We've heard rumors about TopGolf coming to San Diego for years, and while it's still not fore sure, there's reason for optimism now that the Port of San Diego and the world-famous golf attraction are ironing out a deal that would bring the modern driving range to Harbor Island.
“I can just imagine this multi-story driving range with views right across the bay, right down to San Diego. It would be, really, a tremendous venue,” Port Board of Trustees Chairman Dan Malcolm told NBC 7.
While admitting that developing public land is a long and complicated process, Malcolm revealed that the Port and TopGolf have a "handshake deal" on exclusive negotiations.
On Tuesday, Port staff presented the board with a conceptual redevelopment plan for 48 acres of land along North Harbor Drive, across the water from Harbor Island's eastern peninsula. For years the land across the street from the San Diego Airport had been used by rental car companies for fleet parking. Those companies have cleared out, and now a different kind of driving range could be moving in.
“We have TopGolf [planned] on about an 8.5-acre site to the east side of Harbor Island, and we have a couple of hotels, a little over 900 rooms total, over on the west side," Malcolm said. "The board has not approved it yet, but we’ve kind of moved it along. We’ve told our staff we’re interested, we want to move forward with the lease and see where we go.”
The presentation included a sketch of what the Port is eyeing for the 48-acre plot. That wish list includes a TopGolf, two hotels, parking infrastructure and public shoreline space.
Malcolm said TopGolf could bring half a million people to Harbor Island every year, and sees the attraction as the centerpiece in the redevelopment.
"I am hoping that once we get the concept approved, that we can go out, end of this year or sometime in 2023, with an RFP (Request for Proposal) to actually attract developers to do the hotel piece and having TopGolf, at that point, in place," Malcolm said.
For its part, TopGolf didn't offer much detail in response to a request for comment on negotiations with the Port.
Purchased by Carlsbad-based Callaway Golf for $200 billion in 2020, according to Forbes, TopGolf told NBC 7 in a statement, "We continue to explore the possibility of bringing Topgolf to San Diego, but we have nothing official to announce at this time. We’ll share more details as they become available, and please feel free to reach out in the future."
Images from TopGolf locations around the country offer glimpses of what could be coming to San Diego's Bayfront. The view from the hitting bays at TopGolf Las Vegas features the strip's iconic skyline just beyond the range's netting. In between upper-deck target practice in San Diego, you'll have your choice of watching jumbo jets cascade over Bankers Hill, watching sailboats float by in the bay to the south or admiring downtown's reflection bouncing off of the bay.
"The process is moving forward. I’m excited because it could be that two years from now, maybe a little bit more, we’re actually going to have this incredible entertainment venue, TopGolf, for people to enjoy, so it’s in the process of becoming a reality," Malcolm said.
Malcolm said the port is committed to including no-cost public space on Harbor Island in addition to TopGolf and hotels. The port envisions park space, walking paths, a temporary watercraft parking dock and a place for kayaks, canoes and non-motorized watercraft to launch into the bay. At this point, there are no plans for free-standing retail shops or restaurants, according to Malcolm.
The idea of the world-famous driving range setting up shop in the 619 first came about when TopGolf responded to a Port RFP in 2015, according to Malcolm.
"They’ve always been around, they’ve always been interested in the site," he said. "The Port of San Diego has considered them – I think it’s fair to say in 2015 the Port was more interested in moving forward with another developer, but as the years have gone on and TopGolf has stayed in there, we have become increasingly interested in them taking over a portion of the site, along with developing the rest of Harbor Island."
“I can’t speak for TopGolf and how they do their site selections, but I can tell you they’ve been pretty focused on the bayfront for a long time. Since 2015," Malcolm added.
Recent delays along the way to a TopGolf-Port marriage can be attributed to -- you guessed it -- the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a 2021 geological report that revealed more about a fault line (noted in the above sketch) that runs parallel with North Harbor Drive.