Above: Urban Putt Owner & Founder Steve Fox.
Urban Putt isn’t your ordinary miniature golf course. It’s a minigolf course equipped with a fully loaded bar, delightful restaurant, and to top it all off – it’s in the center of San Francisco.
The golf course, restaurant, and bar—located in the Mission District—opened in 2014 in a remodeled Victorian building. It offers fourteen holes of high-tech indoor mini golfing, each hole with a different theme and set-up.
From Publishing to Minigolf
Prior to opening Urban Putt, owner and founder Steve Fox spent over thirty years in publishing, working for magazines in New York City. In the 1990s, Fox moved to San Francisco where he started his own web magazine and later served as Editorial Director at PC World.
Amid it all, Fox and his then wife—Leslie Crawford—began hosting miniature golf parties at their San Francisco home where they asked attendees to create and bring their own miniature golf hole. At first, it was a joke; in 1993, the first year the pair put on the event, only 25 people showed up. Seven years later 200 people attended and the holes became more original, imaginative and out of the ordinary, oftentimes reflecting the politics of the time.
“At that point we realized that something had changed in that this had become an art form,” Fox said.
Although Fox was never much of a golfer, miniature golf was a pastime he always enjoyed. As a kid growing up in New York, Fox often traveled with his family to play at Rockaways Playland.
“I didn’t stumble into minigolf thinking let’s start a business,” Fox said. “I loved this. I loved what we were doing.”
By 2012, Fox had become increasingly disenchanted with the publishing world and started thinking about his next act, when Crawford suggested minigolf. But for Fox, who had always thought of himself as a city person, moving the course outside San Francisco wasn’t an option.
Over the next two years, Fox wrote up several business plans, signed a lease for a building in the Mission District, hired an architect, raised $2 million, and opened his San Francisco venue in 2014. In 2019, the team also added a Denver location.
Beyond the Traditional Experience
Unlike other miniature golf courses, which lead with the minigolf and follow with the food, Fox wanted to please customers with both. He found someone with experience running a restaurant and bar, hired a chef, and now offers customers an array of delicious food, drinks, and Urban Putt specialties.
The restaurant focuses on organic, locally-sourced foods and offers mouthwatering dishes including chicken and waffles, a tuna poke and a range of rotating pizzas handmade in the restaurant’s pizza oven.
Urban Putt doesn’t do the classic miniature golf. All the holes are fresh, hand-designed and unique, offering golfers a fresh miniature golf experience.
For example, one hole—named after Día De Muertos and created by a local artist—sends balls through a blacklight space equipped with skulls. Another, called “Archimedes Goldberg,” sends balls through an Archimedes screw, which carries the ball 12-feet into the air before sending it through a series of ramps, cymbals and bells. There’s also a California Gold Rush-themed hole and one devoted to Jules Verne.
“I wanted to capture some of the crazy, spontaneous fun of the holes we had at our house party but in a way that would be durable,” Fox said.
Urban Putt has something for golfers and customers of all ages, and Fox takes pride in that. It’s cross-generational: an ideal Sunday family activity, a perfect first date spot and a 21 and older bar after 8 p.m.
Unfortunately, both the restaurant and course have been closed since March due to the pandemic, and although it’s unclear when they’ll reopen, Fox certainly supports caution. For now, he’s hoping for the best.
“It’s about joy,” Fox said. “That’s what we focus on and we’re constantly thinking about how we can bring fun into people’s lives.”