The historic building that once housed the Old Spaghetti Factory downtown will soon host an elaborate mini golf course, the second Urban Putt location in the nation. Founder Steve Fox says it will be just about perfect.
He was once the editor-in-chief of tech publications like PC World and CNET. He loved that work, but his enthusiasm began to wane as the business of journalism trudged through hard times. But he’d grown a passion for putt-putt over the years as he and his wife threw mini golf-themed parties. They’d ask people to bring custom holes, potluck style, into his house. They went so far as to cut holes in the walls and floors so balls could drop between rooms.
Fox said he never dreamed of making a business out of it until, one day, he just did.
“My staff thought I was insane,” he recalled. “Who just quits a job cold turkey to open a mini golf course?”
He wasn’t sure if the year-and-a-half his team spent constructing it or the million-dollar-or-so investment was worth it until his first Urban Putt opened in an old San Francisco mortuary in 2014.
“We opened that door the first day and there was a line around the block,” he said. “We still have a line most days.”
Forced to work in just 9,000 square feet, the course required creativity and artistry to work right. The result was an immersive, steampunky little universe of small golf that Fox said attracted San Franciscans and out-of-towners.
That success made it possible to expand. With a lot of trial and error behind him, Fox said he was ready to open a bigger, better version for his second location: “I would like to take everything I have learned in the last five years and create the perfect Urban Putt.”
Denver, he said, was an “obvious” choice for expansion.
On one hand, he was familiar with the city. His wife, Leslie, grew up here (and graduated from East High School), so that was comforting. But the city also scored well in his demographics analysis. There were enough young families and people between 21 and 35 to fit his liking. He also confirmed that the city has a lot of businesses, since corporate events are big-ticket items for his bottom line.
“Denver is a vibrant city with an amazing food scene and an amazing social scene,” he said, plus he thinks people here hold a “willingness to accept wonder.”
In a world inundated with digital delights and so much available at the click of a button, Fox said, brick-and-mortar businesses must provide experiences that people can’t get anywhere else. It’s why he thinks Meow Wolf, the immersive art collective constructing a space below the Colfax viaduct, has exploded in popularity in recent years. His artists have all been to Santa Fe to experience Meow Wolf’s offerings, and he sees it and his putt-putt vision as parts of a larger movement.
Downtown’s Urban Putt is expected to open in August (at the earliest). Like their first attempt, it’s taken about a year and a half to build the elaborate holes for this second location. The structures were constructed in Oakland and then shipped east in pieces.
Many of the holes are grounded in local geography. Red Rocks, DIA (with a mini Blucifer), Lakeside, the Capitol, the cash register building and an old mining town are all represented. Fox said it was important that Denver’s Putt be custom built for its home.
It’s also why he wanted to buy the historic streetcar where Old Spaghetti Factory patrons once ate. After the restaurant closed, many people wrote in to Denverite asking what would happen to the old car. Fox said he picked up on its cultural urgency and bought it from the restaurant chain along with their bar. He said he thought about turning it into a putt-putt hole, but so many people (including his wife) related the car to dining, and he figured he ought not mess with that.
Denver’s Urban Putt will fill 12,000 feet with 18 holes, two sets of nine that mirror each other in format. Both sides will include a few tiny holes, like a skee-ball machine, a virtual video course and wooden labyrinths that golfers tilt with wheels to race their balls to the finish. There are also huge obstacles, which use Rube-Goldberg-like mechanisms transport balls from tee to hole.
Players can pay $11 for nine holes or $18 for 18. Urban Putt Denver will include a full bar (complete with local brews on tap) and a full-service kitchen offering, Fox said, more than you’d expect from your a normal mini golf course.
Correction: Due to a typo, this story originally stated San Fransisco’s Urban Putt was in a 900-square-foot space. It’s actually 9,000.