Course: Urban Putt
Location: 1096 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110
Price: $12 for 14 holes
Review: A few weeks ago I asked if mini golf was art. And I never really came to a solid conclusion. Probably because it really isn’t that important of a question. As far as big questions go, “is mini golf art?” doesn’t even crack the top eight.* More importantly, to truly answer that question, first you have to figure out “what is art?” Which is really tough to do. Is “art” just some vague, incomprehensible phrase like “ska connoisseur” or “the understudy for Nicely Nicely Johnson” which sounds important on paper, but no one actually knows what the heck it is? Is “art” a searing introspection into the human condition which tries to find meaning in a world where McDonald’s can sell twenty chicken McNuggets for only five bucks: a world of inherent meaninglessness?
Or is “art” something that changes the game? Something that you’d never imagine in a million years. Something inspired.
Conveniently located in downtown San Francisco, Urban Putt has received constant praise (both commercial and critical) since its opening in 2014. But, man oh man, is this praise merited. Although this indoor bar/restaurant/mini golf venue only has 14 holes, they are, without a doubt, some of the most clever and creative holes I’ve ever encountered. Consider the course’s first hole (aptly named “Quake!”) which celebrates San Fran’s history as the earthquake epicenter of America with a row of miniaturized houses that mechanically rattle and shake more vigorously and ominously than a locked door in a slasher film. Consider the course’s Skeeball and Duck hunting-holes (the latter hole, aptly named “Quack!”) that were so authentically old-timey I couldn’t help but imagine my friend Evan as a stereotypically loudmouthed carnival barker and not, more accurately, as a grown man playing mini golf on a Monday afternoon.
How about its interactive video game hole (hole 4) that almost-magically transported your golf ball into a digital Matrix (without, however, the gaping plot holes and Jesus-imagery that defined The Matrix trilogy)? How about its underwater-inspired holes that plunged golfers 20,000 leagues under the sea in “Jules Verne’s Nautilus” (hole 8)? How about the many smoke machines, and spinning devices, and mechanical innovations that made this course more enjoyably ingenious than the nearby San Francisco Exploratorium? How about the fact that this course had more interactive Rube Goldberg machines than visible fire exits?**
This course was phenomenal.
And sure, I could whine about how Urban Putt was a little small/cramped/crowded. I could rail on and on about how, by cramming so much innovation into such a small space, the resulting experience was as cluttered and convoluted as California’s hellish highway system (my GPS was useless!). I could complain that, with lines out the door on a Monday afternoon, this venue was almost too popular, too crowded . But I don’t want to make too much of a fuss. Because this course was one of the rare venues that struck me as truly, monumentally, artistically exceptional.
It comes with my highest recommendation.
* For future reference, the top eight big questions are: “Does free will exist?” “Is there a God?” “Are you 100% certain that there’s a God?” “Wait, what?” “Y-you saw God?” “…with your eyes?” “Are you sure that wasn’t just three smaller gods stacked on top of one another, with the bottom two hidden beneath a giant trench coat… because I’ve been tricked before too. You’re sure that that was God?” and “Who the heck is this Ben Gazi guy and why does Hillary Clinton hate him so darn much???”
** Which doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t have that many fire exits…. They just had a literal butt-load of Rube Goldberg machines.
Course Score: Evan – 33, Dan – 38; par – 33.
Pros: Unimaginably innovative; insanely unique/inspired; great use of mechanical props/smoke machines/Rube Goldberg devices; giddily enjoyable; fantastic upkeep/maintenance; many flat places to place your beverages; all around the most clever and impressive indoor course I have ever visited.
Cons: Only 14 holes; cramped; felt a little cluttered; crowded (which isn’t so much a critique, as a reflection on its popularity, but get there early because lines can get pretty long).