In modernizing a longtime family pastime, PopStroke has created an experiential atmosphere that merges casual dining and technologically-advanced competitive golf
As an investment banker for J.P. Morgan on Wall Street at the time of the 2008 recession, Greg Bartoli was well aware of the financial and economic situations facing the country’s high-end leisure golf market.
Fast forward more than a decade and Bartoli has moved from New York City to Jupiter, Fla., and the game of golf is surging again thanks to a youthful resurgence of junior programs and as a popular COVID-19 outside sports entertainment option.
Once settled in Florida, Bartoli also began running in the same circles with Tiger Woods, arguably golf’s biggest name.
The two became friends, and Bartoli wanted to know what Woods thought about his idea of a miniature golf putting experience — called PopStroke — that was post giraffe legs and elephant ears.
“We have a lot of overlap of friends and we’re both very active in the community of Jupiter,” Bartoli said of himself and Woods. “So when we opened our first PopStroke location (in 2018) I asked Tiger if he and his design team wanted to come by and check it out. They came out and saw it and were really impressed and the partnership kind of flourished from there.”
Woods and Bartoli are now 50-50 investors in PopStroke, billed as an experiential golf and casual dining concept merging a dynamic, technologically-advanced competitive golf environment with food and beverage. And Woods is more than just an equal partner. His TGR Design team is responsible for designing all the future putting courses at numerous proposed PopStroke locations.
“These are professionally designed putting courses,” Bartoli said. “There are no windmills or any gimmicks like that.”
Food and beverage options are as important at the current PopStroke locations in Port Saint Lucie, Fla., and Fort Myers, Fla., as the realistic golf putting options.
“We have something for all ages with proprietary technology throughout, mobile ordering of drinks or cocktails while you are playing on the putting course, great music, TVs everywhere, including outside,” Bartoli said. “When you are playing you can see the leader board to where you can keep track of your score and how you are stacking up on the day versus other players. We have three full-service bars, a full-service restaurant, 30 flavors of ice cream — you name it — a full menu of food offerings.
“It’s just a great overall atmosphere. It certainly plays into Tiger’s push of kind of growing the game of golf and making it more accessible for everybody, and nobody has had a bigger impact on that across the planet than he has.”
Bartoli and Woods have some ambitious expansions plans for PopStroke, heading into markets in Arizona and Texas, along with additional Florida locations. They also have their eye on locations in California, Nevada and Southeast areas such as North Carolina and South Carolina.
“We’re looking at cities and states that are booming with population growth, places that people are going to, and not just seniors but young families that are relocating from other parts of the country,” Bartoli said of his runway of potential Florida targets. “We look at things like good weather, population growth, and spring training markets have been really good to us in Florida.”
“We’ll have over 50 in the United States without a doubt by 2025 or 2026, we’re targeting 10 or so a year,” he added.
PopStroke is unique in so many areas, from its partnership with Bridgestone Golf balls to its proprietary turf used on its putting courses, to its 30 flavors of ice cream.
Each player gets to keep a Bridgestone Golf ball when finished with their round instead of a colored ball disappearing into a hole on the 18th green, and those engaging with the inside simulators can check out their swing speed and launch angles using one of Woods’ tour balls, the Bridgestone Tour B XS.
Bridgestone Golf signed on with PopStoke in January.
“It’s definitely unique that one of our athletes like Tiger owns an entertainment venue, but it’s also unique from a standpoint of kind of a high-performance golf ball being used in that type of setting,” said Elliot Mellow, marketing manager/golf balls at Bridgestone Golf. “This is not mini golf or putt-putt – it’s well beyond that and using our golf ball as opposed to a generic golf ball is an extension of the experience PopStroke is trying to deliver and the premium nature of its brand.”
PopStroke differentiates itself from most of the traditional mini golf options across the nation with realistic turf that requires skill to score, just like a regular golf course.
“There are undulations and you have to read the greens,” Bartoli said. “There are more nuances; there are no bounces off of brick walls, let’s put it that way. We have our own proprietary turf that we did source to try to fit our needs. The way it rolls makes if different from say turf on a football field. It rolls true to a real putting green.”
The popularity of venues like PopStroke can be traced to its entertainment value on so many levels that appeal to those aged 8 to 80 … and to the flat stick.
“Putting is not an intimidating part of the game,” Bartoli said. “We’re seeing families; we’re seeing seniors, and everything in between.”
“We’re excited about their growth,” added Mallow of Bridgestone Golf. “It’s certainly a fun experience, and it’s not a huge footprint so they are able to acquire land fairly easily. We’re definitely hunkering down with them for the long haul to see where this thing goes.”