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Guest Column - July/August 2004

New for the Course

By Chris Foster


The popularity of miniature golf has steadily increased over the past decade with millions of families visiting courses every year. While the basic concept of miniature golf remains unchanged since its introduction in the early 1920s, the courses have evolved into unique and interesting variations of the original courses. The first courses were simple, relatively flat greens with geometric shapes. Items such as miniature windmills, lighthouses, whiskey barrels and an occasional purple gorilla dominated the links.

Courses contained similar characteristics until the late 1970s when new, more elaborate courses called adventure-style courses began popping up in places like Myrtle Beach, Wisconsin Dells and all along the Atlantic Coast. These courses integrated large waterfalls; interesting and eye-catching themes; and larger, more free-formed golf holes. The lighthouses and windmills were replaced with rock and water features, pirate ships, airplanes, and the like. The holes were significantly larger than previous designs and required at least some putting skills to truly score well on the course.

Adventure courses and their variations, such as putting courses, have become the new staple in miniature golf course design and construction. According to the Miniature Golf Course Association of the U.S., on average, nearly 200 of these courses are constructed in the United States each year, some replacing the very courses that had put miniature golf on the map several decades before. While many previous articles have been written about these courses and the elaborate features involved in developing them, this article is focused in the new trends in miniature golf.

Edutainment

"Edutainment" has been a key catch phrase in the past few years, and miniature golf has certainly capitalized on this trend. Edutainment means to educate while entertaining. This can be done in a variety of ways.

For example, Ranch Community Services in Menomonee Falls, Wis., wanted to educate their children by exposing them to miniature golf and local wildlife. The Ranch is a nonprofit day-care facility that caters to youths with physical or mental disabilities. The course was built to be 100-percent accessible to players in wheelchairs. Several holes of this course were designed to have highly detailed animal sculptures on or around the golf holes. As golfers play the course, they learn about the characteristics of these indigenous animals. The course educates players while offering entertainment during their round of golf. The course is further accented by recirculating waterfalls, streams and ponds.

Telling a story

Storytelling also has become prevalent in recent years. Instead of simply developing a theme throughout a miniature golf course, course designers are telling a story; whether factual or fabled, the story drives the theme and placement of theme elements. The "Wilderness" Adventure Course in Bollingbrook, Ill., opened this spring with a Bigfoot story. Players begin the course noticing large footprints embedded into the walkways and surrounding landscape. This subtle item begins their journey into a quest to discover more about the legends of Bigfoot. Golfers will play through small log cabins, abandoned campsites and suspension bridges, all on their way to encounter Bigfoot's cave.

Glowing reviews

Another area that seems to have grown in popularity has been "glow-in-the-dark golf." This concept has aimed at capitalizing on the play of miniature golf but in a new black-lit setting. John's Incredible Pizza in Modesto, Calif., has included this concept in its product mix. The nine-hole course with an underwater theme is situated in 3,000 square feet. Walls have murals that resemble the ocean floor with iridescent paints (paints that glow under black light). The golf holes are also painted with iridescents along with simulated coral reefs, substrates, pirate's chests and various underwater creatures that double as obstacles. John's Incredible Pizza uses specially painted balls that also glow when the black lights are being used.

New bells and whistles

Technological advancements also are being added to adventure-style courses to differentiate one course from another. Sound sensors, robotic animals and pyrotechnics, once found only in large theme parks like Disney and Universal, are becoming more and more common in miniature golf courses. New developers/operators have been asking for these types of features more often in recent years.

As with any industry, innovations separate the mediocre facilities from the highly profitable business ventures. Newer concepts in storytelling and glow-in-the dark golf build upon the fundamentals of the basic game of miniature golf while providing the activity within a new environment. Technological advancements have enabled miniature golf courses to create features that often were not available to those that did not visit large theme parks. The end result is new and more unique courses that still provide the basics in family fun while opening up the options for those players that want to experience new things while putting a round.

Chris Foster is director of marketing for COST of Wisconsin, Inc., which designs and constructs miniature golf courses. He can be reached at cfoster@costofwisconsin.com or 206-223-5777.

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