Getting into the swing of things at The Links at Petco Park
If you’re like me and not much of a golf or baseball fan, you might think that spending a morning hitting golf balls around a baseball stadium wouldn’t be enjoyable. Yet, despite my athletic ineptitude, I got a lot out of my time spent putting around Petco Park as part of their The Links at Petco Park by Callaway experience.
For two weeks, from Nov. 5 to Nov. 18, Petco Park transformed into a nine-hole golf course, the kind of thing a sports fans dreams are made of. But even if sports aren’t your thing, the experience was well worth it.
According to the Padres President of Business Operations, Erik Greupner, that’s the beauty of the Links. During a phone interview, I asked him if one needed to be a good golfer to enjoy the experience.
“No, you really don’t and that’s one of the great things about the Links. You come out and even if you’re a beginning golfer, or a very casual or recreational golfer, you can still have fun and you can still be competitive,” Greupner said. “You get a couple of balls to hit on every hole, so it’s not one shot and you’re done. People have an opportunity to take a couple tries at each of the holes, and then, typically, for most of the holes, you’re on an elevated tee. So really, as long as you get the ball started out there, gravity is going to help you for sure.”
I’m definitely what Greupner would classify as a “very casual golfer,” so I was really depending on that extra help from gravity. I’ve played here and there, but the only golf accessory I own is a visor and I wouldn’t know which club to use if my life depended on it. But I wanted to check out the Links because I loved the idea of golfing at Petco Park, overlooking the city.
My three cousins and I booked a tee time to check it out. They’re much more avid golfers than I am, so I was mainly just going along for the experience. And, let’s be real, the cocktails and the photo opps.
Six years ago, Petco Park became the first professional stadium to transform into a golf course for an experience like this. Since then, other stadiums have followed suit.
“We were the first professional sports venue to create a golf course within the ballpark and every year, frankly, we’ve seen the event grow,” Gruepner said. “This year was no different. We extended the period of days that we held the event this year to 14 days. We sold out again this year, so even though we expanded the number of days and tee times available, we still sold out. Overwhelmingly, we continue to receive positive feedback from people that experienced it.”
While it’s a bit eerie to visit the mostly empty stadium on a non-game day, especially during a pandemic (fans haven’t been able to step inside Petco Park since March), the Padres organization took great care to make us feel welcome and attended to. Upon entering, my foursome was directed by friendly staff up to the Western Metal Rooftop, which had been transformed into the Callaway Clubhouse for the duration of the event. At the clubhouse, which was outfitted with large flat screen TVs, couches and seating areas, plus a bar and a merchandise store, we were able to take in the view of the park and enjoy some Cutwater cocktails.
“We try to keep it fresh every year,” Gruepner said. “Our partnership with Callaway Golf, a great local San Diego company, is key to that. They’ve got the expertise to help advise us on the layout of the holes and how we design the course.”
COVID-19 protocols were in place and strictly enforced. Every employee wore a mask and social distancing was encouraged through markings on the floor and signs reminding players to abide. Players were told they had to wear a mask at all times, except during their individual swing.
Speaking of the importance of bringing back the Links this year, Gruepner said that due to the pandemic, San Diegans were clamoring for more safe opportunities to socialize and play.
“This year in particular, we saw a great demand in part because there have been a limited number of opportunities for people to go out and have an experience like this, given the pandemic. Golf is outdoors and is inherently socially distanced. We feel really good about being able to give an opportunity like this to San Diegans, during this really difficult time, that they can come out and have fun for an hour and a half and do it in a safe and socially distanced way,” he said.
Every group got a dedicated caddy for the duration of the game (shout out to Taylor for putting up with our group! She was a total pro.). In addition to guiding the players through the course and explaining all of the rules, she also gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium and lugged all of the clubs around, recommending which one should be used for each of us.
The field is adorned with various colored rings, and during each themed round, we’re told which ring we should be aiming for. And at almost every round, as players swing, they are broadcast on the big screen for the entire park to see.
The entire experience is nine holes and takes about an hour and a half to complete. Golfers also walk a little over a mile throughout the game. We even got to go down and hit a ball from the field, which was my favorite part.
Gruepner said that novelty is part of the appeal of the experience.
“It’s great to see families come out, to see casual golfers come out that may not feel comfortable going out onto a course and playing a full 18 hole round and it doesn’t take five hours like a round sometimes can. People can just be social. And the novelty of doing it within the ballpark, those are really the key elements. It’s just such a unique experience to be in Petco Park, which is such a beautiful venue, especially at night. I think those are the things that make it unique. You’re golfing in a really cool and approachable format within a really unique and cool venue like a ballpark.”
In the end, each player got a swag bag filled with Padres merchandise and coupons for various sponsoring businesses.
I couldn’t tell you who won in my group (although I know I came in last). My swing is terrible, I don’t know the proper techniques and at times, I barely hit the ball onto the field, let alone near any colored rings. But I had a blast and would definitely recommend the Links as a worthwhile experience.
Next year, I want to try and experience the Links at night. “It’s a different experience under the lights, which is really cool,” Gruepner said. “It’s beautiful during the day, obviously, the vistas from the ballpark looking out to Coronado Island and the Coronado Bridge and downtown to the north is really neat, but at night it takes on a different character under the lights.”
In the meantime, ballpark fans can get their fill of Petco Park during their holiday celebrations. From Dec. 3 to Dec. 6 and Dec. 9 through Dec. 23, Petco Park will host the Holiday Market & Trail, where guests will be able to shop at a socially distanced, one way trail at Petco Park’s Gallagher Square, featuring local artisan shops, lighting displays, seasonal beverages, food and drinks and more.
For more information on all the happenings at Petco Park, visit padres.com.
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