Inside SF's quirkiest mini golf course

The lights flicker in the darkened space, and the floor rumbles ominously. Fish swim quietly by on a small monitor (a feed from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I learn later). The levers make satisfying clanks and creaks as you pull and push them, and a round porthole emits a warm, slightly industrial-smelling air (a special scent called “boiler room” that is pumped in for authenticity). If it weren’t for the guy with a golf club standing around the corner, you’d feel as if you were inside of an old submarine instead of a mini golf course.

Welcome to Urban Putt — a 14-hole indoor miniature golf course that feels a little Rube Goldberg and a little Willy Wonka (if he had been to Burning Man).

Urban Putt in San Francisco is BARTable

Urban Putt is a 6-minute walk from 24th Street Mission BART Station. 

Urban Putt is the creation of Steve Fox, born out of a creative biennial tradition that he and his wife started of turning their home into a crazy DIY golf course for their friends and neighbors. Every year the elaborate handcrafted holes would range from conceptual to complicated feats of engineering, and eventually the idea grew into what Urban Putt has become: an imaginative mini-golf course in the heart of San Francisco built by artists and skilled craftsmen, where every hole is a work of art.

The goal in building Urban Putt, Fox told me, was to create a different kind of urban destination that would appeal to adults as much as it might to children, as well as one that is affordable.

Urban Putt in San Francisco is BARTable

At Urban Putt, every hole is a work of art. 

The space that Urban Putt calls home was a mortuary before it was a golf course, and there has been a definite effort to maintain the feel of the historic Victorian, from the worn patina of the wood floors to the high ceilings and decorative sconces, though with the occasional update. The original sconce against the back wall features a pair of angels sporting some loud plaid golfing pants now that they don’t have any funerals to preside over.

The faux lincrusta, a nod to the textured Victorian-era wallpaper that lines the hallways of many of the city’s older homes, is all golf themed: emblazoned with wild argyles and Urban Putt’s signature gear shaped icon. The stairs are padded with the familiar green turf of traditional mini golf courses, and the walls boast vintage photographs of amusement parks and golfers from a bygone era.

Urban Putt in San Francisco is BARTable

Urban Putt is the creation of Steve Fox, born out of a creative biennial tradition that he and his wife started of turning their home into a crazy DIY golf course for their friends and neighbors. 

Although the course itself is not officially San Francisco themed, there are certainly plenty of nods to the city that gave birth to this establishment. The first hole shows a set of familiar row houses shaking in the 1906 earthquake, the Transamerica Pyramid makes an appearance as the token mini-golf windmill, and the wild face of Laffing Sal opens her gap-toothed mouth to welcome your golf ball to Golf Land (with a subtle Playland at the Beach mural behind it).Urban Putt in San Francisco is BARTable

Urban Putt in an indoor miniature golf course with 14 holes, including an elaborate Day of the Dead hole. 

Each hole feels like its own creative adventure. Watch as your ball is shuttled across rickety rails along the ceiling and is dropped into a cacophony of waiting drum sets, or through an elaborate Day of the Dead hole (that actually attracts the occasional unsolicited offering from people in the community).

Urban Putt in San Francisco is BARTable

Urban Putt's second-floor resaturant, Up @ Urban Putt, serves American comfort food.

Urban Putt’s full-service restaurant upstairs, UP @ Urban Putt, is an attraction in its own right. Chef Dane Boryta serves up tasty fare that rivals that of any Mission restaurant. When is the last time you ate crab cake sliders with a grilled nectarine appetizer before or after a round of mini-golf?  You can also grab a quick snack or drink at the bar downstairs while you’re waiting for your turn to golf.

Urban Putt in San Francisco is BARTable

Fried chicken and waffle skewers is one of the tasty bites featured at Urban Putt. 

For all there is to take in visually, one of the greatest things about Urban Putt actually lies hidden away from sight, down in the basement. A large CNC machine and full workshop give the team the tools to make whatever they can dream up, which means that the space is under constant improvement, and means you may notice something new every time you visit.

What you should know:

  • Golf is first come, first served.
  • Kids are welcome on the course until 8 pm, after that it is open only to adults over 21. They are always welcome in the restaurant upstairs.
  • Dinner is offered in the restaurant nightly beginning at 5 pm weekends and 5:30 pm weekdays. Bar Bites are available any time mini-golf is open.
  • Reservations can be made online for dinner groups of 16 people or fewer. 
  • Interested in having a party at Urban Putt? They have special party packages available.
  • Already mastered the course? For an added degree of difficulty, have your team try the Pink Putter challenge. Play a round using the smallest putter (the pink one!) and get your photo on the wall.
  • Before you start the course, make sure you play Dan Rosenfeld’s Sleepwalkers, an interactive installation living inside the wall across from where you pick up your putter. Place your ball in the large black pipe protruding from the wall (don’t worry, you’ll get it back), and follow the instructions to the left of the exhibit. You and a tiny projected sleepwalker will have to work together to move your ball through the wall in a truly unique work of interactive art.

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