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Transforming Golf Culture: The Five Iron Approach to Inclusive Spaces

by: Jack Quigley
In a world where golf is often associated with exclusivity and formality, Five Iron is challenging the status quo. Co-founded by Nora Dunnan, Mike Doyle, and Jared Solomon, Five Iron is transforming the golfing experience into an inclusive and accessible pastime for everyone.
The Birth of Five Iron
Five Iron originated when Solomon, living in New York City after grad school, discovered a small golf spot in Manhattan. Recognizing the potential to revolutionize the exclusive world of golf, the founders aimed to create a space that defied traditional norms. The goal was clear: to establish a welcoming environment for individuals, whether they were seasoned golfers or had never picked up a club before.

Five Iron's commitment to inclusivity manifested in spaces devoid of dress codes and membership requirements. The founders wanted to create casual and cool places where anyone, regardless of their golfing expertise, could hang out. Success in their initial locations, coupled with requests from friends and social media followers, prompted the expansion to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Positive responses to these openings fueled the decision to go even bigger.

Catering to All Types of Golfers
High-end simulators, top-tier golf clubs, and advanced camera technology at Five Iron appeal to serious golf enthusiasts. To accommodate those treating it like a gym, Five Iron’s Indy location is complete with showers for pre- or post-work sessions. Leagues, corporate events, and professional golf lessons will be integrated to cater to a diverse range of interests.

“We’ll host a 30-person event on just two simulators,” Dunnan said. “Because people take their turns hitting, then they're just hanging out, we want it to have an open feel. People can hang out at lounge tables or the bar. We put TVs all around. We incorporate games like shuffleboard, pool, air hockey, foosball, and things like that so there are other activities to do for the folks who maybe aren't as inclined to golf.”

Adapting Spaces
Every Five Iron location is unique, often repurposing existing spaces. Dunnan explained that the variability in construction work is based on the condition of leased buildings. Simulators, with specific requirements like ceiling height and column spacing, dictate the layout. The company prioritizes creating open spaces to ensure a vibrant and engaging atmosphere.

Dunnan detailed the challenges faced in Indianapolis, where the entire ground floor had windows – a departure from their usual preference for fewer windows due to projector interference. Overcoming strict signage rules, the team had to find creative solutions, including murals and strategic placement of simulators to maintain an attractive aesthetic.

Crafting the Five Iron Experience Through Design
Natalie Borten, Director of Interior Design and Art at Five Iron, shed light on the design standards that form the backbone of each location. Borten said design standards play a crucial role in establishing a cohesive Five Iron identity. Standards include mid-century modern furniture, creative lighting choices, decorative finishes, and even specific details like customized wallpaper and neon signs – all carefully curated and strategically placed into each Five Iron location.

Borten emphasized the importance of original art, working with a network of muralists, and giving them creative freedom to weave narratives into their pieces.

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“Art has always been critical to the core essence of Five Iron,” Borten said. “You walk into a Five Iron and part of the appeal is that you're seeing original art. It's something that Five Iron really invests a lot of time and energy into.”

Borten said Five Iron likes to work with graffiti and street artists who create narratives that make their art interesting to view.

“It's not just abstract art. It's not simple geometrics. It really does tell a story” Borten said. “We usually like those pieces to talk about icons in sports or music.”

Customization is key, with each location featuring individual touches that enhance the overall experience. On the first floor of the Indianapolis location, two floor-to-ceiling murals depict local legends Reggie Miller and Larry Bird to pay homage to the state’s rich basketball history.

Appealing to the Masses
Five Iron's journey from challenging the exclusivity of golf to creating inclusive and engaging spaces is a testament to its commitment to accessibility.

Through strategic expansion, adaptive design, and a focus on original art, Five Iron is not just transforming golf culture but setting a new standard for inclusive recreational spaces. The success of Five Iron lies not only in its commitment to providing a diverse golfing experience but also in its dedication to creating vibrant, aesthetically pleasing environments that appeal to a broad audience.

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