Brothers in Arms

The Largent brothers – Sam, Andy and Brian – bring you the Flatstick Pub. Growing the game from the inside out, one micro-brew at a time.

by Tony Dear

Tim Hughes sounds a lot like the rest of us.

“I’ll go anywhere to play golf,” he says.

Where the 40-year-old Lean Practitioner at Boeing might differ, though, is that before 2016 he had never hit a golf shot in his life.

Sam invented the pub’s Duffleboard game, a table-top mix of golf and shuffleboard.
Sam invented the pub’s Duffleboard game, a table-top mix of golf and shuffleboard.

And unlike most golfers who follow their fathers or grandfathers into the game, or are motivated to take it up after catching a glimpse of Tiger Woods or some other star player on TV, Hughes became friends with a golfer at the Flatstick Pub in Kirkland, Wash. and soon found himself becoming strangely interested in this alien pastime.

“I’ve made a lot of friends at Flatstick,” he says. “I was a transplant from Northern California and didn’t know many people here for a while, but there is something unique about Flatstick that brings people together.”

Kirkland’s Flatstick Pub opened in June 2014. Behind the new business, where patrons could play indoor mini-golf and which offered over two dozen micro-brews on tap as well as a handful of ciders, were the Largent brothers, Sam and Andy.

Sam, a former accountant, plowed most of his savings into the venture after seeing something similar called “Smash Putt” in Seattle’s SoDo and Capitol Hill areas.

Brothers Sam (left) and Andy Largent, co-owners of the Flatstick Pub phenomenon, found what they liked and ran with it.
Brothers Sam (left) and Andy Largent, co-owners of the Flatstick Pub phenomenon, found what they liked and ran with it.

Andy, the Chief Operating Officer, was a 2009 graduate of Whitworth University in Spokane with a degree in Business Administration who had worked at the Ranch Club in Missoula, Mont., first in the bag room, then in the pro shop. He’d also caddied at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

A third Largent brother, Brian, is the operation’s community outreach manager.

Andy is the “real” golfer of the family, carrying a solid 4.8 Handicap Index.

As is the case with every new business, there were risks – would the golf theme go down well in a city not known for its love of the game? Would people want to play mini-golf while drinking beer – both enjoyable activities by themselves, but could the Largents assimilate both into one cohesive, successful operation?

“We knew there were no guarantees, but were confident it could work,” says Andy. “Of course there were some concerns, but we felt good about it.”

Sure enough, it didn’t take long for Flatstick Pub to quash any doubts and establish a regular clientele. It quickly became a favorite with the region’s media outlets, including local news network which ran the headline, “Exciting Golf-themed Flatstick Pub is a winner,” not long after it made its debut.

Another great initiative certainly deserving of a mention is the Sunday Fundraise, where $2 of every beer and $2 of every round of golf (a game of mini-golf costs $7 per person) goes to local charities. Last year, Flatstick raised over $160,000.

The success of the Kirkland pub inevitably led to more openings. The underground location at Pioneer Square, complete with S-E-A-T-T-L-E-shaped mini-golf holes and 12-ft Space Needle which lights up when putters make a hole-in-one, came on board in June 2016; and a pub in the Vulcan-owned Allen Institute building in South Lake Union opened in July 2018.

A fourth location with all the now-familiar Flatstick attractions – mini-golf, Duffleboard (a table-top mix of golf and shuffleboard invented by Sam Largent), cornhole, various other games, and tap after tap of locally-made beer – was added in Spokane in November of last year.

Some nights are busier than others at Flatstick, obviously. It can certainly get a bit crowded during weekends, but Mondays and Tuesdays see their share of action, too. Those are league nights when 20 two-player teams take each other on at various formats – four-ball, alternate stroke, medal-play, match-play, beer-in-one-hand, you name it.

The Spokane location of Flatstick Pub

“There are end-of-season tournaments too,” says Andy Largent, “and yes, it can get quite competitive.”

This year promises to be a big one for Flatstick. New pubs are set to open on State St. in Bellingham and in downtown Tacoma, coronavirus permitting.

The Bellingham pub was due to open in May but will hopefully now be ready by July, and Tacoma – the largest location yet at 13,000-sq-ft on two floors – will welcome its first guests by the end of the year.

Andy Largent is understandably focused on the new openings, but does concede there are likely to be more Flatsticks down the road. “Nothing’s certain, of course,” he says. “But we’ll likely be looking into the possibility of opening up in places like Boise, Missoula, Portland, Tri-Cities and Vancouver.”

The way things have gone for Flatstick the last few years, you’d have to say that’s a gimme.

Tony Dear is an award-winning golf writer who has authored several books on golf, including the recent “The Story of Golf in Fifty Holes.” His writings can be found in the world’s top golf publications.

(This article previously appeared in Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, published by the PNGA.)