The new normal and miniature golf design for tomorrow

by Peter F. Olesen, P.E.

We retain Pete Olesen to design all the go-kart tracks, miniature golf courses, and bumper boat ponds for our clients' projects. Thanks, Pete, for letting us share your article with our readers.

Miniature golf is just as relevant today as it has been over its more than 100-year history. It will continue to be so in the "New Normal" which is now here to stay. This continuing appeal to guests of all ages is due to its entertainment value and the fact that is does not require any special skills or excessive physical exertion. It is readily designed to accommodate ADA regulations and can be enjoyed by seniors and children alike.

Regardless of ever-changing technology, the advent of virtual reality and new outdoor attractions, miniature golf continues to draw outstanding numbers of guests to well-planned and maintained facilities.

Social interaction is a buzz word throughout the family entertainment industry and represents a pent-up desire by many people to shake the dependence on digital interaction and actually enjoy the real world (Real Reality) in the company of others. A relaxed and entertaining participatory activity, miniature golf has been a proven small group socialization activity throughout its history.

To be successful in today's new normal, miniature golf courses must address current criteria rather than falling back on pre-pandemic standards. The sophistication and expectations of today's miniature golf players has evolved into higher entertainment expectations when they visit miniature golf courses. The play has to be interesting and challenging, without becoming overwhelming. It must entertain youngsters as well as senior citizens and everyone between. Easy isn't the solution nor is super challenging. Striking the right balance includes keeping both younger players interested without over-simplification driving teenagers and adults away.

The days of people flocking to low par, gimmicky courses of the past are almost gone. The reasons for making this statement are many. For one thing most people are looking for "more bang for their buck" in terms of realism and challenge. Youngsters are far more aware of golf as a sport and miniature golf as a form of entertainment. With the ever-increasing coverage of golf on television and increased emphasis in scholastic golf, even elementary school children are playing miniature golf with the understanding of par. Credit the increasing exposure to golf on television and in newspapers, expansion of driving ranges, public and private golf courses, golf simulators and the introduction of golf oriented video and arcade games all as contributors to the improved awareness of the sport and interest in miniature golf as a recreational pastime. It provides camaraderie, socialization; light hearted entertainment, and competition resulting in a growing perceived valuable use of both for disposable time and money.

Years ago there was a strong interest in "gimmick" miniature golf with all types of gimmicks and props. Today we see far more interest in "golf in miniature" with realistic fairways, challenging play, and a themed surrounding. Where tourist-oriented facilities now compete on the basis of elaborate theming; the average local market courses are seeing a demand for better, more challenging, and more entertaining play as opposed to more elaborate theming.

Miniature golf offers a relaxing, time-consuming form of entertainment that blends well into the planning of family entertainment facilities in terms of extending times of stay. It is an ideal attraction for family units as it can involve a broad age span in a common entertainment venue. Miniature golf also lends itself to date-nights, as it doesn't consume funds as rapidly as many other entertainment formats and provides an easygoing entertainment form.

Miniature golf also serves as an excellent format for senior citizen group activities in the form of informal outings or regularly scheduled league competition. It is also an excellent activity for church outings, school activities, day camp outings, birthday parties, corporate functions, charity events, team building exercises, and other occasions.

Miniature golf is a form of mild physical entertainment not requiring athleticism or special skills but rather offers a wide range of opportunities for enjoyment and relaxation spanning socialization to competition.

Getting Started

There are several ways to proceed in moving from dream to reality. One common approach is to select a design-build firm to create a plan and to build it. There are several firms with good track records, a number with acceptable records, and several with less impressive past performances. This concept includes utilizing company design and construction procedures based on their specific skills, experience, and practices developed over time.

A second approach is to hire a design firm with a strong background in concept and site development, course design, civil engineering capabilities that include drainage and parking design, feasibility study capabilities, and related industry experience. This concept allows the preparation of construction plans and specifications that are based on the utilization of local contractors that may never have constructed a miniature golf course before. The benefits of utilizing local contractors include familiarity with local material suppliers, specialty sub-contractors, and other specialists. They also will have working knowledge of the permitting and inspection procedures to help expedite progress. They are already familiar with the potential local supplemental labor pool in the event conditions dictate. Additional benefits include the local contractor's pride of association with the project and the fact that they will still be in the local community should unanticipated problems or warranty coverage be required.

Being a design firm, our firm prefers the local contractor concept. It has worked well for our past clients. Being engineers we are aware of improvements in construction materials, modern construction methods, and have a long background dealing with Local, County and State agencies on drainage, lighting, parking, and traffic engineering issues that may occur.

We recommend that everyone give serious consideration to both concepts and that they select the one that best meets their needs. Give serious attention to the pros and cons of each approach.

Each design-build firm has their own specific concepts, preferred construction methods and materials and all will be moving to your area with a small permanent crew, most likely hiring local contractors for overall site grading, electrical, lighting, plumbing, waterfalls, and themed structures.

Develop Concept

  • Make certain you have the commitment to follow through.
  • Narrow options to permit realistic comparisons.

Establish Proposed Project Site

  • If currently owned, is it in a viable location in terms of populations, accessibility, size, and configuration?
  • If being purchased, is it in the best location with respect to target market?

Establish Financial Capabilities

  • Consider borrowing potential.
  • Recognize the impact of today's inflation.

Select Target Market

  • Is it large enough to support your proposed concept?
  • Is there easy access from surrounding community?
  • Identify potential competition.

Establish Project Team

  • Personal management team
  • Design consultant
  • Financial advisor
  • Attorney

Select Design Consultant

  • Check out background and previous projects and expertise.
  • Compatibility in concepts
  • Availability and commitment

Establish Course Design

  • Identify Local and State Codes and Ordinances applicable to proposed plans.
  • Establish proposed concept-themed or non-themed.
  • Determine potential demand and approach to addressing it.
  • ADA compliance 9-fairway or 18-fairway compliance?
  • Streams and waterfalls or not?
  • 36-hole multiple course configurations - Yes or No?
  • Play flow control to minimize bottlenecks
  • Sound drainage design addressing both course and overall site
  • Landscaping design-local landscaper's knowledge of suitable plants
  • Landscaping plant selections. No grass clippings or leaves on course.
  • Security concerns-no predator-friendly areas.
  • LED course lighting
  • End of play considerations

Potential Specialty Courses

  • Nine-hole courses
  • Unique 36-hole course design
  • Double header and piggy-back designs (copyrighted 18-Hole play- 9-Hole layouts)
  • Pre-fabricated courses
  • Indoor miniature golf courses-conventional, glow golf, or proprietary packages?

Tourism Generated Markets

  • Each market has challenges and existing competition that require careful planning to create the most appropriate and successful approach.

Selecting a Quality Contractor

  • Check references
  • Verify insurance coverage, including liability and general conditions coverage.
  • Review prior projects and client satisfaction.
  • Ability to complete work on time and as designed
  • Check any planned subcontractors and their insurance coverage.
  • Verify warranty coverage.
  • Consider local contractors (pride of construction and availability to solve post construction problems.)

Copyright 2023 Entertainment Concepts, Inc.

Peter is a registered professional engineer and the President of Entertainment Concepts, Inc. (formerly Peter F. Olesen and Associates, Inc.) a firm with more than 39 years of experience designing both outdoor and indoor family entertainment centers, stand-alone go-kart tracks and miniature golf courses, bumper boat ponds, and related attractions. The firm has been at the forefront of go-kart, minature golf course, and bumper boat pond design, introducing many innovations in safety, geometrics, design, and construction methods now widely emulated throughout the industry.

Peter has been responsible for the development of more than 650 separate family entertainment industry projects. They span initial concepts, feasibility studies, assistance in developing business plans, final design, and preparation of contract plans and specifications, construction layout, and related services for both new projects and existing facility renovations and modifications. Peter can be reached via his website, by email at peteolesen@yahoo.csom or 847.561-7013.

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