May 17, 2016. A cool gray Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. Other than a car, all you need is coffee and doughnuts.
Somewhere in San Bernardino County, near the California-Nevada state line, the sand starts to blow across the highway, whipping and swirling like an army of ghost snakes.
The road widens and there it frowns, the crystal city. Getting closer, a billboard proclaims “Topgolf: The Evolution of Play. Coming Soon.” Yes.
But first, the Flamingo. Put down your bags, you’ve got a room on the 21st floor. That sounds like a lucky number, but don’t you dare mention it. Now let’s head to the sports book and check out the spreads.
Are you superstitious? A gentleman wearing tweed and a single brown leather glove, surrounded by boxes of cigarettes and bottles of green tea, taking notes in crayon, eyeing the dog races — he sure as hell is.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel: The famous hood opened this hotel and casino in 1946 when the street outside was mostly dirt. His picture hangs in a room behind the betting counter. Make sure you nod hello to him when you wager on the Cavaliers to score the first 15 points in tonight’s game.
So where’s the big afternoon action? You check the Bellagio, where it’s possible to become addicted to roulette without even playing the game, and Joe the craps dealer grunts “better luck” to the losers.
Move on now, it’s the thing to do in this town. The Strip thrusts you through cherry-scented shopping malls and brand-new drugstores. A fat can of beer becomes mandatory.
In The Park, “An MGM Resorts Entertainment Destination,” little white flower petals dance in the air. What a springtime idyll all of a sudden.
Oh, no. Those petals are actually bits of foamy plaster, blowing off the unfinished roof of the Monte Carlo Concert Hall across the street and landing in your beer.
Escape this detritus. Into New York-New York then, a Rockefeller Center made of Play-Doh. The brown light elicits a happy brood. Have a bagel, have a muffin. Buy yourself a plastic watch.
An overseer scribbles tallies of chip volumes like a Broad Street oyster mogul, and the casino sheriff tips his hat to the cash bagger. A fog of love builds up at the blackjack table. But look at the time. Nearly seven o’clock. Time for Topgolf.
The MGM Grand is the O’Hare Airport of Las Vegas casinos. Ceiling signs point the way to Topgolf, the self-proclaimed “hottest new concept on the Las Vegas scene.”
In 1997, the twin Jolliffe brothers of the U.K. got the notion to put tracking-enabled microchips in golf balls and build driving ranges that are sleek party zones. In 2000, they set the first one up right outside London in the town of Watford.
Then, in 2005, Topgolf landed in Alexandria, Virginia. They have been spreading across the U.S.A. ever since, from Tampa to Dallas to Oklahoma City and beyond.
This walk through the MGM Grand to Topgolf Las Vegas used to lead to the MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park. That disappeared in 2002. But now, finally, big fun promises to make its return to the building’s back lot.
Hustle past the casino and the stores and the conference center and you can finally exit the rear of the MGM Grand through doors marked “No Reentry.” You emerge in the Topgolf parking lot. The evening sun is strong.
Temporary blindness is a common Las Vegas affliction. Luckily it subsides upon entering the golf experience venue. A guide in lime and pink plaid shorts leads you to a hitting bay on the ground floor. Welcome to the Media Taste & Tour.
Out in the distance, past the range, certain behemoths of the Strip glare mutely through the netting. A wave of the club over a sensor spews a ball onto your patch of turf. Wait, hold on. First, a handful of fried rock shrimp.
All right now, aim for that drone in the sky, even if that’s the wrong idea. You whack the ball with a driver. It skids ten feet out, stopping well shy of the closest target. Your form is off. You’re less than a duffer. You might be called a golf failure. The screen in your bay tells you so, granting you negative-three points for that folly.
Why are you here? It’s the fairest question in Las Vegas. Upstairs, in the second-floor lounge, a trio plays “Another Brick in the Wall” with studied disgust. A waiter is passing around what looks like breakfast lamb covered in sour cream, bone-in.
Over a gin and tonic, the bartender explains to you that Topgolf Las Vegas is a nightclub for golfers who want to be at Circus Circus. That makes sense. So where’s the pool?
There are two. One on the third floor and one on the fourth floor — the top. They’re both three- and-a-half feet deep.
Tonight, the top-floor pool makes for a pleasant spot to sit with the lifeguard and watch people pop golf balls into the night.
From on high, the targets in the ground of the range look like flying saucers burrowing their way into the earth. Then, so suddenly, the party ends. Nine o’clock sharp, everybody out. Go home.
Back at the Flamingo you place what would seem to be a guaranteed winning bet. You put some dollars in the hallway vending machine to buy a bottle of water. Las Vegas vending machines are different though. Many of them are worse than the slot machines. They won’t even print out a statement of your losses. This one on the 21st floor of the Flamingo, it sucks your money and leaves you dry.
So back in your room you call the front desk and explain your plight. There’s nothing we can do, they tell you. How’s the tap water? We don’t suggest you drink the tap water, sir. So you head back out to the Strip, in search of water, in search of anything.
Caesar’s Palace is bumping with high rollers. There’s a line out the door to get into the Omnia Nightclub. It’s a Tuesday in Las Vegas in the middle of May of the year 2016. The chicken fingers at the Americano Café say “hey fuck you” with their saltiness. The bartender keeps your water glass full and that pint of beer will be twelve dollars. What is it, about midnight now. The night is young, the noise takes over, and nothing will make sense from here on out. Not until tomorrow or the next day, whenever you return to Los Angeles and tell people you went to Las Vegas to check out the new Topgolf, and sure, you had fun.