Australian indoor mini golf chain takes swing in San Francisco
Expansion into Bay Area part of trend toward entertainment retail in city
Australian entertainment company Funlab is saying g’day to San Francisco with its purchase of Urban Putt in the Mission District.
The company also plans to open a second location in Denver. Both courses will become part of Funlab’s Holey Moley indoor mini golf chain.
Although Funlab purchased Urban Putt in part because of a “creative alignment between the brands,” it eventually decided the 14-hole indoor course needed a complete revamp in Holey Moley style, rather than creating a “‘Frankenstein’ version combining two brands,” Funlab CEO Michael Schreiber said via email.
Urban Putt, which opened in a long-vacant mortuary in 2014, will close in early 2024 for around two months for the remodel before reopening as an 18-hole Holey Moley course, he said, which will be changed up periodically to keep the experience “fresh” for returning golfers.
Schreiber said he is “excited to keep the good times coming” at the location, and expects to see a lot of interest in the redone space.
“When we decided to bring Holey Moley to the U.S., San Francisco was one of the cities our research and insights showed had a high demand for this type of concept,” Schreiber said.
Funlab’s research matches similar data from JLL, which shows that entertainment retail and dining are some of the city’s strong points even as traditional retailers such as Nordstrom and Anthropologie are pulling out and “doom loop” stories continue to make headlines.
“As we all know we’re having an image and perception challenge at the moment,” said Laura Tinetti, JLL executive vice president, via email.
But that hasn’t stopped both entertainment venues and food and beverage vendors from signing leases in the city’s “high traffic areas” such as Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf and Mission Bay near Chase Center, she said. Tinetti cited recent interactive pop ups such as the “Friends” exhibit at the former H&M in Union Square and more permanent tenants such as Sandbox VR on the ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel on Market Street, as well as the STK Steakhouse chain, which opened near the Embarcadero last year with a “nightclub look” and DJ nights.
Interest has really picked up this spring. San Francisco has attracted national and international brands looking to expand who are not limited by the city’s ban on formula retail in the neighborhoods they are targeting, she said. She listed Fublab among the groups currently in talks for leases or “evaluating city viability and locations,” as well as Swingers, another mini-golf company; Meow Wolf, which puts on immersive art experiences; and nationwide esports event company Nerd Street Gamers.
Schrieber at Funlab did not say whether he was targeting any other specific locations in San Francisco, other than to tease that there may be “more to come” from the company, which also has bowling, arcade, karaoke and darts brands.
These entertainment concepts appeal to people who have been stuck at home for the last few years, and are also missing some of the camaraderie they used to get by going into the office, according to Tinetti. She said the concept of entertainment retail goes back to Mayan times and has been constantly evolving ever since.
“It may not be the same retail experience you had as a child or even 10 years ago, but that is the consistent thread with this dynamic industry of creatives,” she said. “Entertainment, competitive gaming and food and beverage is the next wave we’re just starting to ride.”
In addition to locations in San Francisco and Denver, Funlab plans to create a new 27-hole outdoor course in Austin as part of its first U.S. expansion, according to the company, which calls itself “Australia’s premier creator of competitive socializing experiences.”
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