The Home Depot – We visited PopStroke in Fort Myers to get a taste of what’s coming to Sarasota
When I first heard of PopStroke, the outdoor golf, dining and entertainment concept created by Tiger Woods, I thought it sounded like the kind of thing that would fit in pretty much anywhere in Florida.
First of all, Floridians love their golf. The climate here is perfect for it, and our large population of retirees means tons of people here have more than enough time to play. The National Golf Foundation is even headquartered — you guessed it — in Florida, in Jupiter to be exact, which just so happens to also be the home of Tiger Woods.
Secondly, what could be more people-pleasing these days than any activity that also involves eating and drinking? It seems like everything has to have a food-and-drinks option now. What’s a good Instagram photo without a beautifully garnished cocktail or a colorful milkshake? Movie theaters have full bars now, too. So why would this outdoor, entertainment-focused golf concept be any different?
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When Benderson Development Co. announced that PopStroke would open a Sarasota location in the East District at University Town Center, I didn’t know exactly what to think. “Tiger Woods is behind it,” I thought, “so I bet it’s upscale, and I bet the golf isn’t too easy.” It sounded like a classier version of a mini golf course – not that there’s anything wrong with mini golf; I am not at all above shooting a hot pink golf ball into a hole shaped like the mouth of an alligator.
Anyway, to help make sense of PopStroke, I decided to see it for myself. So last weekend, I drove to Fort Myers with my boyfriend, who golfs a lot in his free time, to see what all the fuss was about. I quickly learned that it was nothing like the mini golf courses I visited in Cape Cod over the summers growing up. There wasn’t a gimmick in sight.
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The Fort Myers PopStroke is west of South Tamiami Trail along Six Mile Cypress Parkway, between a Home Depot on one side, an Aldi on the other, and in front of the Springs at Six Mile Cypress Apartments complex.
Right off the bat, it’s quite different from University Town Center. The PopStroke in Sarasota will be next to the Mall at University Town Center, the eventual Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium building and a short walk to Nathan Benderson Park. So Sarasota definitely gets the leg up for location right off the bat.
Still, I was amazed at how easily I lost myself within the Fort Myers PopStroke once we were inside. Yes, it’s near an apartment complex and other retail, but it’s separated enough, and once you’re out there on the course, the trees and other greenery do a good job of separating visitors from the outside world.
Walking into the main entrance, a gust of cool air offers immediate relief from the unrelenting Florida heat. Attendants ask if you’re there to golf, eat or both, and if you say golf, they give you a ball and you get to pick out your putter before you head out to the course. I needed help figuring out what size club was right for me.
It’s clean and pristine and it’s classy. There are cup holders and hooks for beer buckets at every hole, and they will literally bring your drinks to you while you golf.
At the same spot where you register, there are also beer taps and a cooler – I spotted canned and bottled drinks like White Claw in there. There’s also an ice cream counter where customers can get a couple of scoops or maybe even a milkshake. I was intrigued but I did not partake. My boyfriend ordered a Shock Top and then we headed up to the bar area where they do mixed drinks and sodas so I could get an Arnold Palmer (I swear I wasn’t going for a golf thing with that drink order).
With our drinks in hand, it was finally time to golf. Since I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing, we went for the 18-hole Cub course instead of the harder Tiger course. And honestly, by the time we hit hole 5, I was glad we did just one course instead of the full 36 holes based on the 90-plus degree heat alone.
My boyfriend gave me an 18-point handicap so that, in his words, the game would be “competitive.” I tried to tell him that it didn’t really matter, that 18 might not be enough points to make it even remotely competitive, but we went with it.
He showed me a couple of tips. I learned that sometimes it’s best to let your putter swing like a pendulum instead of gripping it for dear life. I also learned how to angle a shot so the ball has the best chance of coming back in a favorable way. In other words, it’s better to hit it toward the side of the green that has a slight incline behind it, instead of hitting it toward the side closest to the sand.
When all was said and done, I ended up winning by one point. Or, in other words, he ended up winning by 17 points. By the time we both finished hole 18, we were completely covered in sweat, so we headed to the restaurant to get some food and refill our drinks.
The restaurant, like most of PopStroke, is outside. In Fort Myers, there are two bars – one just outside of the indoor area where guests register and get their clubs, and another, bigger one a little farther away on a covered patio with outdoor seating. There are fans working super hard on that patio to keep customers dry and sweat-free, and we were mostly fine once we’d dabbed off the sweat from playing golf.
Earlier, while we waited at the bar for my first Arnold Palmer of the day, we’d both caught a glimpse of the nachos as a waiter carried them to a nearby table. They looked amazing, with a big dollop of sour cream and jalapenos so vibrantly green that you knew they had to be fresh. So we had to try those. My boyfriend also got the fried chicken sandwich, which he said was pretty good – he just wished they’d added some pickles.
We probably spent three hours at PopStroke that day – from roughly noon until 3 p.m. on a Saturday. We had a great time. I can see why people like it and why it will be a fit for Sarasota – especially the East District at UTC, which was intended to be an entertainment and dining complex.
PopStroke is designed around having a good time. And by the end of the year, that good time will have made its way to Sarasota.
Laura Finaldi, the Herald-Tribune’s retail and tourism reporter, can be reached at 941-361-4951 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lauraefinaldi. Join her Sarasota-Manatee Retail News page on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/sarasotamanateeretail/.
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