By Karen Appold
If a mini-golf or go-kart center looks outdated to passersby, they might think twice about visiting it. Today’s guests crave a contemporary experience, from a facility’s physical appearance to having unique offerings.
Tony Eckrich, owner, Kart 2 Kart, an indoor karting center in Sterling Heights, Mich., has taken this mantra to heart. In 2020, Kart 2 Kart will change out its older-style go-karts with performance junior karts that are more in line with the main pro kart/adult fleet. “We’ll raise the pricing on junior karting and offer a more modern style of kart for early teenagers,” Eckrich said. “We’re looking to grow our youth market, as they are future consumers.” Currently, the center is 40% group-based sales.
The Bavarian Inn Lodge Family Fun Center in Frankenmuth, Mich., incorporates activities for all ages so that even grandparents can enjoy leisure time with their children and grandchildren. “With more than 160 games, we are able to offer toddler rides along with adult racing games and everything in between,” said Joanna Stratman, assistant general manager.
Crave Golf Club in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., opened in September 2017 and features two unique state-of-the-art candy-themed courses. Both courses (one is indoors and the other is on an outdoor rooftop) feature 19 holes and a sweet twist to the traditional game of mini-golf. A Spin Zone table is positioned at the beginning of each hole. To play Crave Style, players spin the disk before teeing off and follow the directions for their turn. For example, a guest may be tasked with putting the ball between their legs or standing on one foot. “Crave Style creates a tougher challenge,” said Katie Adair, social media and public relations manager. The facility also offers a variety of other activities, including the only mini-bowling alley in Pigeon Forge, two new escape rooms, and a giant sweet shop and soft serve ice cream bar.
For Golf N’ Stuff in Ventura, Calif., part of its appeal is actually retaining some of the retro aspects of the park’s 45-year history. “We provide many colorful photo opportunities throughout the park for the social media savvy to keep people in the know,” said David Blaser, general manager.
Julio Massad, owner and manager, Peter Pan Mini Golf, Austin, Texas, said his center is actually focused on old-school fun. Founded in 1948 and managed by the same local Austin family since its inception, its iconic Peter Pan and T-Rex figures have been overlooking downtown Austin for many years. “Countless customers tell us that they first came to play with us years ago, when they were young,” he said. “Now they bring their children and grandchildren. Many young couples have had their first date here; some have come back and gotten engaged at our historic site.”
As a 45-year-old park, the attraction must update when and where it can, Blaser said. This includes new paint schemes, new games and new photo ops. “Whether it’s new characters placed around the park for people to see and take pictures with, or our most recent additions of Nitro Alley Pro Drag Dragsters, we want to give guests opportunities to
create memorable moments with family and friends,” he said.
Furthermore, Golf N’ Stuff is venturing into the virtual reality era in its arcade with Finger Coaster by Smaaash Labs. It has also added non-carbonated drinks such as juices and SoBe products to its snack bar.
Last summer, Crave Golf Club added two new escape rooms in an effort to offer a variety of activities. The escape rooms pit a team against the clock to crack codes, solve puzzles and find clues in an effort to escape. One option, Mayday, involves having a team trapped on a submarine. The clock ticks as ice cold sea water begins to overtake the ship. Guests have to work with their crew to seal all the watertight doors before the vessel is claimed by the depths. Another option, Zombie Research Lab, entails being cut off from the outside world and having to find the cure to the deadly Zombyte virus. A horde of Zombyte infected creatures closes in on the lab.
In addition to updating its paint scheme and adding new awnings and carpet as needed, Kart 2 Kart recently redesigned its track layout (version 4.0) that allows it to operate either direction (both clockwise and counter clockwise).
“This helps us run leagues and endurance races in alternate directions to change up the format,” Eckrich said. “League racers enjoy rotating directions from race to race.” The layout is also more user friendly, and allows 12 karts to run at once on a 1/5 mile circuit. LED lighting will also be added to the track area.
In recent years, Kart 2 Kart took several steps to increase the facility’s outdoor visibility. In 2017, some trees that covered part of the building were removed. In 2018, perforated vinyl graphics were added to the building’s street-facing front, where between 35,000 and 40,000 vehicles pass by daily. This year, a new ground sign stating “Indoor Go Karting” was added, complete with a go-kart topper. “Kart 2 Kart” is secondary on the layout.
Also in 2019, Kart 2 Kart replaced couches and chairs in the lounge area for a fresh look and built four axe-throwing lanes in a private room which can accommodate 30 guests. “We did this to cater to our diverse clientele and offer another adrenaline-based activity,” Eckrich said.
Recently, Bavarian Inn Lodge Family Fun Center went green in its gaming division. Cards now hold guests’ credits and earned tickets, so they no longer have to carry around coins and paper tickets. “Up until that time, we had used 1.4 billion paper tickets in the fun center, which was equivalent to more than 1,600 trees,” Stratman said.
Due to customer demand for merchandise, Peter Pan Mini Golf added an online shop. In addition, it has enhanced its social media presence, leveraging Facebook and Instagram. “Customers love to connect with us and share photos and videos,” Massad said.
In 2020, Kart 2 Kart will enhance its food service in an effort to increase customer spending and be a full-service facility. It will add a mini oven, enabling it to make simple bar type foods, as well as a food service bar. The center had been getting pizza from a local restaurant, but it wants to add more onsite variety and speed up the time it takes to serve customers.
More TVs showing sports will also be added.
“We are making these bar area changes to appeal to clientele as a place to visit, hang out and enjoy recreation at an indoor karting/entertainment facility,” Eckrich said.
Massad is considering adding a few bold, colorful canopies to some of its golf holes as well as water misters to provide cover during the scorching, sweltering Texas summers. He is also exploring adding more decorative lights to brighten evening games.
Attendance at Golf N’ Stuff has been somewhat flat, which Blaser said is actually a good thing. “January and February saw a substantial amount of rain, which put us way behind to start the year,” he said. “So to be flat means we have managed to get back the majority of what we lost early on.”
At Kart 2 Kart, annual visitation has been steady at 90,000 to 100,000 guests. However, with the addition of its axe-throwing room, it expects visitation to rise.
Visitation is up at Crave Golf Club. “We feel that this is due to recently being named the best mini-putt in the nation by TheTravel.com as well as being ranked in the top 13 courses in America by the Travel Channel,” Adair said.
Peter Pan Mini Golf averages between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors a year. It’s busiest during the spring and summer, and is less busy during winter months and at the beginning of the school year.