‘Burning Man meets Golfland’: Urban Putt San Jose will change the game
Urban Putt San Jose CEO Steve Fox checks out its submarine inspired by "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." He aims to open the space in December. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Aliens, mysterious spirits and time machines are about to collide in the most unexpected way, and it has nothing to do with Halloween. A new entertainment destination will soon open in downtown San Jose.

    Urban Putt San Jose will bring interactive miniature golf, food and craft cocktails to the city’s core in 13,000 square feet of the former Camera 12 Cinema on Paseo de San Antonio. Developer Urban Catalyst is redeveloping the mixed-use building, which will also house Unofficial Logging Co., an axe-throwing and craft beer venue, and Eos & Nyx, a fine dining restaurant. The mini-golf course is slated to open in December.

    Resembling movie sets more than typical mini-golf holes, the venue features a crashed alien spaceship and the nautilus submarine from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Themes also nod to Silicon Valley, from quantum computer time machines and a giant circuit board to the San Jose Sharks. A three-dimensional mountain range complete with Lick Observatory borders the course and patrons can play through an homage to Winchester Mystery House, featuring heritage wallpaper, a self-playing piano and mysteriously disappearing holes.

    “We’re inspired by the era of discovery, especially the mechanical world with gears,” Owner and CEO Steve Fox told San José Spotlight. “All those elements interact with you and you with them. This is not your grandfather’s mini-golf. This is our crazy dream.”

    Urban Putt CEO Steve Fox is excited by its homage to the Winchester Mystery House. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Fox left his journalism career of 35 years to turn a beloved mini-golf hobby into a successful business—with other locations in San Francisco and Denver. The San Jose location cost $6 million to create, including a mezzanine sporting its own bar and clear tables filled with 1,000 golf balls. 

    “It’s all meant to be part of the whole experience when you come here,” he said.

    Fox said San Jose is ideal for his experiential venture, which is both family-friendly and an after-hours spot for ages 21 and up. He’d like to partner with other businesses to create a downtown San Jose “passport” to draw additional customers and enliven the area. 

    Post-pandemic, downtown continues to struggle with shuttered storefronts and blight, compounded by tech employees working remotely. A report last year showed the delay of commercial projects and events led to an economic downturn downtown with sales tax dropping nearly 39%. Parking usage rates and revenue were 50% to 75% of pre-pandemic levels.

    “It can be discouraging to see all the (vacant) storefronts,” Fox said. “We rely on corporate parties, people coming in and having fun. With so many people working remotely and at hybrid jobs, they need socialization. That’s what I think will counteract the relative barrenness of the area. With Unofficial Logging and Eos & Nyx here, and MINIBOSS nearby, you start to get a collection that will be a magnet and draw people. All of us are going to be working together to bring some more life to downtown.”

    General Manager Franklin Meltzer said the creativity and innovation of the design concept drew him to the project. He said Urban Putt San Jose is looking to partner with nearby businesses to drive customers to their destinations collaboratively.

    One of those partners is George Lahlouh, co-owner of Eos & Nyx. Lahlouh hopes Paseo de San Antonio becomes a downtown restaurant row where people can grab a drink and appetizers, throw axes and play mini-golf.

    “The look and feel of the space is like Burning Man meets Golfland,” he said of Urban Putt San Jose. “It’s a little freaky, but it’s awesome. It’s exciting to see things like that come to our hometown. You want to be able to take friends out, especially family and friends who are visiting … and have fun.”

    Rendering of Urban Putt San Jose. Courtesy of designer Chris Holzwart.

    San Jose Downtown Association CEO Alex Stettinski said Urban Putt San Jose is one example of a new kind of business energizing downtown.

    “We are a little bit more gritty, a little bit more edgy, a little bit more culturally diverse and we have all these different fun experiences,” he told San José Spotlight. “That’s why visitorship is growing. They have a unique experience when they come downtown.”

    Stettinski said although only 30% to 40% of workers have returned to downtown San Jose, a study on 26 U.S. downtowns showed that compared to 2019 pre-pandemic rates, there’s been an increase from visitors from outside the region.

    “We have plenty of visitors and it shows,” he said. “This downtown is on fire. There’s so much going on all the time. The evenings and the weekends are really busy … what’s slow and what’s missing is the workforce during the week.”

    For Fox, seeing Urban Putt San Jose coming to life is gratifying.

    “There are very few things as much fun as creating something from scratch,” he said. “I’ve taken everything that I’ve learned in 10-plus years and I’ve poured it into this passion project.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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