Long-time pro Mark Johnson launches Suite Shots entertainment complex
Former Fargo Country Club head professional Mark Johnson will tell you he’s still in the golf business. But now he’s also in the first-date business. And the birthday party business. And the night-onthe-town-with-friends business. And the business meeting business.
That, and more, is the spectrum of attractions offered by Suite Shots, Johnson’s new venture with his brother Chuck and other local investors.
A Hybrid Golf Experience
On its face Suite Shots is an indoor-outdoor golf emporium modeled after the successful Topgolf franchises scattered across the country. Patrons populate semi-enclosed suites where they hit golf balls into a vast open area bordered by nets kind of like a traditional driving range at a golf course. The suites are heated, when needed, offering nearly year-round outdoor golfing opportunities.
“It’s North Dakota, so there are days it’s too cold Johnson explained. “But it’s a very comfortable environment for a vast majority of the year.”
Customers can play challenge games to hit targets, blast the longest drive, hit closest to the pin and more. They can work on their swing all by themselves, take advantage of the experts available in the Suite Shots academy or just hang out with their group and enjoy the food and beverages from the restaurant and bar.
And there’s no need to leave the suite, servers roam the area and deliver everything straight to your bay. It’s kind of like bowling, except patrons are hitting golf bals into a vast expanse instead of fossing 16-pound rocks down a narrow alley.
For Golfers and Non-Golfers Alike
Johnson knows how much golf time is lost to cold weather in this part of the world. A golf junkie since his youth, Johnson was the head golf professional at Fargo Country Club for 15 years before leaning into a new branch of the game that competes much more directly with other entertainment options in the metro area.
“When people think about what’s fun to do around here, we want Suite Shots to be at the top of their list,” he said. Suite Shots has 60 total golf bays, four of which are indoor setups dedicated to the golf academy Johnson and crew developed. The academy provides personalized instruction, along with club fitting and other services traditionally provided by golf professionals. There’s also a putting green with tracking technology to help you hone your flat stick skills.
For non-golfers, Johnson says the simulator environment is no pressure, low risk, laid back and relatively less expensive and time-intensive than a traditional round of golf.
“I know from experience traditional golf is intimidating for many people,” Johnson said. “It prevents them from taking up the game. They don’t want to spend the money and take the time to endure the pressure of hitting bad shots or playing slowly. Simulator golf relieves all of that and may just spark an interest in some people to try a traditional round. If not, that’s fine, too. We want people to have fun at Suite Shots, whether they’re serious golfers or not. That’s the point.”
Customers don’t have to golf at all, in fact. Suite Shots is home to a full restaurant and bar that seats 100, in addition to an outdoor terrace that seats another 80 people. The menu is unique and full of flavor. Suite Shots golf tees act as sandwich pins.
They also have two large meeting rooms seating 185 and 87, respectively, for birthday parties, business meetings, family reunions, company holiday gatherings and more. Johnson sees endless possibilities and opportunities to use their space to create family-friendly community entertainment.
“If people want to come here to get some instruction and work on their swing, we have that. If people want to come here and have a great time for a few hours and enjoy some amazing food and drinks, we have that, too,” Johnson said.
“And we’re a great place for a company’s team-building event,” he added. “Come here for lunch. Meet in one of our conference rooms. Then, take your team to the golf bays for a couple of hours of relaxation, fun and bonding.”
Topgolf facilities similar to Suite Shots report a full 65% of customers are non-golfers. Johnson has hired 180 people so far to deliver all the services Suite Shots offers. Finding employees has gone pretty smoothly so far, which Johnson partially attributes to the novelty of a fun new entertainment venue.
But he’s also very focused on building an employee group that functions as a motivated team, working to provide service and develop solutions together. He believes that kind of environment will encourage longevity in his team.
Support Suite Shots
(701) 532-4653 (GOLF)
3400 James Way S.
Fargo, ND 58104
A Golf Geek Stretches His Wings
Johnson says Suite Shots was the perfect next step in a career that began at Village Green Golf Course in Moorhead while he was in high school. He cites Larry Murphy as a golf professional role model in his early days.
“I’m really grateful to the golf community in this region for giving me opportunities,” Johnson said. “Everyone here is so generous and encouraging.”
While Johnson can talk lie angle, shaft length and clubhead speed with the best of them, he is thrilled to try his hand at a more expansive business opportunity like Suite Shots.
“It’s great for me because it’s golf… and a restaurant with stellar food and a meeting venue and a wedding hall. We can do so much here, and it’s all wrapped around the general concept of golf Johnson gushes. “I’m excited to see what kind of golf-themed weddings we’re going to host.”
Brides with veils attached to visors? Grooms in knickers and a tam o’shanter? “Anything’s possible, I guess.” Johnson laughs. We’re looking forward to the creative ways people choose to use this space and these facilities I have a feeling we’re in for some fun surprises.”
All in the Family
Golf is a family business for Mark Johnson. His late father, Don, was the long-time Shanley golf coach. His brother Chuck is a partner at Suite Shots. Mark’s son Lucas is in the PGA professional program and a leader in guest services at Suite Shots. And Chuck’s son Zach also works in Suite Shots guest services.
For the Johnson family, there has always been a lot of overlap between life, work and golf.
“I’ve been around golf my entire life,” he said. “With Dad coaching, it’s just what we did. It was part of life. I love it.”
Suite Shots opens a new world for Johnson. He’s still doing traditional golf pro things like selling merchandise, giving lessons and sending people out to hit some balls. But everything at Suite Shots is amplified. The technology is bigger and more ubiquitous. The physical structure is imposing and requires new expertise. The restaurant and bar are at a new level.
“In the end, it’s not that different from being the country club golf pro, in the sense that it’s all about service. We aim to provide our customers a great experience,” Johnson explained. “With Suite Shots, it’s just on a much bigger scale.”
For Mark Johnson, golf pro, entrepreneur and facilitator of memorable experiences, it’s a “suite” life, indeed.
Technology Revolutionizing Game
Facilities like Suite Shots are possible because of new and continually evolving sensory and imaging technology that has taken golf swing analysis to new heights. Suite Shots employs Toptracer technology to track golf club angle at impact, clubhead speed and more to project how the ball flies after impact – its height, distance, speed, curve and more.
It’s the same technology you see on national broadcasts of professional golf tournaments, where a graphic arc traces the ball’s path. The ball is tracked from impact to when it comes to rest. Toptracer is the market leader and Mark Johnson is proud to tout Suite Shots’ partnership with the elite technology provider.
When Topgolf first started in Europe in the early 1990s, the facilities used special balls with radio frequency (RF) chips implanted in them. They were limited distance balls in real life, but could project the path of a regular golf ball onto a screen as the RF chip recorded and transmitted feedback.
Since then, the technology has taken gigantic leaps forward. Suite Shots golf balls are regular golf balls. If you’re using one of the outdoor bays, you can see the ball’s flight into the distance, just like on the course or a traditional driving range.
But the golfer can also see the shot recreated on a screen with the ball’s arc tracked. Plus, the Toptracer technology provides remarkable analysis to show the golfer exactly how they swung the club and the impact the swing had on the golf ball.
Suite Shots plans to use Toptracer technology to full effect to entertain and educate their customers.
Golf simulators and their video game ancestors have been revolutionizing golf for years, allowing golfers to play courses they would previously only be able to experience in their minds. Golf simulators take them one step closer to the real thing—a virtual game without the walking, lost balls or several hundred dollar green fees.
Of course, you also don’t get the fresh air or smell of the grass with a golf simulator. That’s the advantage of businesses like Suite Shots with their open-air suites and vast hitting field, compared to their enclosed environment competitors.
At Suite Shots, golfers get the best of all worlds – fresh air, watching the ball fly in real life and getting the swing analysis programs like Toptracer provide.