How Joe Vrankin’s using what he learned at Topgolf to take casual golfing indoors

Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
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It was during his five years as CEO of Topgolf that now Puttshack chief executive Joe Vrankin learned three things he never forgot.

  1. Topgolf’s Toptracer ball-tracking technology made the precise and confounding game of golf accessible to everyone.
  2. Early fun-and-food entertainment concepts reaped the bulk of their profits from dining and drinking and not their entertainment diversions. Topgolf made the entertainment option the star.
  3. Games (and a craft cocktail menu) programmed to excite and energize people in ways that have little to do with golf attracts lots of customers and keeps them coming back.

“Punch Bowl Social, which went bankrupt, generated just 12.7% of its revenue from the game side of the business. We generate 40% of our revenue from the game side,” Vrankin said.

When Vrankin says that Puttshack’s aim is to turn miniature golf into something it’s never been before, that’s made clear by the concept’s 25,000-sq.-ft. footprint containing three 9-hole courses. Its version of Toptracer, Trackaball, automatically keeps score for players who win by scoring the most points, not the fewest shots as in standard golf. Screens at each hole update individual player scores, tallied by radio frequency devices in their balls.

All three games direct players to the restaurant and the bar by offering prizes and discounts captured during game. At the Beer Pong nine, players hit their balls off a ramp and into one of 10 cups to capture discounts. Ring of Fire features Supertubes that can land players big points for holes-in-one.

“We have a Roulette hole, we have a question hole where you can pick ‘true’ or ‘false’ to get more points,” Vrankin noted.

Puttshack, which originated in England, has just two United States locations in Atlanta and Chicago, but is already rolling out to Miami, Boston, Houston, Scottsdale, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Denver this year. Vrankin said the plan is to open 12 locations a year and noted that finding locations for tech-infused mini-golf is easier than it is for tech-infused golf.

“To find the right location for Topgolf we had 53 criteria we needed to establish. If you have a bad location for a Topgolf, you’ve got trouble,” Vrankin said. “We’re looking to start out with Puttshack in major metros, and we’re doing about 60% urban and 40% suburban sites.”

Like Topgolf, Puttshack has found that it’s finding success with golf across all demographic areas.  During daytime hours, Puttshack is family entertainment for ages 7 to 70.  In the evening, it’s 21-plus only—young adult date and fun time.

“We are almost 50-50 male-female with our nighttime crowds, but what Puttshack has be able bring to the entertainment sector is that 21-to-32-year-old male that’s hard to capture,” Vrankin said. “In our short time out with our first two locations, we’ve been able to drive half a million of that demo.”