Loft18’s indoor golf venue is drawing sportsmen off the course and into a growing Old Metairie marketplace.
Last fall, three local high school friends (Rummel and Jesuit class of 2001) and golf enthusiasts decided to take a swing at a big idea, and their creation, Loft18, has so far resulted in the business equivalent of a hole in one.
General manager/partner Chris Molina, vice president/partner Brett Gaudet and president/owner Greg Whitman are the men behind Loft 18 a kind of mix of a country club, lounge, full-service restaurant, bar and practice green for perfecting your swing or shot. The business plan incorporates the three tenets of “Eat, Drink, Golf!” as its main draw for both fans of golf as well as those new to the game.
According to Whitman, the original inspiration for an indoor golf and entertainment center came after the partners discovered golf simulators four years ago.
“The seed of inspiration started the first time that we all saw a golf simulator online and then in-store,” he said. “At that time, most of the sims that we saw were being used for golf retail outlets and made specifically for customers for golf club-fitting and swinging analytics. We then began to discuss their full potential.”
On the Green After mulling over ideas and locations, the partners and friends landed on Metairie Road as the home for their new idea. They began plans in 2016 to develop a 12,500-square-foot site into a 7,400-square-foot building and a parking lot, drawn by a growing business development along that corridor. The goal was to create a select, dedicated group of (hopefully) repeat customers.
“This Metairie Road market is very interesting,” Whitman said. “We chose to be here over downtown because we believed in the long-term results and revitalization of the area itself. We realized going into this the seasonality of the service industry, but we have held steady numbers throughout the first 10 months of operations. As our systems and service are evolving, our bookings and event leads are increasing. The potential for growth is in how much we put in each day. The results are shown by the quality that we strive to achieve.”
Loft18’s Old Metairie location is on par with a growing business trend in that area, including the mixed-use development of Old Metairie Commons, new restaurants like Shipley Do-Nuts, upscale Brasa Churrasqueria and Zocalo, and the trendy Poke Loa (to name a few), as well as a new marketing push from the Metairie Road Business Association. All of these efforts have resulted in a renewed business-friendly corridor.
Of course, price was also a factor for the trio as they considered where to build. Whitman noted that the land price per-square-foot also to build in Jefferson Parish was “substantially lower” than Orleans, and came with the potential to build 31 private parking spaces, in addition to enjoying access to adjacent public parking.
Other Indoor Sports Options in New Orleans
New Orleans Boulder Lounge
Indoor rock-climbing wall for kids and adults
Sector6 Extreme Air Sports
Trampoline-based sports and activities for kids and adults
Playmakers Indoor Sports
Soccer, flag football, lacrosse, laser tag, sports camps, parties for kids and adults
Indoor surfing-inspired classes on stationary boards for adults
Taking a Swing
For Whitman, location was only part of the formula for creating a broad appeal for customer-building loyalty. Entertainment and flexibility were also key to Loft18’s development. The company focuses on delivering options for players who already love golf, as well as those new to the game in order to create the greatest appeal for the largest group of potential customers.
Loft18 includes five golf simulator stalls that feature 95 championship courses and large screens for play or game viewing. Each game is different, but averages around half an hour, with most patrons booking a simulator stall for two-hour blocks.
Simulator stalls feature generous seating and tables, a golf swing greenspace and a life-sized screen display that provides an interactive golf course experience. The screen can also broadcast televised sports, such as Saints games or college baseball tournaments. Each stall can accommodate up to 10 people, is available for reservation for both large and small groups, and is priced between $35 to $45 per hour. Guests may bring their own golf clubs, or rent a set on-site for $7.
There’s also a full bar with local craft beer, wine and specialty cocktails, along with non-golf entertainment like shuffle board, board games and lounges. There are also team leagues, and girls’ and guys’ nights out with drink specials on each night, making for a fun alternative to “ladies night.”
“That’s the beauty of it all,” Whitman said. “Golf is just one part of the entertainment draw. We are a full restaurant and bar, as well as our projectors serve [multiple] purposes. Customers can watch a big game on the big screen, lounge out and have some great drinks and food, and/or check-out any of the up-and-coming bands and deejay shows that we will be featuring on our late Friday nights.”
Families are encouraged to visit Loft18, which offers children’s birthday party options.
“We pride ourselves on having a clean, family-friendly environment,” said Whitman, who added that the business enjoys a customer base that is diverse in age, race and background. “We are an entertainment venue where you decide what your experience will be,” he said.
The Business of Golf:
According to a May 2016 article on the state of golf in Forbes Magazine, golf continues to be a big player in the sports realm, with increases in the number of youth participants and impacts on businesses both big and small across the United States:
2.2 million people began playing golf in 2016 (its highest level since its peak of 2.4 million in 2012)
24 million Americans played more than 450 million rounds of golf in 2016
233% increase in membership reported between 2013 and 2016 by PGA Junior League Golf, designed for players ages 13 and under
PGA Tour representatives reported an increase in TV viewership for the 2013-2014 season with more than 105 million viewers, and PGA Tour and its players gaining more than 40 million followers on social media.
The sport encompasses more than 15,000 small businesses nationwide, with a $70 billion annual economic draw.
Corporate events have become a steady source of reservations for Loft18.
“Our biggest draw is corporate,” said Whitman, “companies that are looking to host events, including team-building opportunities, workshops or simply just to entertain clients in a new way.”
“We really are focusing on reaching the millennial base,” he said “They are always looking for new and exciting things to do and we believe we have that, it’s just not Uptown or Downtown. We are trying to change people’s perspectives on the city itself, and help to make Metairie Road a destination just like many of the other known outlets in our great city.”
No Chance for a RainOut
Between often stifling summer temperatures and a subtropical climate where rain can be a common occurrence, it’s not surprising that a surge of indoor sports and activity centers in the New Orleans area have become popular, safe, climate-controlled entertainment options for both adults and kids. (see sidebar)
“Weather contingency was always something that we considered in the initial business plan, and for our true golfer customer base, it definitely has a tether effect,” Whitman said. “Whereas most restaurants struggle in those typically hot summer months, we have maintained a steady base.”
Loft18’s biggest challenge may be to come, with a $29 million Drive Shack planned to open at the end of 2019 in the former Times-Picayune building on Howard Avenue, and the Dallas-based chain TopGolf coming to Baton Rouge in late 2018 or early 2019. Whitman, however, said his team remains confident that Loft18 will maintain its customer base by continuing to develop unique experiences and establishing personal relationship that hopefully lead to return visits.
“What is quite exciting about this venture is that the golf entertainment industry landscape is pretty wide open,” he said. “Excluding the big TopGolfs throughout the country, we are targeting a more accessible market in the urban setting and it is a first-mover strategy. We believe in our systems that we have created from scratch, and in the synchronicity of those systems that we deliver. Competition is part of any emerging business, and we plan to combat those competitors by always thinking outside of the box and always creating new experiences for our customers.”
A Hole in One Up next on the horizon is expansion outside of the Greater New Orleans area. The company is currently scouting a second location in Houston, as well as external partnership opportunities in other markets, including Dallas, Nashville, Chicago and Atlanta.
While expansion is high on the “to-do” list, continual fine-tuning of the current facility’s amenities and décor is No. 1, according to Whitman.
“We are always updating and upgrading to make the space fully optimized and [to make] every inch of the floor and flow make sense,” he said. “We recently changed wall colors and added lounge areas, chandeliers, lights and TVs. We are closing the gap on what we believe is a perfect blend of a nice, swanky, hotel lounge and comfy restaurant.”
While weekend late nights are a prime time for guests, Whitman said he personally enjoys the weeknights at Loft18.
“Personally, and I think we can all agree, a nice Monday-to-Wednesday evening is great,” he said. Those nights when the crowd is diverse, a big game is playing on the screens, the food is flying out, and the drinks are flowing as the sun sets … it doesn’t get much better here in Metairie.”
Golf Digest’s Top Louisiana Golf Courses for 2017
1. The C.C. of Louisiana, Baton Rouge
2. Squire Creek C.C., Choudrant
3. Oakbourne C.C., Lafayette
4. The Bluffs On Thompson Creek, St. Francisville
5. Koasati Pines G.C., Kinder
6. TPC Louisiana, Avondale
7. Money Hill G. & C.C., Abita Springs
8. Gray Plantation G.C., Lake Charles
9. Contraband Bayou G.C., Lake Charles
10. The C.C. At The Golden Nugget, Lake Charles
3113 Metairie Road