Inside Information
How to Find Success with Indoor Miniature Golf

When one thinks about playing indoor miniature golf, images of windmills and complex landscaping usually pop up, but a new wave of indoor mini-golf courses has given a new generation a different way to putt the ball into the hole.

Today, black light, glow-in-the-dark, 3-D courses are all the rage and as more people experience them, the tide is turning from playing outdoors to inside.

Ryan Vande Vooren, vice president of operations for Putting Edge Glow-in-The-Dark Mini Golf, which operates 20 courses throughout Canada and the United States, believes that people still need to be educated about what an indoor mini-golf course can offer.

“Historically, people played their mini-golf outdoors and they don’t always understand how we can ‘glow’ and what can be created inside, but once they come and experience it, it changes their perception,” Vande Vooren said. “We tell people to wear white so they will glow and can experience the full effect. That’s something you’ll never find outside.”

Rob Stevens, owner of Shankz Black Light Miniature Golf in The Woodlands, Texas, has been operating a 6,000-square-foot indoor course for six years. His company recently had to close a second Texas location in Atascocita because his lease increased and the attraction was not bringing in enough to make it worthwhile.

“You need enough space that you can be entertaining and you get enough value for the dollar of play,” Stevens said. “I don’t think a lot of consumers realize how much work and cost goes into an indoor course. If you get any smaller than 5,000 square feet, I think it would be hard to justify the cost of a round.”

Shankz offers an indoor glow-in-the-dark 18-hole golf course that creates the illusion of diving underwater with sharks, interacting with dinosaurs and walking through a jungle by use of animatronics on the holes.

The course can also be experienced in 3-D with special glasses the venue provides, something that can’t be done outside.

Bob Hansen, president of Funway Ultimate Entertainment Center in Batavia, Ill., has had an indoor mini-golf course as part of his facility for the past six years and has seen business remain stable.

“We have a 3,000-square-foot nine-hole course that is rock and roll themed, that serves as a good complement to our overall package of indoor entertainment,” he said. “What’s nice about the indoor course is that you can put sound at every hole, you can have electronics that are activated by motion, you can have flashing lights and it’s much simpler than trying to do this outside with the different weather conditions.”

Not everything about being indoors is better, but with a few adjustments, most problems can be solved easily.

“A challenge of an indoor course is that there are players who think we’re a driving range and try to hit the ball hard and it’s a risk to people in the facility and also damages the walls,” Stevens said. “We have walls everywhere so we try to control the direction and limit the ball flight.”

A second challenge is competing with the outdoor courses when the weather is nice.

“There are times when people would just rather be outside and they seem to like to plan parties at the outdoor courses in the summer,” said Ray Latocki, owner of Glowing Greens Black Light Adventures in Portland, Ore. “But when it rains, I will get calls at the last minute from people who need to bring the party here and we can almost always accommodate them.”

Christina Vitagliano, co-owner of Monster Entertainment, which has 29 indoor Monster Mini-Golf franchises around the country, decorates its courses with monster décor and custom and animated props on every hole.

“We started indoor glow-in-the-dark black light mini-golf back in 2004 and it’s been very successful for us,” Vitagliano said. “Of course you don’t have an acre of space so you can’t have volcanoes going off, but we try to have 16- to 18-foot ceilings and we have cool looking monsters instead.”

Another issue is that little kids like to run from hole to hole, which is easier to do in a larger outdoor course, but being indoors helps keep them safe and secure.

“I wanted to open an indoor course because my sons were looking for something to do on a rainy day and when on vacation, they couldn’t get enough of playing mini-golf,” said Matt McKnight, owner of Kings and Knights Miniature Golf in Half Moon Bay, Calif. “This is something that a family can do together and it’s much cheaper than a movie.”

Maintaining an indoor course is much easier than an outdoor course as you don’t have to worry about landscaping, graffiti or an excess of trash.

When a black light is used, it may be hard to see some dirt but lint in particular stands out, and that’s why it’s important to vacuum on a regular basis.

“The turf has to be maintained just as much even though you might not see as much of the dirt, so we need to turn on white lights so we can see what we need to clean,” Vande Vooren said. “People chew gum and get that on the turf, they leave bottles or wrappers, and you need to train your staff to look for things like this and be on top of all cleaning issues.”

Vitagliano added that her company teaches all of its franchisees how to do touch ups with paint and replace a nut or bolt on the animatronics, but for the most part, the course is easy to take care of.

For courses that are 3-D, bumpers need to be repainted with special paint when they get worn, glasses need to be cleaned after each wear and the florescent balls need to be changed every few months or the glow will fade.

Many people still consider miniature golf to be an outdoor activity and view the indoor courses as being novelty locations to try once.

To counter these beliefs and bring the courses to the masses, indoor course operators are coming up with unique and different ways to promote their facilities.

Stevens has found big success with Groupon and Social Living, which brings people in initially to ultimately create repeat visitors.

Latocki’s facility does well with full-day course rentals for team-building events, company functions and private parties.

“Being inside, it’s something that companies will consider, but you probably won’t find that with an outdoor course,” he said. “This is a great way for a company to get its employees out together doing something other than just eating and drinking.”

The sense of smell is also engaged at Glowing Greens, making the experience even more unique.

“We have a pirate adventure theme and we use Glade Plug-Ins and other things that can be plugged in to provide fragrances and smells, like flowers, that might fit in with the theme,” Latocki. “You couldn’t do something like that running an outdoor course.”

For those considering opening a course, one strong piece of advice from Stevens is to make sure there aren’t any other indoor courses in the surrounding area.

“This is not a business that can sustain more than one indoor course in close proximity to another,” he said. “Do your research to ensure that it’s the only one and you will be creating a niche that is needed.” –

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