Feature Article - February 2015
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Out of the Ordinary

Making Fun Park Games Work

By Chris Gelbach

Another factor that is critical to overall maintenance costs is the size of the course's footprint. "If you look at a 40,000-square-foot area versus 6,000 square feet, you have a lot more expense in lighting, a lot more in landscaping, and a lot more in maintenance down the road," Foster said. "Whereas, if you condense that in a much smaller area, you've just dramatically reduced all of those costs."

Foster noted that many projects are trending to smaller courses, another factor that could be driving the trend to more creative hole designs. In part, this is because trick and jump elements can help maintain the difficulty level of holes even as putting distances shrink.

To help attract customers, Foster is seeing some park districts place the courses in close proximity to other recreational attractions such as sport fields and picnic areas. Others have focused more on creating a spontaneous drive-by attraction by positioning their new courses on major frontage roads.

Whatever the location, Foster recommends positioning the course to allow the use of existing staff as attendants. "If it's part of a municipal golf center or a driving range, design it so you have good access directly from the clubhouse," Foster said. "You don't want to have to add a secondary building, staff it and maintain it."

Bocce Makes a Resurgence

While mini golf remains popular with its traditional demographic of families with kids, bocce is connecting with a new audience. It has recently enjoyed a surprising uptick in popularity with young professionals as a bar sport and offering of sport and social club leagues.

According to Tom McNutt, owner of a bocce court corporation based in Bellingham, Wash., the sport is also unflagging in its popularity with older audiences, becoming one of the most common amenities being added to senior housing.

"It takes a minute and a half to learn and be playing on a court," McNutt said. "And it obviously brings a fair amount of interest when people don't have good knees or hips anymore and want a lower-impact activity that's easy and fun." It's also an atypical activity in that it allows players of all ages to compete on a fairly level playing field.

McNutt has installed courts everywhere from Dogfishhead Brewery to public parks to corporate campuses for tech giants like Citrix, Microsoft and Google. "There is fair team-building involved because as many as eight people—four per team—can play at the same time," McNutt said.

According to McNutt, it only makes sense to install bocce courts if it's going to be done right. He noted the pictures he has of leaf-covered municipal courts across the country that nobody's played on in years. The reason? A poor court surface that leads to unpredictable ball roll.

"People who want the courts to get used understand that the most important part of the court is the playing surface," said McNutt, who favors courts with an oyster-shell blend. "No matter what other fancy amenities you put in, if the ball doesn't roll straight, then there's no point." McNutt suggests also buying high-quality, Italian-manufactured bocce balls, since biased balls won't roll straight on any court.

While some parks departments feature courts that are 13 feet wide by 100 feet long, smaller 10-by-60-foot courts are also being installed in many environments. These can make life easier both for maintenance staff and for players of all ages. "It's more realistic to maintain," McNutt said. "It's also an easier court to learn on and be good on. It takes more finesse on a bigger court."

Whatever the size of court, McNutt recommends installing at least two of them together. This permits for league play on the courts that can support the continued growth of a bocce program. It can also be helpful to have a lockable storage container onsite for the court maintenance equipment. In many cases, the local bocce league will be so happy to have a good court to play on that they may volunteer to take on the ongoing maintenance of the court.

Just like with disc golf, FootGolf and mini golf, if you build it, there's a good chance the patrons will come. You just have to build, program and maintain it right.