inPRACTICE / MINIATURE GOLF: In With the New
Romps Water Port // Vermillion, Ohio
The best solutions for recreation areas are win-win—they provide a new and exciting amenity for visitors while giving owners a solution that meets unsolved challenges, from simplifying maintenance to boosting revenues. Both owners and guests at Romps Water Port in Vermillion, Ohio, are enthusiastic about the new 18-hole mini golf course recently installed there.
Established in 1957, Romps Water Port is a 17-acre marina facility located on the scenic Vermillion River, serving Lake Erie. The full-service marina features dockage for 250 boats with steel floating docks in a self-protected harbor. But that's not all. In addition to its newly updated miniature golf offering, called Romps Putter Port, the marina hosts a heated swimming pool, a multi-sport court, snack bar and lounge, an ice cream stand, picnic shelters and open grassy areas for play or for pets. It also features a full-service department to work on boats.
Romps Water Port needed to replace a 36-hole concrete-built miniature golf course that had begun as a franchised course in the 1960s. "There was just like a checklist of things we wanted," said John Gabriel, co-owner of the marina. "And the Adventure Golf product checked all the boxes."
Adventure Golf & Sports provided the new 18-hole prefabricated, modular Anywhere Links Jr. mini-golf course.
"We were very excited that it was easy to install," Gabriel said. "It was something we could install. That way, we could place the course as we saw fit. And then, if you want, you can even move it around a little bit, change it up a little. So that was nice. And the precut carpet is really a winner. In the old days, we would literally have to hire carpet companies to come out and glue it down and all kinds of things. Having it laser-cut to the exact shape and proportion to fit the hole is another box checked: ease of maintenance."
According to Gabriel, the original 36-hole mini golf course that was installed at Romps Water Port around 1965 "… was a lot denser. The holes were smaller in length, and it was an official Putt-Putt franchise course. After so many years, around 1999 or 2000, they wanted us to redo the course into a bigger, more elaborate Putt-Putt course. This is a working-class community that we're in, and we felt the community wasn't ready for a $15 or $20 game ticket for that kind of a course. We're more in the $5 to $7 ticket range in our community.
"We then changed the name and the color scheme of the holes; took out some of the Putt-Putt obstacles and replaced them with Vermillion landmarks like the distinguished tower in the city. We had a bridge because the city is divided down the middle by a bridge that's blue and it's iconic, so we had a blue bridge on the course that looks just like it."
This past winter, the Innes and Gabriel families who co-own Romps Water Port, began to look at replacing the original 36-hole course. "We wanted to meet local codes and create more accessibility for people with mobility issues," Gabriel said. "And spacing-wise, the new course is just a better flow of traffic. The other course was pretty crowded and didn't allow for a lot of maneuvering between the holes."
The owners had dual goals: ease of use and ease of installation. "We didn't want an overcomplicated course," Gabriel said. "We wanted it to be simple and functional because we have a lot of smaller children that are attracted to mini golf.
"Ease of installation was high on the list as well. We saw where they could put it down in a parking lot if you so choose, so we thought, 'Wow! How easy is that?' Just snap these (interlocking panel) pieces together and you've got yourself a course."
Customers were initially upset when the old course was removed. "They were very afraid that the Putter Port was gone for good… they were very concerned that we were tearing out a chunk of memories," Gabriel said. "My wife's parents met at that course. My wife and I met at that course. In Vermillion, a lot of people can say that sort of thing."
Local contractor Herk Construction tore out the old course and poured a new, relatively smooth concrete surface. After that, Co-Owner Tom Innes' son Scott, still in high school, went to work with employee Chad Rich to assemble the course according to instructions. "And then we were able to come along afterwards and put our obstacles out where they would best fit the course," Gabriel said. "It really turned out nice."
The best parts of the old course were kept. "The water tower remains, and the blue bridge is there, and there are two nautical buoys and a sign that points to Key West and various locations like that with the distance in miles," Gabriel explained. "So those things are scattered throughout the course. We were able to incorporate the old and the new, so it didn't lose its Vermillion flavor."
The new course features longer holes, with more par 3s, compared to the par 2s of the former course. "It's a nicer layout," Gabriel said.
The course also dries quickly, allowing play to resume quickly, an improvement over the old course, which held onto moisture. "It rained this morning and they're playing out there now," Gabriel said. "The panels drain right through. …The pad drains off nicely. It's pitched ever so slightly so the whole place dries out quickly."
Maintenance has also been simplified. "All the holes were framed with wood, and you had to sand and repaint that and freshen it up every year," Gabriel said.
"The pictures they had online of the course were good," he added, "but in my opinion they did not do it justice. When you come and see our course, it really pops. It's really a nice-looking course. It's a quality product. And people have really taken to it. We've had so many compliments. And financially it's taken off, too." RM
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