Not even a deluge could ruin my PopStroke experience.
PopStroke Entertainment Group, a brand of golf putting courses and restaurants, opened its Sarasota-Bradenton location April 28 at the Mall at University Town Center. The chain is co-owned by Greg Bartoli and Tiger Woods' TGR Ventures.
The main hook of the chain, besides the baseline appeal of putting, is that each location features courses designed by Woods' TGR Design team. The Sarasota location actually has two courses, the Tiger Black course is touted to be for the whole family while the Tiger Red course is a more difficult layout.
I hadn't been to the location since it opened so I wanted to fix that and get a sense of how it play. It's $25 for an individual all-day pass (with various discounts for kids, senior citizens, veterans and large groups).
Going with a friend on June 26, I learned this bit of advice before arriving. Do not put PopStroke's address into your phone's map app of choice. In both my and my friend's experience, doing so will take you back to the northern entrance of the Mall. Instead, keep your phone in your pocket and follow the signs lining the Mall's roundabouts. If you are driving south on Cattleman Road, that means taking a left at the third roundabout. If you are driving north on Cattleman Road, it means taking a right at the first roundabout.
Once we were inside, the process was easy. We picked up our passes, then were handed a signature Bridgestone golf ball (which we were allowed to keep) and we chose our putters.We walked outside and our day started. We elected to play the Tiger Red course first.
The PopStroke experience was a bit choppy. We decided to play straight through the course's 18 holes, but other groups — who had presumably been there much longer than us — were walking around and playing specific holes, getting in line behind whoever was currently playing the hole. Both strategies are valid at PopStroke.
I shot 55 on the first 18, which was 10 over par, but this was less because the course is hard than the fact I am a horrific putter. I have little control over my speed of a putt, and pace is key. The putting courses at PopStroke do not rely on cartoonish, miniature golf features like windmills or moats. It's a more realistic feel of being on an actual green.
The Tiger Red course's 18 holes have greens, and for those who stray, roughs and "sand traps." There is no actual sand in the sand traps, but they still are hard to get out of nonetheless. My favorite hole was No. 18, a longer, winding hole that lets you put some oomph behind your putt — as long as you avoid the sand traps to the left of the hole. It was one of four holes I birdied.
The good news is anyone reading this will likely be able to beat my score. I do a golf-related activity maybe once a year. My friend, who golfs five or six times a year, finished two over par, a much more respectable score.
My score was also dragged down by the rain, which I mentioned above. It started as a drizzle but turned into a full-fledged storm by the time our 18 holes were up. We were soaked, but it was a lot of fun and I'm glad the PopStroke staff lets groups play through the rain if they so choose.
Once we finished the Tiger Red course, we decided to test the restaurant section of the venue.
PopStroke has a full kitchen and has different menus for its first-floor restaurant and its rooftop bar. We sat in the restaurant and watched other groups tackle the courses in the rain. and I ordered the BBQ chicken flatbread for $14. My friend ordered the chicken tenders and fries entree for $15. Both of us thought our meals were well worth the price.
In addition to lunch and dinner, PopStroke offers a substantial ice cream selection as well as multiple bars located inside the restaurant, on the roof and on the course. Groups can even have drinks delivered to them on the course, though we did not try this. We were playing fast and were not waiting behind another group, so there was hardly time to stop and have a drink.
After eating, we attempted to play the Tiger Black course to compare it to Tiger Red, but after one hole the rain came down harder than before — and brought thunder and lightning with it. We decided to call it a day. In retrospect, this may have been a good thing. It gives me a reason to return.
Whether PopStroke's brand of putting is worth the $25 entrance fee is likely going to vary from person to person. Where I personally think PopStroke shows its value is when combined with a larger outing. I could envision myself gathering with friends on a fall Saturday, playing a few rounds in the early afternoon before heading to the bar to watch the day's biggest college football games while having a beer or three, and then heading back out on the course again. It turns a typical get-together into something special.
Don't be intimidated by PopStroke's more realistic version of mini-golf. Bring the right group of friends or family and you are in for a good time, no matter your putting skill level.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.