Lighning-Topgolf GolfTales RJSmiley

Lightening Bolt At Topgolf

Over the years I have seen a lot of lightning on the golf course. But nothing close to what happened in Texas.

To watch the incredible video go to https://www.golfdigest.com/story/lightning-hitting-golf-ball-mesmerizing-terrifying-video

This writer has written many stories about Topgolf since twin brothers Steve and Dave Jolliffe came up with the idea. These entrepreneur brothers had just sold their mystery shopping business and were looking for something new. They were golfers who enjoyed going to the driving range. They decided to use new microchip technology to create a high-tech golf ball. They dreamed up a new driving range concept, Topgolf. In 2000, the brothers opened their first Topgolf in Watford, England, just outside London.

In 2007 a group of U.S. investors opened the first Topgolf in the U.S., in Alexandria, VA. The expansion and growth have been explosive ever since. Then came the big money, in October of 2020 Callaway Golf, a publicly traded company, purchased the company, with over 70 worldwide locations, for 2 billion dollars.

This story was not written to tell you about the history or success of Topgolf. You already know about that. This story is about Mother Nature creating a marketing opportunity that even the most creative PR group could not dream up. Lightning combined with a Topgolf golf ball, with that microchip inside, has been showcased in every newspaper and on every television set in America. My mom always said, “The best publicity is free publicity.”

Topgolf has always been a marketing company’s dream client. With the combination of good food, adult beverages, music and golf, Topgolf has been enjoyed by golfers since opening day. There are an endless supply of marketing schemes and strategies that can be employed with all the moving parts at Topgolf, but nothing will top what just happened in San Antonio, Texas.

In addition to people who already play golf, Topgolf has introduced the centuries old game to many non-golfers. This group of golf neophytes make up a large percentage of Topgolf patrons. Those numbers will grow, because of the exposure gained from the lightning bolt from marketing heaven.

On July 8, a thunderstorm developed directly over the Topgolf facility in San Antonio, Texas. Tomas Gomez, age 18, was enjoying an evening at Topgolf with his younger brother and sister and four friends, all teenagers. They were enjoying the privacy of their bay doing what teenagers do. They were talking, laughing and shooting video of their great time at Topgolf hitting golf balls at lighted targets.

Those who have played Topgolf know that bays at Topgolf have a roof overhead, but the balls are hit into the open-air targeted turf. The speed that a golf ball travels and relationship to targets is displayed on a monitor near the tee. Thomas knew he was hitting the driver at speeds approaching 90 mph. 

As the storm intensified, the kids paid little attention to the potential danger of the thunderstorm. They just kept hitting balls. Arlette Ibarra, age 15, was shooting random videos when she made Tomas the star of the video of a lifetime. The cell phone camera was running when Tomas hit his infamous shot.

When interviewed by local media, Tomas said, “When the lightning hit the golf ball, I was so scared that I tried to run. But I slipped. I caught myself on the way down. I feel really lucky that the lightning hit the golf ball and not me.”

After the lightning hit the still-in-flight golf ball, Topgolf management asked all customers to please move inside to the sheltered area. “This is common practice,” management said.

We all remember our teenage years. Why worry about a little storm. Who would believe that lightning would really hit a golf ball traveling at 88 mph? But even more unlikely, to be shooting a random video and catch it all on a recorded video. 

The publicity value of this random scene will never be fully known. Which brings up some interesting questions:  Does Arlette Ibarra own the rights to the video? If Tomas joined the actor’s union, could he receive a royalty each time his image is used. You can bet that the lawyers for Topgolf are already attempting to get signed waivers to the property rights.

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