By Joseph Chapman
The Mahoning Valley will soon be home to a premiere golf entertainment and training center. Youngstown State University alumnus Jonah Karzmer has been involved in the local golf scene since his graduation from YSU in 2004, and he recognized a need for an indoor golf facility. When the Southern Park Mall in Boardman announced a plan for redevelopment, Karzmer began investing in the location that will now become The Bunker.
The Bunker is a large space, containing a 6,000 square foot outdoor patio, the Youngstown Hall of Fame bar, the family dining room, a members dining area, the simulator space and the backroom learning center known as the Ben Curtis Academy.
The patio will be one of the largest outdoor entertainment spaces in the area. It will be home to a dining area, a large bar and fire pits. Karzmer is also hopeful it will have a cigar area — a popular treat among golfers.
The Bunker will have the option for memberships in addition to daily passes for golfers of all ages. These memberships will allow for discounted simulator use, access to members only dining events, access to the Ben Curtis Academy training facility and lessons and the ability to charge food and beverage to a membership account. The latter will allow parents to send their children to The Bunker without the worry of them losing cash.
Karzmer also discussed the wide range of functions offered by the simulators.
“I’ve wanted the space to be of value to golfers of all skill levels and nongolfers. I mean, I went to TopGolf last year. It was amazing, like 75% of people there would never go to a golf course but they were loving it,” Karzmer said. “You can come out and play the same type of games that you play at Topgolf. Closest to the pin and points. They [also] have a pig game on the driving range … You can play 18 holes at Pebble Beach and they’re very accurate and guys who I golf with, where we want to bet and be serious. It’ll serve a purpose for us [too].”
Each simulator bay will fit eight people and house a high top bar as well as a couch and dining area. A dedicated server will allow patrons to order food and drink from Bogey’s while playing.
The Ben Curtis Academy training facility allows for practice with actual balls. It features a putting green, driving range, a short game area, a classroom and a snack shack which will house “made-to-order” stations where customers can order food. This area will be made available to YSU men’s and women’s golf teams, as well as local high school teams at a small cost. Fundraising options will be made available to these programs to offset the cost.
Karzmer spoke about their mentality when constructing this area.
“I looked at it [like] what I wish I had when I was 14. If I had the opportunity to come in and practice, putt with my buddies, do some math homework or food. Do some more practicing,” Karzmer said. “Hopefully, it’ll be a welcoming space for juniors to be able to come spend a lot of time and feel safe. For the parents, not have to carry cash and have to be in a bar.”
Karzmer also discussed how his former college teammate, PGA Tour major champion and business partner Ben Curtis, sets himself apart as an instructor.
“I’m a big fan of the PGA of America, and I respect the heck out of PGA golfers. I think there’s a different experience between being a teaching pro and playing on the PGA Tour. So, you know, obviously his experience in the game is going to be different than what most teachers have.”
Since Curtis began instructing, he has been passionate about giving back to the communities that he serves. The Ben Curtis Family Foundation previously served in and around the Kent area.
“They do a lot of fundraising to fight child hunger. So they collect donations. They buy a ton of food. They have like 50 volunteers weekly — they put together these birdie bags and they deliver them. They feed, like, 2,600 families a week,” Karzmer said.
This inspired The Bunker’s “social good component.”
“We added a feature to our software — which has been built out right now — called the ‘Round Up’ option. So, anytime you pay for anything throughout the place, you’ll have the option to round up to the nearest dollar and we’ll collect that money. That money will go half to the Ben Curtis Foundation and half to the YSU men’s and women’s golf teams,” Karzmer said.
Karzmer is collaborating with local restaurateur Melvin McKee, the operator of Bogey’s Bar and Grille out of Lowellville, for all of The Bunker’s food. They will offer everything from casual bar food to high-end specials such as steaks and seafoods. They call it “American with an Italian grandma flair.” Although the name is a coincidence it is fitting to belong to the restaurant of the golf-themed locale.
“There’s a lot to [The Bunker] and hopefully we do a nice job of making people aware of [it]. If your family wants to come in for a nice dinner, we’ve got something for you. If you’re a 12-year-old that’s interested in golf, we’ve got something for you. If you’re a 40-year-old scratch golfer who wants to play more golf in the wintertime, we’ve got something for you.”