Puttshack games

Golf balls are embedded with technology that keeps score as customers play.

Puttshack Reimagines the Social Entertainment Category

The first U.S. store opened this spring, with many more to come. 

Joe Vrankin remembers his first introduction to Puttshack, the new tech-infused social entertainment brand hitting the U.S. market. 

The concept was created by twins Steve and Dave Jolliffe, the founders of Topgolf, and Adam Breeden, the mastermind behind All Star Lanes, AceBounce, and Flight Club. About six months after the first store opened in West London in 2018, Steve Jolliffe called Vrankin to see if he’d hop on a plane and take a look at the brand. The Jolliffe brothers and Breeden were looking for a CEO to lead growth across the U.K., U.S., and the rest of the globe.

It’s no coincidence that Vrankin’s phone rang. He served as CEO of Topgolf from 2007 to 2012 and started when there was just one location in the U.S. Having had the opportunity to catch lightning in a bottle with Topgolf, Vrankin thought that type of concept was a once-in-a-career type of opportunity. He changed his tune after walking into Puttshack.

“I literally said, ‘Oh my gosh, they did it again,” Vrankin recalls.

He saw an innovative mini-golf game that tosses away paper score cards. Golf balls are instead embedded with technology that keeps score as customers play. Vrankin says it reinvents the game of mini-golf “in ways that just was never possible before.” The venue is ideally suited for families and corporate events during the day, but in the evening, Puttshack morphs into a brand that caters to a more mature audience.

The nightly set-up is designed to entertain the 21- to 39-year-old demographic, like a beer pong hole or a true/false hole where a player is posed a question and must putt under a bridge labeled “true” or one labeled “false.” There’s also Supertubes, which are holes worth extra points that could help someone stage a comeback. The game rewards the highest score as opposed to a typical golf game.

“It's really changed the way you play the game, but it changed it and designed it for an adult audience that's really fun and engaging,” Vrankin says.

The structure of the game is the first component that makes Puttshack special, Vrankin says. The second part is the food and beverage offering, which comprises globally inspired items with a street-infused approach.

Some appetizers include Persian Chicken Skewers, Korean Pork Bao Buns, and Chorizo & Cheese Empanadas. As for entrees, there’s flatbread options like the Pepperoni Buzz—premium mozzarella, San Marzano sauce, pepperoni, hot honey drizzle, honeycomb dust, and herb oil microgreens. There’s also handhelds, such as the Hatch Chile Cheeseburger—chuck, brisket, and short-rib patty, fire-roasted hatch chiless, chipotle aioli, and pepper jack cheese.

The food is paired with draft and bottled beer, wine, energy drinks, and signature cocktails, like the Spiced Pineapple Mezcal Margarita—Montelobos Espadín Mezcal Tequila, Hanson Habanero Vodka, Ancho Reyes Verde, pineapple syrup, fresh pineapple juice, cold pressed lime juice, jalapeño hellfire popsicle, hibiscus sugar rim, and candied jalapeño pineapple wheel.


Vrankin says that when he started in the space close to 15 years ago, the focus was on food, and not much attention was spent on the beverage lineup. That’s not the case for Puttshack.

“We spend as much time coming up with quality signature cocktails in our offering as we do the food side,” the CEO notes. “And the food side, we're really focused on how do we differentiate ourselves from what else is out there and the high quality, yet still good casual-dining experience that fits with the overall environment.”

After entertainment and food/beverage, Vrankin says the final component that sets Puttshack apart is the guest experience. He explains that from the time customers walk in, the vibe and energy is fueled by ambience, creative music selection, and employees that engage with guests, whether they’re deciding the next move on the course, or choosing a menu option.

“The reality is, it isn't rocket science of saying, ‘Hey, good game, good food and beverage, good guest service experience,’ but I don't think that there's too many concepts that have the ability or who have executed all three of those really well,” Vrankin says. “And I think we have a phenomenal opportunity to do that.”

Puttshack opened three locations in London before entering the U.S. with an Atlanta-based store this past spring. Another venue will open in Chicago later in 2021, followed by Miami and Boston. The emerging brand also signed a lease to open in Nashville in 2023. Puttshack expects to have nine locations open by the end of 2022, and ideally, the chain will debut between 10 and 12 stores annually beginning in 2023. The strategy is to focus on top markets in the North, South, East, and West so the brand can establish itself in all parts of the country.

So far, Puttshack has seen positive results in the U.S. Vrankin says Atlanta’s success has “blown the doors off of what our expectations were.” The location is averaging more than 1,000 visitors per day—pacing way above what Puttshack had previously modeled.

Going forward, Puttshack’s growth will be backed by a $60 million investment, led by equity firm Promethean Investments. The growth capital round essentially closed before Atlanta even opened, which Vrankin says is a testament to the opportunity and fundamentals of the business.

“We see a terrific opportunity as we are coming out of the pandemic in what social entertainment opportunities are within the retail space, as well as the compelling opportunity that it creates with the guests, because I really think people are looking for experiences now,” Vrankin says. “I think concepts were always available in the social entertainment space, but I think people tended to take it for granted, ‘Oh I can do it at any time,’ and I think people are placing higher value now on things where they are actually engaged and connecting closer with friends and family. So it's a terrific opportunity for us.”


The expansion of Puttshack hasn’t come without its challenges, however. For instance, the brand has an in-house team based in the U.K. that’s responsible for building all the courses. The initial plan was for the group to fly overseas and train the team hired to handle the U.S. rollout. That couldn’t happen because of COVID travel restrictions, so all of the courses in the U.S. were installed via video instruction and other means.

The other major obstacle was training employees. The U.S. management team was scheduled to spend six weeks working in the U.K. locations, but that wasn’t possible either. That meant the management team was tasked with learning the entire business—food and beverage, entertainment, and all other systems—while also training employees on how to do everything.

Vrankin says it’s a tough ask, especially since 40 to 60 percent of Puttshack’s business is from entertainment—meaning any management leader must be well-versed in both food/beverage and gaming.

“So it's really finding the right talent and then the training programs that will fit in so that people really understand the holistic part of the whole business,” Vrankin says. “And the reality is, there's a lot of other concepts out there that tend to be less evenly distributed, so they tend to be either much more game heavy and a little bit of food and beverage that's tossed in—the things you might see that are served in a plastic basket—or somebody who's really heavily focused on the food and beverage side and they have some activity to the component, but they make up a very small percentage of the revenue. So in our case it's really a good mix and a good blend, which is part of what makes it a phenomenal opportunity. It's also part of what makes it a bit of a challenge in delivering the right experience.”

Vrankin has been in the industry for a long time, so he recognizes how rare it is for a good concept to come along. And with Puttshack, leadership is not only focused on redefining the social entertainment category, but also putting together a team that knows exactly how to do it.

“Because at the end of the day, I mean people say it, but it is absolutely the truth for us—our most important asset is our people,” Vrankin says. “And creating the culture that makes it a fun place to be is, I think, critical to what we're going to build over the next five to 10 years with Puttshack. I'm really lucky to have a phenomenally fun job with a lot of really great people.”