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The Ride Along

The Ride Along

The ball-picker cart, also known as the Kubota. Topgolf uses a Kubota utility vehicle with a swiveling, basket-turbine-rolly-thingy attachment on the front to pick up all the microchipped golf balls that don’t make it into the targets. They need to be picked up every hour or so and sometimes every half hour on the weekends to maintain a clean field.

It’s a staple of Topgolf – our trusty servant that frees up our Associates from having to pick up millions of golf balls by hand. It’s genius, it’s elusive and it’s public enemy number one when it enters the outfield. Suddenly, it’s as though the target flags are no longer good enough for your aim because they don’t move or have a person inside them.

I’ve always wondered about that person inside the cart. What’s the view from the field like? Do they get startled if a ball hits? How fast does that cart go? I had to experience for myself what these mysterious individuals inside these seemingly indestructible cages of ball-gathering go through on a daily basis.

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I was one jacket short of being warm and cozy when I showed up to the Topgolf Dallas venue on a cold Wednesday night around 10 p.m. As I walked to the maintenance garage, there were a few dozen bays with people hitting balls and enjoying some late-night food and drinks.

Similar to when a citizen goes for a ride along with a law enforcement officer, I had a slight fear for my well-being as I was given the rundown by the maintenance crew.

Sergio, the “new guy,” and I buckled up and began our patrol through the roughest neighborhood – the area surrounding the yellow and red targets. I swear, half of the Guests playing instantly started aiming at us. The first hit caught the hood of the Kubota pretty darn good, and I’ll be honest … I jumped a little bit. So Sergio didn’t think I was scared, I played it off like I was just adjusting my seatbelt. He bought it.

For the next 10 minutes it was a fairly steady stream of getting hit by a ball about once a minute. One Guest on the second floor was even bold enough to pick up a golf ball and throw it at us. It drilled my door, and in that moment I came to the realization that some people just wanted to hit us no matter what. Was it me? Was there some type of mass text that went out saying it’s time to get Michael back for all his years of reckless target practice? No. Sergio made it known to me that this was normal.

At Topgolf, when you’re escorted to your bay and given rules and instructions, you’re told NOT to hit the Kubota. But why? It’s definitely not to be a fun-killer or even to protect whoever is driving it (that thing could go probably go on a combat mission).

It’s because that Kubota is a hard, hunk of metal, and that golf ball is a hard-shelled, round blob of rubber traveling at 100mph – the perfect ingredients for a ricochet back at the Guests in the hitting bays.

Our safety rules are all about protecting the Guests…like that young kid in Bay 118 who is having the best birthday ever. Or that couple in Bay 310 on their first date who are already talking about their second. It’s to keep that bachelorette party in Bay 222 safe and sound. It’s to ultimately make sure that everyone leaves Topgolf happy.

What I thought was going to be a funny and entertaining experience turned out to be more of an eye-opening one. When we’re on the course, we don’t take aim at the snack cart as soon as it comes around the bend toward us (if you do, you need to reevaluate why you play golf). The same should be for that ball-picker cart at the range. Or any Kubota that heads out onto the field at Topgolf.

We can do better. The first step is to look at that Kubota differently. Pretend Grandma is driving it. Or your mom. Or Ryan Gosling. Or maybe your dog (if you’ve somehow managed to teach your dog how to operate a motorized vehicle, which would be pretty incredible).

Or if all else fails, just pretend a human being doing their job is driving it.

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