BUFFALO, NEW YORK | Looking for a tee time in balmy Buffalo during the winter, where the average annual snowfall is 7 feet, 8 inches?
Look no further than OnCore Buffalo. Similar to the Topgolf driving-range entertainment complexes but promising more bells and whistles, the $30 million facility was announced last month by OnCore Golf Technology CEO Keith Blakely and Buffalo developer Doug Swift.
What is OnCore? The company’s primary business is golf balls. It is the creator of what it bills as the first and only hollow, metal-core golf ball, the MA-1.0, which the USGA has deemed conforming. Pros such as Gary Player, Al Geiberger and trick-shot artist Tania Tare use the ball, according to the Buffalo-based company.
Swift co-founded Buffalo RiverWorks, a bar and restaurant in the area where OnCore Buffalo is proposed to be built. RiverWorks has an outdoor ice rink and an indoor roller derby arena that can also host concerts and mixed martial arts fights.
OnCore Golf and Swift’s relationship started about four years ago. Two years later, they began raising capital. Now the facility is fully funded, and shovels are set break ground next summer with the facility expected to be completed in 2021. The OnCore Buffalo facility will feature a driving range with 72 stacked hitting bays on a four-story structure, topped with a six-story hotel with at least 120 rooms, a sports bar, restaurant, and a meeting space so it can attract corporate meetings, private parties and other events. The building will be heated, but the range will not be completely covered. It will be $40 to rent a bay for one hour, for up to six people. It will be aimed at golfers (and others) of all ages and demographics, year round.
Blakely said his team doesn’t see Topgolf as a competitor, especially in Buffalo, since there isn’t a Topgolf facility in the area. But if OnCore wants to expand its concept to Orlando or Pittsburgh, where there are TopGolf facilities, Blakely believes the company will do just fine. OnCore’s business model is to put facilities close to downtown areas (with a smaller footprint than Topgolf’s facilities), while providing more amenities and cutting-edge technology.
“From a golf standpoint, we feel one of the challenges that Topgolf has is that they have to use a chip in a golf ball,” Blakely said. “Golfers who are used to hitting real golf balls … they will be able to do that in our facility. They will also be offered about 10 different types of games that can be played – anywhere from long drive to who’s got the highest backspin on their wedges.”
“But the biggest difference, because of the technology we’re using, is that we can elevate the target game board above a surface parking lot. That allows us to shrink the footprint. What is 12-15 acres for Topgolf would be about 4 acres (for OnCore), which means you can locate these entertainment facilities very close to city center. … That changes the accessibility, the diversity, the inclusion for a facility like this. … We see a lot of advantages to having something that occupies a smaller footprint and closer to the city center.”
Still, Topgolf’s popularity makes any new entry into the market raise eyebrows. The company also owns Toptracer, the shot-tracking technology widely used on golf broadcasts that it has extended to practice ranges at public and private courses throughout the country with its Toptracer Range product.
“Because we’re creating the first of its kind, we can incorporate a lot of neat user experiences. … Once you see everything, it’s gonna be a ‘wow that’s so cool.’ ” – Keith Blakely
Blakely and his team plan to include a year-round indoor surfing wave, skateboarding, and snowboarding, as well as simulated baseball, basketball, hockey and archery into the Buffalo facility. They are also looking at sites in Tennessee, Ohio and other markets where the “downtown” concept might hold some appeal.
OnCore’s technological innovations won’t be limited to golf, Blakely said.
“Because we’re creating the first of its kind, we can incorporate a lot of neat user experiences,” Blakely said. “We don’t want others stealing our thunder, but the new experiences include things from the food and beverage department … to social media engagement and integration.
“Once you see everything, it’s gonna be a ‘wow that’s so cool.’ ”
Blakely said the Buffalo facility will bring as many as 500 full-time jobs to the area.
Plus, with 10 million to 12 million visitors coming to see nearby Niagara Falls each year, Blakely believes OnCore Buffalo should be tourists’ next stop.
“In the last five years, Buffalo development has grown tremendously, but this is going to add to the attraction to the downtown Buffalo area,” Blakely said. “There’s Canalside (a revived waterfront district). There’s a casino. With a hotel element, you can spend a weekend in Buffalo. And that’s what we want.”
OnCore Buffalo will feature a driving range with stacked hitting bays on a four-story structure, topped with a six-story hotel with at least 120 rooms, a sports bar, restaurant, and a meeting space. Rendering: Courtesy of OnCore Buffalo
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