Putting Edge: A “Glowing” Innovator
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by Matt Harding
Opened in 1995, the Canada-based glow-in-the-dark mini-golf chain Putting Edge has always been at the forefront of the game.
“We essentially invented the industry,” said company president Jason Vanderburgh, whose father Jerry founded the business and is still its CEO. “We were working with vendors to create and test out the glow-in-the-dark putters and courses.”
They started in Brampton, Ontario, just outside of Toronto, and started expanding mainly in Ontario throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. The business opened its first location in the U.S. in 2002.
Vanderburgh grew up in the business, working the front lines once he was old enough and then later on learning the construction and manufacturing side. He took time after university to pursue different sales and marketing positions but came back to the family business full time in 2015.
The original idea was simply to combine mini-golf with blacklight technology. To this day, that’s the intent – to create a distinctive experience under their “Illuminated Play” tagline.
“Our courses are completely unique – everything’s custom made and hand painted,” Vanderburgh said. He added that they use actual concrete and rock to build volcanoes and other structures on their 18-hole courses, which usually take players 45 minutes to an hour to complete. “We do it intentionally that way because it creates that wow factor,” he explained.
The company works to hit every demographic as well. While birthday parties are a part of the business, they’re not the primary aspect as oftentimes is the case. They cater to young adults, families and corporate groups.
“We check off a lot of boxes,” Vanderburgh said. “We’re perfect for date nights, outings with friends and for everybody, really.”
Putting Edge has nine locations in Canada and two in the U.S. – one in the Canada-adjacent Novi, Michigan, and another in Orlando’s Dezerland Park. They’re currently building out a new location at Xtreme Action Park in Fort Lauderdale, which is co-owned by Dezerland’s Michael Dezer and PrimeTime Amusements’ David Goldfarb. They’re anticipating opening that location by the end of summer.
Aside from the two Dezer-affiliated locations, Putting Edge operates in standalone big-box facilities.
The business had big plans to expand further in 2020, but Covid through a wrench at them, forcing a permanent closure of one of their stores. “We were in a really strong position, but we were really hurt by the pandemic, especially in Ontario,” he said. “The bulk of our stores here got hit pretty bad.”
Luckily, things have recovered, and the ordeal provided a chance to retool the business.
“As much as Covid hurt us, it gave us the opportunity to change a lot of things,” Vanderburgh said.
“Operationally, going cashless has been a huge plus for us.” Most payments are taken through their online reservation system.
For their arcades, which are in every location, they started using an Embed cashless system in 2015 and expanded that to all locations over the pandemic.
Each facility, like each of their mini-golf courses, is unique, though typically at around 10,000 sq. ft. “Every single course has its own layout, look and feel and everything,” he said. “The layout of each course is custom, based on the space.”
Their arcades are about 60% redemption with merchandisers and video games making up the remaining 40%. They have small arcades with around 20 games or so to keep guests happy and occupied for a half-hour or so while they wait to play mini-golf.
They own their games in one of the newer locations but have a longstanding relationship with Player One Amusement Group.
“Arcades have always been a part of the business but the nature of them has changed drastically,” Vanderburgh said. Back in the early days, and for many years after, they were operating coin-op non-redemption games. Now, it is card system based with a lot of higher end games and redemption machines.
They have a front counter redemption wall – all custom built. “In keeping with our theme, it’s all about illuminated play, which is why everything glows.”
Food and beverage make up only a tiny portion of business. They offer some drinks and snacks to guests, but the focus is on the gameplay and spending time with one another.
Putting Edge has about 100 employees, which goes up and down depending on the season. “The summer is amazing for us,” he said, noting that vacation times like Spring Break and Christmas are booming. “Those are always really busy times for us.”
Using their online reservation system, peak times are always fully booked.
With business back on track and a new location coming soon with their partners at Xtreme Action Park, further expansion is once again on the mind.
“Most of our expansion plans tend to be in Canada because it makes the most sense for us,” Vanderburgh said. “But there are plenty of U.S. locations and other opportunities out there.” While they plan on staying within North America in the foreseeable future, things are certainly looking bright for the business (well, illuminated).
Check out their recently revamped website for more information at www.puttingedge.com.