When it debuted a year ago, The Links at Petco Park nine-hole golf experience did so with a snap San Diego popularity akin to craft beer and fish tacos.
Three days of tee times to play Petco as a par-3 course in 2015 sold out in a matter of hours. Callaway Golf and the San Diego Padres added two more days and extended the hours each day and it sold out again.
A sixth extra day was added this year and tickets for the encore moved nearly as swiftly – save for a block of premium night-time tee times priced at $450 for a twosome and $900 for a foursome that eventually sold – and allowed 2,700 golfers to experience the event as opposed to 1,600 in 2015.
Callaway Golf Marketing Manager Nathan Adelman said the expanded tee time availability and upgraded course all proved to be big hits in the 2016 edition of The Links.
“The enthusiasm for (The Links at Petco) was just as much as a year ago, if not more,” he said. “We had a lot of come back, many of whom said they had an even better time this year, and we also had a lot of people participate who didn’t get to play last year.
“There was more energy in the stadium this year because we spaced the tee times closer so there more people in the park at once.”
Among the course upgrades included tee boxes being staged at four levels of the stadium as opposed to three a year ago, but the awesome opening tee shot, hit toward center field and the San Diego skyline, remained at home plate.
From the tee boxes, golfers get two shots at an outlined green with a colored pin flag. A circle drawn around the flag serves as a birdie target. A ball hitting outside the circle but on the green is a par. Any shot landing outside is a bogey. The best-ball score is recorded for each hole.
Unlike last year, when the layout used several shared greens, this year, each hole had its own green, including an island green on No. 9. Course architect Geoff Shackelford, who worked on the Olympic course in Rio, consulted in this year’s layout to help evolve the course experience.
“He helped shape greens, bunkers and hazards to be true to where actually golf shots would be coming from,” Adelman said. “One of the reasons this event appeals to people is that despite being in a baseball stadium it’s an authentic golf experience. It’s a legitimate golf course.”
Shackelford also helped Callaway stretch the course a bit, extending the length of the longest shot to 165 yards. The shortest was 68 yards.
Two other changes this year included the incorporation of live scoring and also a non-profit partnership with Pro Kids and The First Tee of San Diego. Pro Kids sold mulligans and generated over $23,000 in donations, Adelman said.
“That’s really rewarding for us to see,” he said.
After last year’s event, Adelman said the Callaway team spent the year brainstorming upgrades to the experience and entertained conversations from 15 organizations about holding a similar event for them.
Ultimately, Adelman said, Carlsbad-based Callaway chose to focus on its core business and improving the event in “our backyard.”
“We need to focus on selling golf equipment,” he said. “It’s a lot of energy and resources to pull off an event like this. We want to continue to focus on doing it here and doing it the best.”
Adelman noted imitators of The Links experience are coming out of the woodwork. For one, the Atlanta Braves hosted a similar event that didn’t involve Callaway or another equipment partner.
Adelman said The Links is an ideal environment to introduce people to Callaway equipment. Golfers not only hit Callaway clubs on each hole, each hole is manned by a Callaway staffer.
“That means we’re getting a touch point with them on every hole,” he said.
Adelman credited the partnership with the Padres as being critical to the event’s continuing success.
“It really is a collaboration,” he said. “We could not do this without their event team and their staff making sure everything runs smoothly. But they also couldn’t do it without us because there are a lot of golf nuances built into this event.”
As for the future of The Links, Adelman said Callaway and the Padres now have a two-year track record of proven success that he’s confident will continue.
“I have an inclination we’ll be back.”