Miniature golf is a fun business. But even a fun business must have sound business management practices to be successful.
One of the most critical decisions for anyone considering the miniature golf business is the design of the course.
A well-designed course will be interesting to play and produce repeat business year after year. A poorly designed course is just the opposite. It quickly becomes boring or frustrating to players, and the repeat business drops off drastically.
The design of the holes, more than any other factor, can mean the difference between success and failure.
Undulations, banking, the size of the greens, the position of the cups, and the intermixing of easier holes with more difficult holes prevent backup on the courses.
On a well-designed course a player is rewarded for a good putt without being overly penalized for a poor putt. If you hit the putt correctly it will go in the cup.
If you hit it poorly it may take two or three putts to get it in the cup, but you are not out of play or holding up the group behind you.
The park district reviewed several contractors before deciding on a golf course builder. Harris Miniature Golf from New Jersey was chosen for several reasons: the company guaranteed construction to be completed within six to eight weeks and its construction methods were very appealing to us.
We wanted the course to have several water features, including spray fountains, waterfalls and running streams.
Streams and waterfalls add a clean, refreshing atmosphere to the course. They separate the holes, but they also make play more interesting.
On a well-designed course, streams come into play on almost every hole they flow past. Landscaping adds natural beauty to the course and at the same time produces a very effective buffer between holes. The designer accomplished this.
There are two waterfalls with long trailing streams and three spray water fountains.
The walk-through waterfall caves are made from a material called gunnite, a form of concrete where they actually mix dry portland cement/sand mix with water and spray the concrete onto a steel cage structure.
Over 500 yards of concrete were used to form the caves and streams alone. The workers then hand-carve contours and gouge out a form that resembles actual caves and rocks.
Most courses in the area are "themed" and do not have the same natural look as ours. Courses with a particular theme often do well in resort areas, where competition is everywhere and repeat play from regular customers is not their primary goal.
Resort courses have a new crop of players each week and theming helps draw attention to their course. Natural landscaping has almost universal appeal, particularly if the course is kept clean.
When it's time to give the course a new look, it's much less expensive to spend a few hundred dollars on new flowers or perennials than it is to spend thousands of dollars on a new dinosaur.
Landscaping also has the advantage of looking better every year as it grows. Many miniature golf course companies sell courses that have a railroad, volcano, or a mining theme, which was something we wanted to stay away from. These courses have their place, but the image of kids putting through a clown's face or windmill was not appealing to our board or the neighbors who have a view of the course.
In the meantime the district was already filling out paperwork for the permit processes for the Village of Glen Ellyn. The Village of Glen Ellyn requires proposed developments go before the architectural and planning commissions for approval.
After the initial visit to the board the master plan was well liked, there was a unanimous vote to proceed. This was one hurdle down with one to go, the architectural commission. The initial visit to the architectural commission was fairly positive for the design. The overall design was accepted with a few changes to the building materials and landscaping.
We went back to the architects and asked them to re-design a few areas of the building/landscaping to comply with the commission's requests. The return trip back to the village for final approval was very good, and another unanimous decision to proceed.
The building has a "prairie style" architecture look in keeping with the original design. Natural materials were used to promote the appearance. Cedar siding, natural stone accents, prairie-style lighting on the exterior of the building, natural stone chimney, and a covered cedar tongue-and-groove decking entryway with large cedar beams, as well as the lighting, reflect the intent of the designer.
The village permit process has been the largest hurdle to jump, and has taken over eight months to complete. The storm water requirements, along with all the resulting paperwork, were cumbersome. After the village process we were ready to move forward and begin the site improvements.
The project was bid and Earth Werks of Carol Stream was the low bidder at $869,000 for the project to develop the site, which included grading, sewer/water, roadways, landscaping, underground utilities, and all of the concrete work. The water detention basins were sized and installed to handle all of the water shed for the future improvements that are planned.
At the same time the site improvements were started the construction of the building began, along with the construction of the golf course. Professional Building Services of Crete, Ill., designed the clubhouse. The clubhouse architect was Professional Building Services of Crete.
The Clubhouse was bid separately from the excavation site work. The low bidder of the Clubhouse was InterLakes Construction at a cost of $368,000.
However, along the way there were a few upgrades, which resulted in a change order, increasing the final cost to $394,503.
This was a very busy time at the site, as there were three different contractors, along with all of their subs working on the park. The site was hopping daily.
Our staff was on-site everyday several times throughout the day to check on the progress. By doing this several problems were addressed before it was too late to do so.
The district hired Patrick Engineering of Lisle, Ill., to be the project manager for the site work; it was money well spent for the amount of knowledge and supervision they provided.
The transformation from a vacant plat of land to the end product is amazing; every contractor that has worked on this project has gone above and beyond to make this a complete success!
The general contractors for the site work, along with the construction of the clubhouse and golf course began work in August of 2003; the final walk-through was completed in March 2004.
The project came to a screeching halt in November when the weather was not cooperating. The fall rains set in and the outdoor site work had to stop.
At this time the building was just about buttoned up on the outside from the elements, and the interior work was progressing.
The miniature golf course was completed except for the last phase, which was the installation of the pumps and the artificial turf installation.
The artificial turf could not be installed until all of the landscaping was completed. The district hired Fritz Landscaping of Wauconda, Ill. to install the landscaping. The cost of the landscaping just for the golf course was $128,000.
For a brief moment we thought about tackling this in-house, but chose to hire an outside firm for this enormous project. Our staff was very glad this was bid out for installation. Not only are we short handed with staff, but also by having the materials installed the district receives a guarantee on the plant material for one year; this was very enticing.
Everyone knows how busy our spring is with all of the daily maintenance work to get ready for baseball, soccer and special events it would have been impossible to handle this project adequately.
The remaining landscaping was completed in April along with the installation of the artificial turf. The building, course and landscaping turned out very nice. Moreover, everything was completed and ready for our opening date of April 15, 2004.
This is Now
The course has been open on weekends since mid April and has been a huge success so far. More than 1,800 rounds of golf have been played in just being open for a month of weekends.
The course will have weekday operations as soon as the local school is out for the summer. The party room rentals have exceeded expectations, and it's a very popular place to have a child's party.
The golf party package runs $10 per person (minimum of 10 people), which includes two-hour rental of the party room with tables, chairs, 18 holes of miniature golf, hot dogs and chips or pizza and a beverage.
Rentals over two hours are an additional $65 per hour. The room can also be rented for other functions at a rate of $65 per hour. The green fees are $5 during the week, and $6 on weekends for youths under the age of 13. Adult fees are $6 during the week and $7 on weekends.
As we reflect on the completed project a few things pop up... So far the building space is fairly adequate, except for a few areas.
The party room could have been larger to accommodate the numbers we have been seeing, or at least leaving the dividing wall that was originally designed, splitting the room in half. This would have doubled the space for the parties during the day.
The decision to remove the wall was to increase the room size, creating a large open space for larger parties throughout the year. This philosophy should help to bring in revenues all winter long, versus closing the facility down during the winter
However, financial constraints prohibited us from enlarging the building. Moreover, another area of contention is the storage area; there is always a need of more space to store unused tables, chairs and supplies.
The mechanical room is also packed with all types of equipment including the furnaces, sprinkler system piping, electrical panels and the main water supply lines. The room looks like the inside of a World War II submarine with all of the valves switches and gauges.
Looking back, if enough funds were available we would have liked to have had a sprinkler system installed to water the newly planted landscaping and sod. This task is taxing the maintenance department; luckily we have recently experienced enough rain from Mother Nature to adequately irrigate our shrubs and trees.
A security camera system was installed inside the building as well as only covering the rear portion of the golf course. In hindsight the entire course as well as the rest of the park should be under video surveillance to discourage vandalism.
To date no major vandalism has occurred. In the future this is one item we can address and rectify inexpensively. Since the development of the 25 acres was split into various bid packets, looking back it would have been easier to have bid the entire project under one contract and only have dealt with one contracting firm versus the four different ones the district dealt with.
After working the facility staff is finding that the check-in area is a bit congested; there are too many things happening in a small area -- food sales, club rentals, and party check-ins.
In a perfect world a separate entrance for the party room guests would have solved this issue. The last issue would have to be more room for the miniature golf course participants while playing the course.
The waiting area around each hole is a bit cramped, causing the users to stand in landscaped areas while waiting to proceed to the next hole. This is not a major problem as of yet, but we'll have to see how much of the plant material is damaged from the participants.
All in all this has been a very rewarding experience. We receive compliments daily on the end result. Residents have flocked to the park to enjoy some family fun. We are hoping the remaining phases will be as well received as this first phase has been.
Dave Scarmardo is the Superintendent of Parks for the Glen Ellyn Park District.