BENTON HARBOR — Adam and Dustin Lester knew they wanted to run a business since they were kids.
That realization became a reality last week when they opened Pipestone Indoor Country Club in the Benton Harbor Arts District. Located at 259 Territorial Road, the Lesters’ business allows Southwest Michigan residents to play simulated golf and refine their craft.
The idea for the business stemmed from the brothers’ time in South Korea.
Adam had taught English in South Korea for three years and discovered how prominent indoor golf had become over there. When Dustin came to visit him, he too realized how popular that version of golf had become.
“We were talking about how the weather was getting cyclically worse (in the U.S.),” Adam said. “Playing 18 holes on a simulator is different, but just as fun. We thought it could work here.”
Their family has a long lineage to golf, spanning multiple generations. Together, their grandfather and great-grandfather built the Pipestone Creek Golf Course in Eau Claire.
Coming from that tradition, Adam and Dustin spent a lot of time golfing.
“We’ve got golf and entrepreneurship in our blood,” Dustin said.
Dustin, who works at Whirlpool Corp. in Ohio and drives the 3.5 hours to be in Benton Harbor on weekends, said they recognized there wasn’t a similar facility in Southwest Michigan.
The last business to offer such a service, which was known as SWM Indoor Golf in St. Joseph, closed in 2017.
Last spring, the Lesters began looking at the venue and financing options that were available in the area.
“The financing and build out was interesting. The renovations went on longer than expected,” Dustin said. “We learned you had to be realistic with your timeline.”
The business hasn’t held its grand opening yet, but Monday marked the first day they began hosting regular hours.
“We were hoping to open by the fall, so we could catch all the business that would naturally occur in the winter,” Adam said. “But we’ve learned so many lessons along the way.”
How it works
At Pipestone Indoor CC, there is a lounge area that features a putting green at the center of the room.
There are two simulator rooms that customers have begun using, along with a meeting and event room that is not quite ready. Adam said when that final room is finished, it will be used for everything from bachelor parties to business meetings.
Within the simulator rooms, there are two high-definition projectors that are connected to the simulator system. The equipment projects a virtual version of a course onto a screen where users hit a golf ball into.
Golfers stand on a swing plate that is controlled by a hydraulics system. If users hit a ball onto a hill in the simulated course, the platform will tilt back to replicate the angle and scenario.
“It adds a component of realism to it,” Adam said. “If someone just wants a flat surface for every shot, it can be turned off.”
The system uses high-speed cameras that sense the golf club and ball’s motion. It measures and spits out metrics on how fast the club moves, the club head’s speed, the angle at which the club struck the ball, how fast the ball is going and its spin rate.
The screen also plays a short replay of the user’s swing so they can get another vantage point of their swing.
The swing plate has three patches of turf, which includes patches for a fairway, the rough and a sand trap. After a ball is hit off the tee, the automated system produces another one automatically.
Adam said the system includes more than 180 different golf courses to choose from – with more than 20 of them considered the top notch U.S. courses.
The manufacturer is constantly adding new courses into the system, Adam said. The system is out of Korea, so it includes more than just U.S. courses.
“These simulators are top of the line. It was a serious investment,” Dustin said. “We want to provide an experience for people. The swing plate that moves, the self-feeding golf ball creates an immersive experience.”
In the swing of things
The name of the indoor golf facility stems from the golf course that the Lesters’ grandfather built.
It is independent from the golf course, but they work closely with the course since their mother runs it in Eau Claire. The Lesters initially thought about building a structure on the golf course. However, they realized it wasn’t realistic.
Adam said it didn’t make sense financially and that it would be harder to draw traffic there compared to downtown Benton Harbor, where other businesses produce a lot of foot traffic.
“Hearing about how hard people are fighting to bring some life back to this town was really enticing to get involved in that,” Adam said. “There is already this cool vibe to the Arts District.”
Adam said the business is in its first phase of work, testing demand and trying out what the peak times are for hours of operations.
Adam said future plans involve acquiring a liquor license and opening a retail section of the business. Until then, they’ll continue to lease 3,000 square feet from the front portion of the building.
“People come to Southwest Michigan for golf, wine, beer and vacations. It is a very touristy area,” Adam said. “That will be a big part of what we try to target in the summers.”
However, the Lesters said the bulk of their business from the golfing community would likely be in the fall and winter when the sport is in its offseason in Michigan.
Dustin said one of the reasons he chose to move from Michigan to Las Vegas was due to his frustration with the weather.
“Six months out of the year, you are hard pressed to play golf at all. This would bypass the rain and the mosquitos,” Dustin said. “The market that we’re going for is to bring golf to the people. When you’re out golfing on a course, there’s a lot of pressure. You might lose golf balls or have people behind you.”
Customers can call, stop in or schedule an appointment online through the company’s website. Online, Adam said they show what times are available.
Pipestone Indoor CC is open 8 a.m until midnight – every day of the week.
However, Adam said he tends to lock up by 11 p.m. if no one has shown up or made a reservation.
“It takes time for them to realize that we’re hear. If they come out the first time and the door is locked, maybe they’ll never come back,” Adam said. “We’re going to try and stick to these hours in the summer until people realize the option is here.”
Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski