You’ve probably seen them driving along the highway: massive, brightly lit, netted fields with a multistory building on one end that is so far away it may be a driving range — or the shell of a building still under construction.

Groups around the country such as TopGolf, Drive Shack, and Five Iron Golf offer high-end driving ranges, really good food and drinks, arcade games, locker rooms, and squeaky-clean meeting rooms, all wrapped in a club atmosphere, DJ sometimes included.

We used to have putt-putt as the “golf lite” option you could do with your kids, but putt-putt vs. today’s venues is like comparing a rickety traveling carnival to Disney World.

Get ready for the magic, because these golf venues are sexy! They’re what would happen if a golf course fell in love with a Dave and Buster’s and had a baby and then hosed that baby down with cash and electronic dance music.

Hey, I’m no snob. I think these places are fun for date night, plus I’ve always liked mixing sports and booze. And I’m definitely up for an evening-out option that doesn’t require a lot of talk time with my husband’s friends, who aren’t exactly an Algonquin Round Table, if you know what I mean.

The question does arise about whether entertainment golf provides an opportunity to actually work on your game. Can “real” golfers get their fix here? (And yeah, we include both Sticks and Hacks in the category of “real” golfers, because this is an egalitarian site, and what is “real” anyway if Gruyere and American can both be called “real” cheese?)

Can driving balls off what amounts to the roof of a three-story building help your game in real life? Can they compete with grandpa’s driving range? And what happens if you have vertigo?

To answer these burning questions, I took my first trip to one of these spots and also talked to some S/H members about their impressions. 

THERE’S GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS

These places will never replace green grass, but they’re not trying to. I give entertainment golf thumbs up, with certain conditions. Let’s start with the downsides because complaining is fun. 

Downside 1: It might have a party atmosphere. Well, duh. There’s a bar. I recently went with my husband to a Drive Shack in West Palm Beach in the late afternoon on a Friday. They assign you a bay when you check-in, and we were disappointed to discover that in a sparsely populated club, we were assigned a spot right next to a party of eight men and women who were well into celebrating the end of the workweek.  

They couldn’t have given us a little space? Technically we were socially distanced, but it was the minimum. 

Our golfing neighbors weren’t golfers, and every terrible shot was followed by peals of laughter. The loud kind. The drunken-hyena kind. But they were having fun, and it was happy hour, after all. We got used to it. 

My advice: Choose the time of day based on how seriously you want to play. Recently on the Stick and Hack Show, Mike and Adam talked to Mike Doyle, founder of Five Iron Golf. With locations in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago, the facility makes it easy for golfers to work a little play into their workweek. 

“We’re pretty much packed at 6 a.m., especially in New York,” Doyle says. “There are the morning guys who come in and use it as a gym, bang balls for an hour and go to work. People sneak out of the office for lunch, come in here and practice, or play with a buddy or two.”

In other words: Daytime is good if you really want to practice. After 5 p.m., you’ve been warned.

Downside 2: It’s not at all private. In these days of plexiglass shields, I thought there might be a barrier between our spot and the others next to it, but no. At least on our visit at this location, there were no walls between bays, which meant that everyone there could see and hear everybody else. If you want privacy or intense conversation, this isn’t the place. 

Plus, like at a bowling alley, they put your name up on a big, public monitor to keep score, and they used my real name. I don’t like that. I’m shy. Or at least I don’t like a lot of people. Next time I’ll give them my bowling name, which is Cinnamon. 

Downside 3: It’s pretty expensive. Prices in general range from $15 to $45 per hour, depending on the time of day and where you live. Most places offer specials, though, so use the interwebs and shop around. 

Downside 4: You’re not going to like the top floor if you have vertigo. At a lot of these places, you will be required to stand a few feet away from the edge of a three-story drop, and that’s not going to help your swing. My brother-in-law Jim has an irrational fear of heights where he’s worried that he’ll suddenly go crazy and throw himself over the edge. Weird, right? 

There’s an easy fix for this if you’re weird like Jim. Just make a reservation to get a spot on the ground. Ask for the children’s section. 

NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS

Upside 1: You’re hitting golf balls. For me, that’s a good day. 

Upside 2: It keeps your undies dry. We’ve all played in the rain, and yeah, it makes you feel like a baller. But let’s tell the truth: It really isn’t any fun to spend hours in wet clothes with a swampy crotch. 

Entertainment golf venues offer shelter, so you can play rain or shine — and in daylight or not, as they’re typically open until midnight or later. As sunlight hours diminish late in the year, it’s an excuse-proof way to get your ass in gear and keep swinging. 

Upside 3: There is some cool tech. The balls are microchipped, which makes them a little heavier than normal golf balls. Purists won’t like that, but I’m a hack, so I can’t say I noticed. 

“Smart balls” (I saw you giggle at that) provide precision tracking info like distance, height, carry yards and launch direction. I loved that I could look at hard data shot after shot and make adjustments. It didn’t help, but it made me feel like I was doing something really intentional.

Some venues also offer simulated play on real courses like Augusta and St Andrews. They also offer games that change targets based on themes like cards or darts. I guess those are for the kids. Just make sure you know the full menu of what’s offered before you start. Nobody explained the options to my husband and me, so we wasted a bunch of time on a game killing monsters before we discovered the actually useful option of data-tracking our shots. 

Upside 4: Entertainment golf is a great way to introduce people to the game. 

S/H member Cody Holloway from Denver sees real value in the option of golf as entertainment. “These places are great for someone who’s never held a club. There’s a huge contingent of people who don’t play because they’re embarrassed. I played at TopGolf recently with a father and his 10 daughters, and she had the best swing I’ve ever seen. She didn’t care what she looked like, and there was zero ego involved in her game. Add 30 years, and somehow ego takes over. We want every shot to be perfect, and it’s a much different game.”

I still whiff a ball here and there, I’ll admit it. It never feels good, but chances are far lower here than on a real course that anyone will even notice because it’s such a low-threat environment. The guy next to you who’s taking 10 minutes to show his date how to swing, always from the rear, of course, has way more on his mind than whether you’re hitting worm burners or not.

S/H member Joe Tudor got a summer pass to a golf entertainment venue in Baton Rouge, La., that gave him unlimited play during the week before 5 p.m. “The first few weeks I was there two to three times a week,” he says. “Then I started to invite people and ended up bringing 22 different people there over the summer. A few of them were golfers, but a lot of them were people who’d never go to a driving range or golf course.”

One was a student from Ghana who had never even seen a golf club before. Another was a woman with special needs who had never golfed before but said she had the best time of her life. 

Of her life, people! That’s impressive, and that’s not even all. 

Joe has been trying to get his 23-year-old daughter to play golf since she was about 5 years old. “She said no to golf her whole life, but she will go to Top Golf. There’s still hope.” 

So if you’re thinking of trying golf entertainment, do as Joe and Cody did and share the love. 

And as a bonus, you know that pang of guilt you get when you leave your family to play golf? Entertainment golf can help. Bring the whole family, even the kids. They’ll hit a few balls, you’ll eat and drink, and you can impress them with your extensive golf knowledge and coaching acumen. They’re gonna think you’re cool as hell, and isn’t that why you started playing golf in the first place? 

Claire Donaldson

Claire Donaldson is a Floridian who learned to play golf when she and her husband moved into a country club in Palm Beach County. Though she was initially just in it for the cart, she has grown to love the game, the gear, and the occasional gator on the course.