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Peoria Park District receives $4M for golf center upgrades, including virtual system similar to Topgolf

Golfers practice their shots on the driving range at the Peoria Park District's Golf Learning Center. A $4 million state grant will go toward upgrades at the facility, including the addition of a Topgolf-like entertainment experience.
Joe Deacon
Golfers practice their shots on the driving range at the Peoria Park District's Golf Learning Center. A $4 million state grant will go toward upgrades at the facility, including the addition of a Topgolf-like entertainment experience.

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth celebrated her birthday Tuesday with a twist on traditional gift-giving by announcing a $4 million grant for the Peoria Park District to upgrade its Golf Learning Center and Academy.

The key component of the funding from the Rebuild Illinois capital investment package is adding a “Topgolf-like” virtual entertainment system to several of the driving range bays.

“We know how important it is that we are giving Peorians the ability to have awesome and innovative experiences,” said Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria. “We know that to continue to attract the kind of population that we want to attract to this community, we have to be able to offer these kinds of experiential opportunities to be able to hold that population.

“But what we also know — and what we have seen in other cities across the country and, in fact, across the globe — is that when you have these kinds of facilities in your community, they provide phenomenal opportunities, also, for economic development.”

Peoria Park District Executive Director Emily Cahill said the grant money also will go toward adding food and beverage service at the golf center, and upgrades to the existing building, grounds and the “pitch-and-putt” course. Gordon-Booth noted the $4 million price tag is an initial figure, as construction and material costs continue to rise.

Peoria’s venture will not be a Topgolf-branded facility, but will use similar technology with a hybrid model. Topgolf uses its virtual technology to project a golfer’s range swings as if they were playing world famous golf course such as Augusta National, where The Masters is held. Additionally, Cahill said players can use the game to play video games such as Angry Birds.

“You're working on your swing and you're playing a game that is engaging to all levels of a golfer, so this is a gateway," she said. "There's a reason that we are committed to the hybrid model here, because we know that it is a way for us to transition people through the process to become lovers of this game so that they play golf where they can play golf in the way that they want to play golf.”

The closest true Topgolf locations are in Naperville and Chesterfield, Mo. Bloomington’s Liquor Commission has given initial approval for an indoor X-Golf entertainment venue that plans to open later this year.

“If you are visiting this community, you're not going to most likely drive to Bloomington-Normal for that experience. So, to have that here gets more people to visit here, to stay here (and) to spend their dollars here,” Cahill said.

“I have long been of the mindset that we need Peorians that have discretionary income to be spending more of their discretionary income right here in Peoria and adding to the tax base,” added Gordon-Booth.

“This is yet another opportunity for Peorians to be able to keep their money right here in our community, as opposed to thinking that in order to have a great time and opportunity with their family, that they have to go to Chicago or St. Louis. You can have a great time and have a great experience right here in your backyard.”

Park district board president Robert Johnson said adding the Topgolf-like technology exemplifies the district’s innovative and forward-thinking mindset.

“I was on the board when we built the Golf Learning Center, and at that time we were looking at: ‘Our golfers are getting old, they’re aging. We have an aging population,’” said Johnson. “Now, we’ve got young people here and we have a vehicle that will attract young people to the parks (and) to golf, and they in turn will buy passes and they in turn will come out and golf also as well.”

Cahill said the current plan calls for at least 10 driving range bays to be equipped with the virtual technology. She said the hope is to keep the learning center in operation while the work is done, with a preliminary target for completion in 2024.

“We want to open this up make this much more visitor friendly. We want really to evolve this to where golf is now, to bring technology to the game so that we can get more people engaged in the sport,” said Cahill. “Golf is one of those hallmarks of the Peoria Park District and this is a way for us to work together with the state of Illinois to make improvements and to make the tax dollars here go farther.”

Cahill noted the sport of golf has experienced a resurgence since the district closed the Donovan Park course in 2014, particularly in the past couple years.

“Golf’s trajectory literally has changed since COVID in 2020. People could come out; this was one of the few activities that they could take part in, and it was an opportunity for families to come together around a sport,” she said. “We're still seeing more people playing the game, and (with) a facility like Topgolf, you don't have to be a golfer to come experience the game. So it's a great introduction to the sport.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.