By Natalie Hope McDonald
Chris Simon, general manager of Paradise Park in Lee’s Summit, Mo., faced one of the biggest challenges of his career recently. While families were putting on the miniature golf course and kids were revving up their go-karts, a tornado touched down less than a quarter of a mile away. “Luckily,” he said, “the damage to the park was minimal, but our staff did a great job with our guests making sure they were safe and following our tornado procedure.”
During the natural disaster, Simon said, all attractions were shut down and all of the guests were brought into the interior of the building to wait out the storm. “Having procedures for these types of events is one thing,” he said, “but making sure you practice them and ensure your staff knows what to do will keep panic to a minimum and make your guests feel more secure knowing there is a plan.”
While it’s rare for most venues to ever face these types of life or death emergencies, Simon said the same sense of responsibility should apply to all of the daily rituals that keep a venue clean and safe for guests and staff alike.
“Safety is always the top concern for our guests,” he said. “We look for anything that could present a problem before it happens.
For example, even though a lot of guests at Paradise Park wear flip-flops in the summer, they create a safety hazard in go-karts, climbing the rock wall or running through a laser tag field. “We provide alternative footwear to make sure our guests don’t miss out on those attractions if they didn’t come to the park prepared,” he said.
Another common problem the staff faces – lost children. “A lost child can be an unsettling occurrence for any parent,” said Simon, “but not uncommon. Having the right systems in place makes a lost child or CODE ADAM, as it’s called, only a one-to-two-minute search and recovery, even on our 15 acres.”
Simon said that when a child is reported lost, he stops all attractions and closes off the entrance and exit to the building. All staff then looks for the child until the CODE ADAM is resolved. “Parents and families are very understanding if they are waiting in line,” he said. “If it was their child, they would want to same service and dedication from our team.”
To prevent kids from getting lost, the facility uses a matching wristband system to verify that all families that arrive together also leave together. There is only one entry and exit, and every wristband is checked upon departure. “This is a secured area that we only allow parents and children into,” Simon said, “no individuals. This helps the guests feel safe and enjoy their day of fun.”
Height requirements are also in place to protect kids at the park. On the go-karts, Simon makes sure that little ones can reach the pedals and have full control of the karts before they are permitted to ride. “We offer two different sized karts to accommodate almost all ages,” he said. “We have similar requirements for bumper cars.”
Simon said that safety is so important to the business because of its leisure goals and the reputation a venue can develop. “We are in an industry that is all about fun and memories,” he said. “One bad situation can shut down a park indefinitely. We owe it to all of our guests to make sure their safety and best interests are always our top priority.”
The miniature golf course at Royal Oak Golf Center may be among the most challenging courses in the country. Designed as a mountain-style adventure, all 18 holes in this Royal Oak, Michigan-based venue have been testing the skills of kids and adults year round for years.
Glenn A. Pulice, general manager of the center, said that the staff has a few rules in place to ensure that players enjoy their games while staying safe. “The best way is to be preventative,” Pulice said.
Starting every morning, the staff walks the entire course. “While they are cleaning the course, they are looking for and repairing loose bricks,” he said, “as well as looking for other issues such as trees and branches that are in the way.”
Pulice said he’s also recently hired a retiree who works, on average, about two and a half hours a day for three days a week to specifically to do pruning, cleaning and looking for safety issues around the course. They also post rules and regulations throughout the venue.
“We offer a mountain-style mini golf with many waterfalls, trees, flowers, shrubs and lights at night, all for a quality experience,” explained Pulice. “Safety is important for not only the obvious reasons for our customers, but for the long-term viability of our business.”
Safety in the City
At Franklin Square in Philadelphia, a miniature golf course in the heart of Philadelphia’s historic district, tourists flock to play a round or two every summer. But because the course is located within a public park, sharing the square with Parx Liberty Carousel, SquareBurger (a restaurant), Franklin Square Fountain, the Pavilion in Franklin Square (which is used for parties), the Living Flame Memorial for fallen police and fire fighters, playgrounds and lawn areas, John Wilson, Franklin Square’s director, thinks a lot about safety both in terms of customers and the distinctly urban location.
“The park is surrounded by bus stops for public transit,” he said. “The park always has a supervisor on site during operating hours to patrol the park and handle any emergencies that arise.”
Its location also gives it access to the Philadelphia Police headquarters, which is located across the street; the square is patrolled daily by officers on foot and bike patrol. “We also have the DRPA Transit Police patrolling the park, as well, since the Ben Franklin Bridge is across the street and they operate the PATCO transit station below the park,” he explained. “Assistance from the police is only a phone call away and we have a very good relationship with our neighborhood law enforcement teams.”
While Wilson admitted they have had people escorted out of the park for being disruptive, during non-operating hours, he employs a security service to be onsite to maintain a 24/7 presence on the property year-round.
“There are general park rules posted at each entrance to Franklin Square,” said Wilson, including hours of operation, things requiring permits, no fire, no alcohol, etc. Each attraction, like the Philly Mini Golf, Parx Liberty Carousel and the Franklin Square Playground, has more specific rules posted at each entrance. For example, the Carousel is a ride regulated by the State of Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and as such, specific rules are required to be posted.
“Philly Mini Golf also has its rules stating how to play the course, being alert for curbs and ponds, playing at your own risk, unruly disruptive behavior being prohibited, parents, guardians, chaperones being responsible for their party, as well as some symbols relating to prohibited things such as swimming, pets, food, smoking, climbing, etc.,” he said. “Rules are also printed on score pads given at the entrance to the game.”
Members of the staff are in place at the Carousel and Mini-Golf venues at all times to operate the attraction and monitor guest safety and crowd control. “Our staff goes through specific training for the attractions,” said Wilson, “which includes operation and safety procedures.”
Because the mini-golf venue is so public (a few blocks from Independence Hall and some of the nation’s most respected historic sites) maintaining decorum is as much a part of the safety protocol as keeping an eye on people swinging clubs erratically. That the venue is located in one of the biggest cities in the country also poses some challenges from time to time.
“Safety is the number one responsibility of the staff at Franklin Square,” Wilson said. “Working in a public venue in the city, one must always be alert of surroundings. Being in a public park is complicated by the transient people who can just wander in, as well as those from out of the area who have no interest in keeping the park as nice as our neighborhood visitors do.”
He said adherence to rules – both in terms of staff and visitors – is a key to its success. “An injury can negatively impact our business,” he said. “At the Mini Golf, we can’t assume that parents watch their children or even that children come with supervision. Occasionally our staff must become the parent to enforce the rules.”
Admittedly, unattended children or groups running around can create a bad experience for other guests. “The Franklin Square staff wants every visitor to have a positive experience,” said Wilson, “so ensuring the safety of everyone is of utmost importance. We know visitors return time and again because we strive to make Franklin Square safe and clean and open to everyone.”
Also located in Philadelphia, Adventurer Mini Golf is an indoor urban fun center with an 18-hole black-lit course that delights players with décor ranging from an Amazon jungle and frozen tundra to the pyramids of Egypt. The site, which was custom-built in a newly renovated 12,000-square-foot warehouse in South Philadelphia, also features popular arcade games.
“We have security cameras that record and monitor the premises,” said Robert Dudzieck, owner of the venue. Emergency exits are also clearly labeled throughout the center, and the staff keeps a close eye on guests who are playing mini golf to ensure, for example, that no one is swinging clubs overhead to risk injury.
“We don’t just hand guests a golf club and ball and say have at it,” said Dudzieck. “We explain some of the bigger obstacles, how the mischief spinners work and the final hole.”
The center also provides a variety of golf club sizes for kids and adults. A club that may be too short or too tall isn’t generally comfortable and can create problems, especially for children.
“Something other mini golf establishments may overlook is how important it is to sanitize their golf clubs,” he said. “We wipe down our clubs between each player. This not only keeps our clubs looking new, but reduces the spread of germs between guests.”
He said the staff also inspects the course daily to look for any loose obstacles and turf, and to replace or fix anything that may be broken.
“We are a family-oriented establishment,” said Dudzieck. “Guests bring their children and their children’s friends for birthday parties. While the parents are ultimately responsible for their child’s behavior, we keep a close watch on everyone. Parents who bring their kids to attend a party often end up booking a party for their children once they see how much fun our place is.”
Rules to Live By
At Big Rock Fun Park in Little Rock, Ark., safety is the number one concern, said Jeffrey Marks, assistant general manager. In addition to go-karts, mini golf and an arcade, the park also features batting cages, laser tag and bumper boats.
“We want Big Rock to be a place where families and friends can come and gather for a good time,” said Marks. “We feel we provide a great way for people to get out of the house and be active. We want all of our customers to have fun, but you can’t have fun if you don’t feel safe. That’s why safety is our number one priority, to create an environment where people can have fun.”
Marks said safety protocols stretch through to each of the attractions. For example, there are quite a few important rules and regulations in place to ensure the safety of go-kart riders, both for visitors and operators.
“All of our operators are required to complete training on the go-karts when they are first hired,” he explained. “The operators check each seat belt to make sure the customers are strapped in correctly and safely.” The park also has a special brake test that is unique to the venue. “We make each kart pull forward and brake before the race begins to ensure each car is running correctly,” he said.
In addition, multiple operators monitor the track during each race, making sure no one gets too rowdy or gets stuck. “We have multiple areas our operators can view the track from to get full coverage,” he said. “All of our go-karts are equipped with a shut down system that we control. If somebody is bumping too much, we can stop a car remotely and separate it from others on the track. If they are continuously bumping, our operators are instructed to remove them from the track immediately.”
The rules are also read aloud over a microphone system prior to every race. The height of riders is also checked in advance to make sure they meet safety requirements.
“If any incident were to occur,” said Marks, “all of the Big Rock managers are CPR and first aid-certified.”
Rules are also in place for each of the other attractions, including golf. Marks said that staff members are constantly roaming the course to make sure everyone is doing well. “Our biggest safety issue [in] mini golf is the heat,” he said. “We have a cooler of ice water that the customers can help themselves to anytime. We have also put up a large tent for extra shade.”