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Play Away: All the Range in England

It took centuries for the game of golf to migrate to the New World; it should take far less time for TopGolf to reach our shores. Until it does, only the golfer who ventures to the outskirts of London can glimpse the sport's newest iteration.

Think driving range. Think oversize Skee Ball game. Think 3-D dartboard targets. Think bowling alley. Then think of a highly addictive combination of them all to begin to imagine TopGolf, a four-year-old British phenomenon that's redefining the notion of the range.

Here, at a sleek, multilevel driving range in Watford, eighteen miles outside of London, players queue up at the front desk and buy a bucket of high-tech Dunlops that are instantly chip-programmed with their names. Instead of aiming at scattered flags and untrustworthy yardage markers, they hit those balls at and into eleven circular funneled "greens" from twenty-five to 240 yards away that digest the shots and electronically grant points to each golfer. No more wondering if a ball was ten yards in front, astride or behind the marker. Immediately after a shot disappears, it's tallied on each player's electronic scoreboard. Holes in one on certain greens at certain times can even earn players prizes up to £1,000 ($1,850).

Rarely would one consider a driving range a destination, but TopGolf is more than a mere range. There's a wait staff, and drinking is encouraged, from Starbucks coffee in the morning to foamy Guinness all afternoon and evening. (Oh, this is England, let's be honest: There's Guinness in the morning, too.) Wagering is more the rule than the exception. There's even a training academy on-site for serious practice. As if to underscore that point, on our latest visit, we encountered British touring (and teaching) pro Freddie Drabble, who revealed that he hones his game at the TopGolf range "two, three times a week during winter."

A second TopGolf is slated to open this spring in the London suburb of Essex, but aspiring American TopGolfers might soon be able to stay on their side of the Atlantic. The first U.S. TopGolf venue ("We don't call them franchises," says Peter Allport, commercial director for international sales) is planned forthe end of this year in either Chicago, New York or Washington, D.C. Until then, consider TopGolf yet one more gift to the intrepid traveling golfer.

Fees: $7 for a bucket of twenty balls; initial membership is $12. Tee Times: 011-44/1923-222-045 or visit topgolf.co.uk.

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