The advent, and unfortunate continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on the game of golf. As one of the few recreational pursuits that can be played nearly year-round, is naturally socially-distanced, and does not require a mask, increased interest in the game has raised rounds activity and membership levels over the last 18 months. And the reach is broad. Not only has it enjoyed elevated activity by core players, it has brought newbies to the game and prompted the return of former golfers as well. But COVID-19 is not the sole motivator.
Golf and Entertainment – While the pandemic has been cited as spurring the most recent resurgence in golf activity, over the last few years it has not been the only influence. That honor goes to Topgolf, the golf and entertainment venue that has taken the world by storm. Purchased
by Callaway Golf earlier this year, Topgolf now has 70 locations in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico and Dubai. While drinking, socializing and golf have long been symbiotic, Topgolf and its chief competitor Drive Shack have taken the concept to new heights.
The technology-rich indoor driving range operations have an emphasis on sociability with a nightclub vibe — eat, drink, and party hearty — all the while perfecting your golf skills.
Putting Pursuits – Taking the golf and party theme a step further, the most recent trend is the putting-oriented entertainment venue, aka minigolf. Both Drive Shack and Topgolf have developed putting facility business plans that have recently launched in the U.S. and the U.K.
Drive Shack has enlisted three-time PGA Tour Player of the Year Rory McIlroy to assist in opening 50 Puttery-branded venues in the U.S. by the end of 2024. Topgolf owns three Puttshack putting venues in London and one stateside in Atlanta, and has plans for more in Miami and Nashville, among other major metros. The next one slated to open will be Houston in 2022. Swingers, with two adults-only minigolf venues in London, recently opened a facility in DuPont Circle in
Washington, D.C. and has plans for another in New York City.
PopStroke, a Florida-based entity that is 50% owned by Tiger Woods, has unveiled two 36-hole venues in Florida. Much like the aforementioned enterprises, PopStroke integrates putting
courses with trendy F&B, a nightclub vibe and technology-enhanced competition, but unlike its competitors, PopStroke is played outdoors, on synthetic-turf tracks that resemble actual golf courses. Jackson Kahn Design created the courses at the first PopStroke in Port St. Lucie,
Florida, and Woods’ TGR design is responsible for the courses in Fort Myers, Florida. PopStroke plans for more venues include Orlando, Delray Beach and Sarasota, Florida, and Scottsdale and Glendale, AZ either this year, or early 2022. Projections call for 40 to 50 more facilities to open by the end of 2025, all in warm-weather locations for year-round enjoyment. https://popstroke.com
The latest iteration of minigolf is being taken to a new level with tech-driven balls. Similar to Puttshack’s Trackaball, PopStroke will have a sensor-embedded, Bluetooth-enabled “iPutt” ball.
The ball will count strokes and send scores to smartphone apps and to PopStroke’s electronic leaderboards, enabling players to compete virtually with others who play at different times and/or locations.
Communities and Minigolf – The growing popularity of “short game” and “no-experience-necessary” golfing has encouraged private and resort residential communities to add new minigolf experiences to their amenity portfolios. One example of blending minigolf with private
golf is The Peninsula on the Indian River Bay in Millsboro, Delaware. The Peninsula is an upscale country club community set on 800+/- acres surrounded by water on three sides. Home prices range from approximately $300,000 to more than $1.0 million. The new 9-hole minigolf course will complement the 18-hole, 7,200-yard Jack Nicklaus-designed championship golf facility, among other amenities. https://peninsula-delaware.com
Other examples of diverse residential environments that include minigolf are:
Sun City Summerlin, Las Vegas, NV
Blue Lagoon Condominiums, Miami, FL
Reunion Resort & Golf Club, Orlando, FL
The Villages, Central Florida
A Brief History – Minigolf was initially documented in the June 8, 1912 edition of The Illustrated London News. Four years later Pinehurst, North Carolina introduced the Thistle Dhu as the first official standardized minigolf course in the U.S. “Thistle Dhu” is a play on words connoting “this will do,” meant to reflect a concept that a minigolf course “would do” if a regulation golf course were not accessible. Throughout the decade and into the next, the concept flourished.
In 1922, golf aficionado Thomas McCullough Fairborn developed an artificial turf made of cottonseed hulls, sand, oil and dye and by the late 1920s, New York City boasted more than 150 rooftop mini golf courses. In 1927, John Garnet Carter patented his version of the game on
Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Carter called it “Tom Thumb Golf” and within a few years, thousands of Tom Thumb Golf facilities had opened across the country.
The Great Depression took the wind out of the industry’s sails in the early 1930s, and it wasn’t until the 1950s/1960s that the concept resurged, replete with wishing wells, castles, windmills
and other fanciful obstacles. In 1988, Rich Lahey purchased the most prolific miniature golf development company – Harris Miniature Golf Courses Inc. – with the vision of transforming the
industry. At the time, most minigolf courses comprised portable plywood tracks dominated by windmills and clown faces. The pastime had lost its appeal and sales were dismal. But Lahey did not give up. Envisioning a landscaped layout with dramatic features and curb appeal, he designed a layout with undulating banked greens and holes with challenges and rewards ultimately restoring the curiosity in the concept and integrity in the industry that would return it to profitability. https://www.harrisminigolf.com
And so here we are today — developing minigolf courses in highly profitable entertainment venues, upscale resorts, and private country club communities. The practice of “something for everyone” reminds us that diversity is tantamount to success.