From Date Night to Family Time:
Top Tips for Expanding the Customer Base

Beverly Hendricks has witnessed the romantic magic of miniature golf. Recently, Hendricks and her colleagues at Embassy Miniature golf in San Antonio, Texas, had the chance to host the ultimate “date night”: a proposal on the 18th hole of the course.
“He sent us an e-mail, explaining that he was about to pop the question,” said General Manager Hendricks, of Private James Casey, who had been stationed at one of San Antonio’s four military bases. “He said their first date was here, a year and a half ago, and that they came here periodically during the time he was stationed there. He asked us if we would be part of the ‘conspiracy.’ ”
Hendricks and her coworkers agreed to place an empty prize box on the 18th hole, a spot where various prizes typically await golfers. When Casey’s girlfriend puzzled over the empty “trick” box, Casey got down on one knee and opened another box containing the true prize. She said “Yes.”
Hendricks said this wasn’t the first proposal to occur on the Embassy golf course.
“Couples like coming here, because we really try to keep the atmosphere nice. It’s like a tropical island, and at night it’s really beautiful,” she said. “There’s a breeze, it’s just a beautiful facility. That’s our trademark.”
Hendricks added that for couples on dates, miniature golf offers much more chance for interaction than the standard movie date scenario. “At the movies, you sit there and don’t talk,” she said. “With miniature golf, you’re walking around and talking during all 18 holes.”
Stephen Lynch, owner of Putt-A-Round in Billerica, Mass., agreed that mini golf makes for a great date, and finds that his date night customers feel the same way – once they get in the door.
“It’s tough,” he said, of attracting couples to his course, which does not have the advantage of several nearby military bases. “The closest I get, usually, are young couples in high school. Once couples try it, they see it’s a game that transcends all ages. I’ve had some guys who have come on dates who tell me that the course is actually pretty challenging.”
Primarily, though, families are Lynch’s mainstay, and children’s birthday parties are a great way to keep this demographic coming.
“That’s my bread and butter. Frankly, there are two things I do to keep people coming in. One is birthday parties. I do a ton of birthday parties,” he said. “Parents see it’s a great place, clean, very kid-friendly. The course is a throwback to a time when golf courses were less pyrotechnic.” His other strategy?
“I coupon people to death,” he says. “I give people coupons when they come in, and I give them coupons when they leave. It doesn’t really cost me to give people a dollar off. I tell them, ‘Put it in your glove compartment. You never know.’ ”
According to Lindsey Valenti, operations manager of Putting Edge in St. Louis, providing a wide variety of lobby games, special events, and couples and senior discounts is a great way to attract all age groups.
“There is honestly no one we don’t target, from age 2 to 80,” she said. “We have women from the Red Hat Society come in, we have trivia challenges, and we have lobby dance contests and air hockey tournaments for couples.”
In terms of couples, Valenti noted that it is especially important to provide arcade and lobby games that are geared toward adults.
“You need to have games that attract all ages, not just kids,” she said.
Linda Strickland, co-manager of Pirate’s Adventure Golf in Gulf Shores, Ala., said her golf course also attracts a wide age range, from snowbirds to families. She said according to customer surveys, the one common motivator between these groups is the course’s roadside appeal.
“It’s the drive-by that attracts them,” she said. “Our main objective is to keep the course looking top-notch and ready for play, so that when they come into town and drive by, they want to stop.”
Alex Villalobos, marketing director of Scandia Fun Center in Fairfield, Calif., said because his facility is located right off a major freeway, it also benefits from the drive-by factor. In addition, Villalobos has used a wide variety of marketing strategies to attract customers. Some of his approaches have including direct mail drops, “guerilla marketing” with a sales team, and “bounce-back” coupons offering discounts for return visitors.
Villalobos finds that the demographic most likely to “bounce back” time and time again, are families.
“We mainly appeal to families with kids between five and 15,” he said. “We do a lot of birthday parties for kids in this age group. We have a reader board where we advertise birthday parties, and also wish kids a Happy Birthday on the marquis.”
One promotional strategy that didn’t work out as well, Villalobos recalled, was advertisements printed on the backs of grocery store receipts. “I guess I chalk it up to the fact that receipts are disposable,” he said. “They don’t have the same power as other kinds of ads.”
Holiday decorating is another promotional idea that might not be
cost-effective for mini-golf courses, particularly those that are large and sprawling. According to Scott Peltz, general manager of Golfland in Milpitas, Calif., his past efforts to decorate for holidays like Halloween have either been inadequate or too expensive.
“Our golf courses are so large and spread out, you have to do it all the way or not do it at all,” he said. “For us, unless we spend a lot of money, the decorations look kind of sparse.”
Peltz emphasized, however, that appearance counts. He said keeping a mini golf course looking clean, attractive and fun remains one of the most powerful marketing techniques available.
“We try to appeal to the moms by having it nice and clean, and attract the kids by making it fun and flashy,” he said. Beverly Hendricks agreed. “You can charge a dollar a round, but if your facility isn’t attractive and clean, people aren’t going to come,” she said. –

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