Avid golfer Greg Bartoli lined up an 8-foot putt on the PopStroke Sarasota course that he has opened in partnership with Tiger Woods.
As he stepped up to the ball, it was apparent Bartoli has spent much of his life on a golf course. His smooth stroke rolled the ball in a direct line with the hole.
But just before the ball reached the hole, it veered slightly to the right.
Bartoli retrieved the ball and returned to his spot where he repeated his stroke. Again, the ball burned the right edge of the cup.
It was evident that even scratch golfers would have to be on their game to ace this challenging, 36-hole course, which will open to the public April 28. Bartoli went back to his spot a third time, and this time buried the putt.
If the third time is, indeed, the charm, PopStroke Sarasota, located on the east side of The Mall at University Town Center, will be a huge hit in the region. This is the third opening for Bartoli and Woods' PopStroke venture.
The first one opened in 2019 in Port St. Lucie and was followed by another in Fort Myers. So what tips were picked up as it headed into the third venue?
Bartoli said the first venture utilized some golf simulators, and they ultimately decided they weren't a good fit.
Also, the Sarasota location will be the first two-story building for PopStroke and will feature a top-floor event space to host the over-21 crowd on a regular basis and to entertain groups or host functions. Bartoli said live music could be part of the equation.
Three days before PopStroke was set to open to the public, Bartoli stood on the top floor and overlooked his creation.
Although most stories about ownership will list Woods and quite likely ignore Bartoli, it was his vision in 2018 that led to the quickly expanding chain, which has a fourth PopStroke set to open in Orlando in May.
In 2019, Bartoli took his vision to Woods' TGR Ventures staff and immediately Woods embraced the concept. TGR Design worked out the specifics of the courses and the various restaurant and entertainment arms, and they quickly forged ahead.
"Everything you see here is a vision I created in 2018," Bartoli said, looking out at the course. "But Tiger brings golf to the universe. He is a great partner who can expose new and different people to golf."
Although Bartoli said Woods won't be in Sarasota this week for the opening, he said the golfing legend plans to visit the Sarasota location in the near future. He said Woods is very engaged with the concept.
While some supply chain shortages and construction delays delivered the area's PopStroke a couple of months later than expected, the finished product is a work of commercial art. The deep greens of the greens are dotted with white, artificial bunkers. All the turf and greens are synthetic surfaces filled with sand. The bunkers were designed to be rather flat so the players can putt out of them.
The 36 holes are divided into two 18-hole courses with one side being wheelchair accessible and with less elevation changes for beginners while the other 18 has more dips and turns for the experienced golfer. The holes are of various lengths and the longest putt is about 100 feet.
The greens will measure 12.5 on the Stimpmeter, a device used to measure green speed on the PGA Tour. The fastest greens on the PGA Tour often measure 12 and above.
"There is something out there for everyone," Bartoli said. "There will be people out there with a Scotty Cameron putter, and then there will be people out there who will be experiencing golf for the first time. This is progressive, where golf is headed in the future."
PopStroke was built, though, to entertain guests might not want to play golf, but rather just want a good meal and a cold drink. Or perhaps want to challenge themselves to a game of cornhole, Foosball or Ping Pong. A secure children's playground is a feature as well.
For those who get a bit warm playing golf, an ice cream shop is featured.
PopStroke was courted by Benderson Development, which made the putting complex/restaurant/sports bar the first entertainment piece of its mixed-use plan for the 60-acre East District at UTC, which will soon include office space, hotels, restaurants and multifamily housing. In August, when PopStroke held a groundbreaking, Benderson Executive Director of National Leasing Brett Burgher said more restaurants and entertainment options would be announced for the district in six months, but that announcement still is pending. Bergher said in August that more businesses would be open in the East District in 18 to 24 months.
PopStroke will be a neighbor of the Mote Science Education Aquarium, where construction is expected to take another two years.
"This is a great community and the sports facilities here are incredible," Bartoli said. "This is perfect for us. There will be millions of visitors to the mall, and the aquarium will be a great fit. Everything Benderson (Development) has done here has been impressive."
Bartoli said a venture into the miniature golf world 10 years ago by opening a course where he lives in Jupiter, which also is home to Woods. He said children, young people on dates and seniors all on the course at the same time. He eventually thought he could go in a different direction.
"You can bring an 8-year-old kid to PopStroke to introduce him or her to the game," he said. "If the kid can navigate this golf course, these skills will transfer. You defnitely can bring a kid out here to learn how to putt."
Bartoli said his favorite spot at PopStroke Sarasota could well be the upstairs level so he could look over the grounds. And what does he hope to see after the doors open for the first time?
"I think seeing people detach from their iPhones and reengaging with their friends and family," he said.