-day-a-year kind of concept,” he said. “We do great in the winter. You can’t go play 18 holes, but you can go to TopGolf for an hour, put a jacket on, be under our heaters and be pretty comfortable.”

And yet, in order for TopGolf to even consider opening a new location in Canton, there are two preconditions that would have to be met — and both require town meeting approval, according to local attorney Paul Schneiders.

Specifically, said Schneiders, TopGolf would need permission to build a restaurant in a limited industrial district, which is not permitted under the current zoning bylaws, and they would also need the town to secure an additional liquor license.

A view from a TopGolf hitting bay (Photo courtesy of TopGolf)

A view from a TopGolf hitting bay (Photo courtesy of TopGolf)

Schneiders himself has filed an article for the zoning change in the 2015 town meeting warrant, while the selectmen have done the same in an attempt to acquire up to five additional liquor licenses, which would also require the approval of the state legislature.

Del Vecchio said it would ultimately be up to the state, at the request of Representative Bill Galvin, to determine how many additional licenses, if any, that the town receives and whether those licenses would be for all-alcohol sales or for wine and beer sales. Furthermore, he said there is no guarantee that the licenses, if approved, would be awarded to any particular applicant.

“Last summer, when deciding how best to issue the one all-alcohol license we had available and there were three well-deserving applicants, we realized that we could reasonably use more licenses,” explained Del Vecchio. “I think this is something that’s been building for some time but has recently come to a head.”

In the case of TopGolf, Schneiders said an all-alcohol license would be an absolute necessity given its business model, although he knows of at least three or four others in Canton, including Bertucci’s and Mai Place, that he believes are deserving of a license.

As for TopGolf’s chances of actually landing in Canton, Schneiders said the interest is clearly there on both sides, although it would depend, he said, on the will of the voters at the upcoming town meeting.

“I think they’re willing to wait out this process [through town meeting],” he said. “But we could also lose this. They are a young, fast-moving company — they have 15 [locations] on the drawing board right now.”

On the bright side, Schneiders said the property in question, located at 777 Dedham Street, is primed for development thanks to the Chapter 43D designation that the town awarded at a previous town meeting. As a result, the property has been identified as a “priority development site” and is eligible for expedited permitting, which makes it more attractive to prospective commercial clients.

Schneiders said that residents can learn more about the proposed zoning change in a limited industrial district at the Planning Board hearing on February 4. To learn more about TopGolf and its offerings, visit www.topgolf.com/us.

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