Four years ago, Callaway’s Nathan Adelman, a devoted major league baseball fan, met with several San Diego Padres executives at Petco Park. A last-minute invite, Adelman agreed to go because the 10-minute meeting would take place in the owner’s box, and, besides, his beloved San Francisco Giants were in town.
In those scant minutes the Padres pitched a unique idea.
“The Padres said, ‘We have this crazy idea. We want to play golf in the stadium,’” said the 31-year-old Adelman, a marketing manager.
The Padres indicated they had no clue what they wanted, but would be willing to give Callaway carte blanche to develop something fun. Callaway countered it would take on the project only if the experience had an authentic feel.
Adelman got to work. He harkened back to his days sitting in Candlestick Park, as a kid, watching the Giants.
“For someone like me … who has gone to a lot of baseball games, but also [who] loves golf, I’d sit there and say to myself, ‘What club would I hit to hit the scoreboard? What club would I use from home plate to hit a home run?’” Adelman said.
Therein lies the backstory to The Links at Petco Park, an immersive nine-hole layout that will tempt players to take shots onto the baseball field from unconventional tee boxes within the stadium. For the third consecutive year, golfers will be routed through the ballpark so they can experience it in ways they normally wouldn’t imagine.
“It’s like, ‘Wait, they’re letting me hit a real golf ball off the upper deck onto the field,’” Adelman said. “It’s kind of nuts.”
Home plate, a tertiary mid-level, the upper deck and even the top of the historic Western Metal Supply Co. building just yonder of the left field foul pole are slated as tee box areas.
Think Larry Bird and Michael Jordan up on the altitudinous Sears Building, circa 1993, as they tried to outdo one another in an entertaining McDonald’s commercial. Maybe not to the same extreme, but The Links at Petco Park offers near-rousing views.
“When you go to a new course, you’re looking for the things that make it unique,” said Pro Kids chief executive officer Andrew Holets, whose organization gleaned more than $20,000 from peddling mulligans at last year’s event and will sell them again this year. “Everything about this is unique.”
This year’s event is scheduled Oct. 5-10 with roughly 2,700 expected to inundate Petco Park. Tickets initially went on sale Sept. 6 with potential golfers having the option of reserving tee times as early as 7 a.m. each day. Rates range between $150-$1,100, per twosome or foursome, and dependent on pricing level. As of Sept. 30, there were few tee times available.
Since having had a major hand in its conception, Adelman has spent countless hours on design and mapping. Three new tee boxes were created this year. As a final step, Adelman and team sent the layout to renowned designer Gil Hanse. He drew up the bunkering and greens.
“It’s real golf, real golf clubs, real golf balls and it feels like a genuine authentic golf experience, but in an unsuspecting place,” Adelman said.
So real that there is a course rating and slope like any other rated course. Players also use scorecards. Clubs and balls are supplied by Callaway.
Scoring goes like this: a player can hit two balls per hole; best ball counts. A maximum 18 shots are taken each round, although mulligan balls can again be bought. No putts are taken.
For instance, if one of the best balls falls inside a 10-foot circle on the green, it’s registered as a birdie. If it stops on the green, but outside the circle, it’s par. What if one of the best balls lands in the rough, water or palm trees? Bogey. Anything placed on the outfield warning track or in the stands warrants a double bogey.
As in the past, themed holes with associated prizes are planned. Make no mistake, though, it isn’t target golf. Players have to battle manufactured elements, such as wind and rain, on some holes.
On the 169-yard second hole, the course’s longest, the tee box offers a bird’s-eye perch from the upper deck behind home plate. Or in the case of No. 4, after hitting both shots from the upper deck, participants are escorted to field level via an elevator and into uncommon parts of the stadium.
“You walk through the clubhouse as though you were a Padres player, and there will be a putting hole in the locker room,” Adelman said.
From there, golfers follow routing through the dugout to home plate, greeted by the fifth-hole tee box that angles out toward dead centerfield. Home plate will be located under a protective tent so golfers don’t get conked by unsuspecting balls from other areas.
No. 9 serves as the setup’s signature, and maybe the most exhilarating, hole from atop the iconic Western Metal Supply Co.
All in all, there are many layers to the event. With Callaway’s support, various non-profit organizations stand to raise funds and awareness. More than anything, the event provides an avenue for beginner and intermediate players to experience the sport in a different light.
“The neatest part is when someone hits a great shot and it’s getting closer to where they want it, you can hear the screaming and yelling. It builds around the stadium,” Holets said. “The excitement is very clear.”
Ken Klavon was the online editor and a senior writer at the U.S. Golf Association for 12 years. He has covered golf for 22 years.