ATHENS, GEORGIA | There are two phrases that evoke a powerful sense of place in the dreams of any Georgia sports fan – “Amen Corner” and “between the hedges.” The first summons tinkling piano keys and the soothing voice of Jim Nantz describing the feats of golf’s masters from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods. The latter is accompanied by marching bands and the gravelly voice of the late Larry Munson hailing the exploits of Bulldogs giants from Herschel Walker to A.J. Green.
For most golfers, the idea of playing through Augusta National Golf Club’s Amen Corner will forever be a dream. Hitting golf balls between the hedges at Sanford Stadium, however, will become a reality this summer – and unlike football nobody will hit you back.
The University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium will be one of eight stops on the 2021 Topgolf Live Stadium Tour. Tickets went on sale Thursday to participate in an extended nine-day Topgolf experience inside the 93,000-seat home of the Georgia Bulldogs from June 18-27 – starting the weekend of the U.S. Open. The hitting bays will be set up on the large West End Zone Plaza underneath the massive video scoreboard with glowing targets scattered from 60 to 140 yards between the hedges that surround the football field below. It will include Toptracer technology to accurately trace the flight path of golf balls and instantly score every shot in an interactive, in-stadium game, designed for all skill levels.
“There is nothing better than a fall football game in Sanford Stadium, but hopefully this comes in a close second as far as memorable experiences being made there,” said Kevin Welch, who has the impressively broad title of UGA’s director of digital strategy, analytics and revenue integration.
This Summer: Tee It Up Between The Hedges 🏌️
Topgolf Live x UGA | Tickets on Sale Now!
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) February 4, 2021
Georgia has long had golf and football programs that rank among the strongest in college sports, and bringing Topgolf to Athens is a creative way to blend the two. It was one of the first announcements made by UGA’s newly elevated director of athletics, Josh Brooks.
“We are excited to offer a brand-new experience within the confines of our iconic Sanford Stadium,” said Brooks in a press release. “We have been working on ideas for people to enjoy and experience everything that Athens and our facilities offer, and we believe this is a big step towards doing just that. Similar to the first-ever concert we had in Sanford with Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan in 2013, this is another opportunity for us to showcase a stadium that we believe is second to none.”
The stadium tour is another way for Topgolf to showcase its immersive golf/range entertainment experience in a flashy way. With more than 60 facilities in five countries, Topgolf has become one of the most popular and fastest growing outlets in the game – combining games, technology, beer and food into a collective social experience unlike anything else in golf. Topgolf Live tours in the past have visited nine other stadiums since 2017 including Chicago’s Soldier Field and San Francisco’s Oracle Park.
“The Topgolf Live pop-up experience replicates the Topgolf venues, but at iconic stadiums – creating meaningful experiences for fans and introducing it to more communities,” said Rodney Ferrell, Topgolf’s VP of Global Partnerships.
The 2021 Topgolf Live Stadium Tour kicks off Feb. 25-28 at Baylor’s McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas, then shifts in late March to Charlotte, North Carolina, and the home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers – Bank of America Stadium.
During the early half of Masters week, the tour will set up shop April 8-11 only about an hour east of Augusta in Columbia, South Carolina, at Williams-Brice Stadium, where the South Carolina Gamecocks play. April 22-25 it will move to The Swamp – University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The SEC East is well presented, with Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium in Knoxville (May 20-23) as well as Sanford Stadium (June 18-22 and 24-27) on the agenda.
Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman – home of the Big 12 powerhouse Sooners – will be visited May 6-9. The last stop, thus far, on the 2021 tour schedule is TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the outdoor home of the Big Ten’s University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.
South Carolina has been selling tickets since before Christmas, and demand was so “unbelievable” that they’re discussing opening more tee times and bays if they can fit them in and maintain social distancing.
“It’s a fun way to expose our brand,” said Eric Nichols, senior associate AD for marketing and branding at South Carolina, who said the timing opposite the Masters was “intentional for obvious reasons.”
The Sanford Stadium event generated such a positive response that on the first day of ticket sales on Thursday they added four more dates at the end to accommodate demand.
“Because the local demand has been overwhelming, it will be one of our top pop-up experiences covering 10 days,” Ferrell said.
At Georgia, the tee times will be reserved in one-hour increments, with prices starting at $80 for player tickets and $40 for students. (NCAA rules prohibit bringing a high school aged non- family member as a guest.)
“We had a tremendous response to the event release and were lucky to have the flexibility in dates from Topgolf Live in order to add the following week,” Welch said of the quick extension. “This addition gives us the ability to have two strong weekend events as well as offer some mid-week opportunities for potential student events or business day outings.”
COVID-19 protocols will require bays be purchased as a group of six to avoid mixing of parties. There will be mandated temperature checks for anyone entering the event area, social distance rules throughout the venue, disinfected golf clubs, tables and hitting bays between tee times, washed balls after each round of play and hand sanitizer stations.
Premium-ticket experiences will also come with some extra perks, Welch said, including access to Georgia’s new recruiting lounge (underneath where the hitting bays will be located) for food and drinks as well as access to the locker room to take photos on the field, in the tunnel and with some of the Bulldogs’ trophies inside.
“This has been on our radar for a while as something we wanted to have here on campus and are happy it has worked out to bring them in this June,” Welch said. “One of Josh’s missions as athletics director here is to enhance the fans’ experience, and that includes bringing new and innovative events like this into Sanford Stadium. We are confident partnering with Topgolf that it will be a top-notch experience.”
Top: A past Topgolf Live event in Chicago. Photos: Courtesy Topgolf
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