Setting up a mini golf course

Location, Location, Location

This is all pretty standard business plan stuff. You'll need one at some point so this will be a pretty useful exercise. 

Buy yourself a decent map of the area your course is going to be in. 
SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) each course and any existing site that may decide to host one. Possible source Yellow Pages. Also look at what your target audience may choose to do instead of playing minigolf - non-direct competition. 
Buy another map on a smaller scale to identify any other threats further afield. 

Assess the target population. Transient population ie workers, tourists. Your local tourist information office should have visitor statistics for the area and also the major attractions. 
Local population, catchment area. Standard demographics. 

Are you sure you know who the target population is? Go down to a few minigolf courses with a clipboard and note who's playing. Class, age, family, group size etc. You could also do a rough calculation of throughput, number of customers, how long it takes to play a round. 

Is there enough passing traffic? 
Are you sited near an existing tourist attraction. 
Site on main road? How much traffic? Can it be seen? Consider signage. Does the existing owner have any? Would that boost his/her trade? Ample off road parking or just parking nearby. The most successful course in my hometown is sited right next door to a municipal car park on a prime site on the seafront. 
Infrastructure - is it in place? Roads, Rail, Bus, parking etc. to get people to your course. 
Is the course advertised anywhere? 

Is it seasonal? 
Look at weather stats/records. Hours daylight, rain days, mean temperatures etc. Has it got artificial lighting? School holidays - the local course here is aware of them all. Anything that might increase traffic, they are aware of: Half terms, teacher training days. Is it packed at weekends? Identify the peak days and times. Has it got the opening times right? Has the course got the staffing right? 

Look out for signs of vandalism - know your area, you want your investment to be there tomorrow. 

Survey the courses. 
You could use the miniaturegolfer review form as a starting point. Is the course any good? 
If you're feeling brave you could ask the punters a bunch of questions when they've finished. 
How long has it been there? Is it currently derelict? Why? 
Look out for any bottlenecks on the course - a bunch of people hanging around is a failure in design. 
Look also for redundancy, ie no one ever seems to end up on a large part of the green, another design issue. 

Get a weekend job at one of the courses - it'll look great on your minigolf CV and it will give you more of an insight into what you can earn than observing from outside. You can ask the questions such as 'how did you hear about us?' You can also consider what percentage of sales other things such as ice creams amount to. Either way you're going to have to get friendly with a number of course owners / managers to eke information out of them. 

Siting 
Will you get planning permission? Is it big enough? Half an acre is about the smallest you can get away with. Is the land suitable? One very successful course I know of is on a flood-plain. Will the course drain easily following rain? How high is the water table? 
Are basic utilities available - water, electricity. Are there facilities nearby or will you have to provide them? 
Room for expansion, for example you could start with a nine-hole course and if successful expand to eighteen. 

Best fit
Mini golf courses are either stand-alone or part of a leisure complex such as a family entertainment centre or driving range or a holiday park. 
My dream is a Cafe/bar minigolf scenario which seems to be the norm in Mainland Europe. 

Types of courses

Teeing off points

Why is this an issue? 
Course owners are trying to limit wear and tear on the course and the two main areas are around the hole and on the tee. The ball has to stay still while you're teeing off, consequently given the slopes and sometimes high winds some deem it necessary to have large holes to place the ball in. The larger the hole the more likely it is to deviate from a line. The materials employed don't always suit the materials that the putter heads are made from. The teeing off points also tend to stand proud of the rest of the surface, sometimes it's like putting off a mountain. The various solutions to this problem tend to detract from the enjoyment of the game. So is there a joyous clairvoyant, happy medium? 

Solutions: 

Flat rubber mat, like a car mat . 
Advantages: Can move it around and spread the wear. 
Disadvantages: Punters can move it too. In competitions the ball tends to bounce off the tee (they're not necessarily designed for this use) and the mat tends to end up in different positions, can chalk the outline to overcome this. 

A fixed rubber mat with holes for teeing off points 
Advantages: Wear is on the rubber mat. And is it as hard-wearing as the felt? 
Disadvantages: Course owners forget that it tends to concentrate the wear on the green where the players stand to tee off. 

A metal teeing off point with holes for placing the ball on. 
Advantages: Wear is on the metal, if any. 
Disadvantages: As above. The ball is more likely to bounce and bobble off the tee moreso than a rubber mat or teeing off point. 

An area, perhaps designated by a different colour felt. 
Advantages: Simpler to replace. 
Disadvantages: Felt is expensive. The join between the felt of the green and the felt of the tee can cause problems for both players, the ball bobbles or deviates when crossing and course owners can find they are constantly glueing down the join. 

An area, perhaps designated by a line on the run, so tee off anywhere behind the line. 
Advantages: Simpler and cheaper to replace the teeing off area rather than the whole green. Can use off-cuts from the original course felt. Spreads the wear all over the teeing off area. 
Disadvantages: Felt is expensive. The join between the felt of the green and the felt of the tee can cause problems for both players, the ball bobbles or deviates when crossing and course owners can find they are constantly glueing down the join. However this will only occur after the teeing off area is replaced. 

 

Borders

The object of the border should be to keep the ball in play as much as possible. Every ball that leaves the run means an inevitable argument about where you should replace the ball (see scorecard rules). The ball may be lost or unreachable. More importantly to the course owner it adds more time to the overall time the player takes to complete the course and more staff time is needed dealing with customers requesting assistance. It also delays other players. 
A secondary objective for the course owner and primary one for those that prefer to play on 'skill-based' courses is a precise rebound shot can be played where the border is regular and this in turn leads to a lot of repeat custom and much speedier rounds as the customers learn the optimum lines. 
Additionally the borders should facilitate speedy dispersal of water after rain or power-washing. Obviously the design should incorporate drainage points at low points on the run. 

Issues 
Safety - without borders the balls would be flying all over the place. Rarely when there is a ramp in place do you see adequate security measures. 
Lay-out - the borders define the course. The holes should follow on from each other and the border edge at the exit point can be clearly defined. Should you have sunken greens, raised greens or should they be level with the surrounds? 
Playability - reliability of rebound shots. 
Aesthetics - does it look pleasing to the eye? It defines the perceived quality of the course. 
Building regulations 
Accessibility for the disabled and push chair enabled. Entry and exit points - how can you have a continuous border? The exit point can be placed in an area where a rebound shot is unlikely. 
Replaceability - vandalism and skateboarders, can it be easily replaced or repaired. And will it deposit bits on the course. 
Durability - how long is it likely to last? 
Equipment supplied - a metal-headed club can do a lot of damage. Specialist equipment for wheelchair users. 
Height (if elevated band) - allow for size of ball. Also may limit access. 
Width - I've turned my ankle on plenty 
Drainage 
What happens if you need to replace the carpet? 

So what sort of borders are generally used. 

Brick 
Unfortunately a lot of designs rely on some form of decorative bricks. A 'standard' brick allows relatively easy construction of curves. The nibs (protrusions) on the bricks are very annoying to the skilful player. The joins between the individual bricks are even moreso. The joins do allow for the placing of drainage points by either a simple gap or the addition of a bit of piping. However they do tend to clog up. 

Kerbing 
Not used as much as it should be. Kerbing machines can make large curved border sections relatively easily. The joins do allow for the placing of drainage points by either a simple gap or the addition of a bit of piping. However they do tend to clog up. 

Concrete 
As above but can be sculpted into rocks and finishing effects can be added. The ones I've seen tend to deposit these effects on the course. 

Wood 
As per Swedish Felt Run. Wont stand up to much punishment either from the weather or the punters. 

Logs. Probably the cheapest. Rarely are the insides planed flat. Tendency to rot even when treated and break up depositing bits on the course. Also probability of splintering. Suits woodland courses. 

Metal 
Elevated bands as with Beton or complete border as with Eternit. 
Elevated bands can be a definite trip hazard ,drainage is inherent. 

Natural Rock 
Looks nice. Poor for rebound shots. Bits fall off. 

So what's the ideal? Mine would be a continuous (except for the rear of the teeing off area) elevated smooth metal banding with decorative brickwork behind. The entry point could also act as the exit point for the disabled. Alternatively by supplying proper equipment and suitable space wheelchair users could play from off the green.

 

Cup size 

So what size cup should you aspire to? 

The basic objective once more is to get 'em round as quickly as possible. However if you had a bucket for a hole you wouldn't get the all important repeat custom. Your course should be testing but fun, so that all types of players will have a good time. You do have the option of providing a smaller ball though! 

Width 
A survey of various courses suggests that a 'standard' would be around 4 inches diameter, 10cm in new money. For minigolf and miniature golf courses the WMF states the diameter of the cup should be between 10 & 12cm. For golf 4 inches diameter. 
Now, you can either buy proper inserts or you can make do with some plumbing. The cheaper option is obviously plastic piping. If you do intend to have flags then you'll need a proper insert. 

Depth 
There doesn't seem to be a WMF standard, for golf it's 4 inches deep. I've heard it said that fun players like to see the ball pop out occasionally when they think they've holed it. I think otherwise. Either way anyone using a normal golf ball deserves it to bounce out of the hole. You can have the hole as deep as you want and then fill it up with stones to the required depth. 

Drainage 
One of the primary drainage areas, often overlooked. Some courses even have countersunk holes to increase the drainage and the likelihood of the ball going in more easily. If the hole is at a low point on the green you must ensure that there is a huge run-off area underneath and also ensure that it wont literally undermine any of your other work. 

Damage 
Flags will sway about and can cause the insert to move about thus damaging the hole. 
Other causes of damage will be your punters, one missed putt one putter crashes into the ground. If it happens around the immediate vicinity of the hole, invariably it does, then you should have put in countersunk hole reinforcers. Plastic/rubber headed putters do less damage. 
Repairs around the hole are inevitable, remember most wear occurs here and at the tee. 

Static 
One of the most annoying things on a minigolf course is the combination of carpet and metal and the inevitable discharge as you touch the metal insert in the hole. I wonder how much damage can be attributed to this? 

Special effects 
Usually a simple device at the base of the hole that activates a water squirter when a ball enters the hole after a suitable delay or the more elaborate ones evident on the more expensive adventure golf courses. 

Flag holders 
Having no flag holders is cheaper. They are either flush with the bottom of hole or just above the base. Ensure the flag holder is at least four inches down. And please make sure you infill as occasionally the smaller balls we use in minigolf fall past the flag holder and it's a nightmare trying to get them out. 

Ball size 
The WMF dictates a ball size of 37 - 43mm. The rules of golf say the minimum size is 1.68 inches (42.67 mm).

 

Scorecard Design

Reflects your perceived quality. Don't skimp for a quality course.  Some examples here.

Include only details that wont change and make sure they are correct before you get 50000 printed. I've seen a number with incorrect details. Consider how often you will change them in the future before deciding on a huge quantity. And you are going to have to store them somewhere. What is your forecasted usage? 

Folded or otherwise it should fit the back pocket 
Paper sizes 
A6. 10.5 x 14.8cm 4.13 x 5.83 inches 
A5 14.8 x 21 cm 5.83 x 8.27 inches (need to fold, ideally once only) 

Visit courses, collect cards and find one you fancy. 
Paper weight minimum 130 gsm (gram(me)s per square metre) or thereabouts, difficult to get a straight answer at a distance from a printer. Microns, Pounds per square blah. Talk to a printer, look at samples. How many colours, who's providing any artwork? What format is it required in? 

Thicker the easier to write on 
Glossy difficult to use pen 
Thicker Less easy to fold and more expensive. You may require each card to be scored to allow for easier folding. 
And these things may get wet out on the course, will they still be usable? 
Bear in mind that if you fold it to fit in your pocket a larger enough white space should be allowed for in the middle. 

Basic scorecard 
Hole numbers, score, Total - Allow four columns for four players and space for their names. Four being the maximum allowable group size. 
Company logo and contact details, people especially children might want to keep them particularly if they beat Dad. 
Contact details, address, phone, web address. If these may change in the future, it'll be wise to opt for a short print run. 

Other things you may wish to include: 
Rules! Please note that people may not actually read the rules. 
Subtotals after nine and eighteen of an eighteen and Total. 
Graphical representation of the course 

Yardage (from tee to hole) and possibly total 
Par 
Names of holes 
Stroke Index you'd have to work this out based on experience! 
Side of the card, if say 8ish inches can be used as a guide for repositioning. 
Publicity for course(s) 
Advertisements. Taxi firms, fast food outlets and the like. You may be able to offset the cost of printing. 
And if it's tricky to find perhaps a little map. 
You may wish to add possible lines for each hole - this will speed up play and give you greater throughput! 

There are some weirdos out there who actually collect these things - I'm one of them! 

Other uses, postcard. Have to clear with postal authorities first. 
 

Scorecard Rules

The rules are there to supposedly decide any disputes but they will also contain any disclaimers and requirements with regard etiquette and general behaviour. You are trying to make certain that your customers have a safe, timely and enjoyable experience. They should be clear and concise. If you wish you can put a shorter form on the scorecard and the full rules on a notice board. You should put yourself forward as an arbitrator on rule disputes. 

Method of play 
You should limit the size of any group to four. Any larger and a huge queue will form. 
You should set a stroke limit for each hole. Be prepared for this to be ignored. The standard would seem to be six, I have seen five. Should the limit be reached on any hole the score should be recorded as the limit plus one. 
If there is a specific area you wish the players to tee-off from - make it clear. ie Tee-off from mats only. 
All players should tee-off before the first player plays his second shot. This speeds up play and also allows for a more radical and fun game. 
Make it clear what happens when the ball: 
Exits the fairway or ends up in a hazard. Replace at nearest point on fairway, n inches from any obstruction and specify a penalty - say one shot. In the case where the ball runs off the back of the tee, replace on tee with the same penalty. 
Is within a certain distance of the border or an obstruction. Replace n inches away. Where n, if you've designed your scorecard correctly, is the height of the scorecard. A few arguments may ensue over an advantage gained, such as a line of sight where it didn't exist before. 

Problems may also arise where a ball is blocked by another, I prefer Planet Hastings rules here. You may have your own ideas, such as marking but beware how they do that. Better still give them a ball marker each with your course details on the front and a local company's ad on the back. 
Ideally players should be encouraged to play the holes in order. Starting at the first and not skipping around. This normally happens when the group ahead wont let them play through. Each hole number should be clearly marked and progress from the next, this is a design issue. 
They should play each hole once only. 
Don't allow clubs to be shared. 

Etiquette/Courtesy 
A slow group should let a faster group play through. Cutting in should be discouraged, they should ask if the slower group fails to let them play through. 
A group should wait until the group ahead has finished before starting the hole, multi-tiered hole or no. 
A group should exit the fairway as soon as the hole is completed. 
Furthest away putts first and the winner of a hole has the honour on the next. Optional. Depends how close you want to get to golf. 

General Behaviour 
You may wish to disallow smoking, eating, swearing and drinking on the course. You may also wish to include rules on what people should wear, ie no Stilettos. You should also consider what level of horseplay is acceptable and what your policy is should it be unacceptable. 
You should also specify that the putter should not go beyond shoulder height or be swung in a dangerous manner. And somehow you have to discourage people from hitting the ball too hard. Point out where the safest place to stand is when someone is playing a shot. 

Safety 
You should highlight any dangers particularly those that are applicable to children. Children should be supervised at all times. Point out that players should stay on the paths or greens. 
Players should be discouraged from lofting the ball. Any holes with up-slopes should have netting/hedging behind them to protect the unwary. Another design issue. 

I've seen many disclaimers, I doubt any would stand up in a court of law. For example, 'Players play at their own risk'. The only advice I'll give on this is - Seek legal advice! 

Breakage / Loss Policy 
Be clear about what happens should a ball be lost, a putter broken or a green/obstacle vandalised. 
You may wish to terminate their game if a putter is broken in half. You may also wish to charge them. 

You may wish to include a paragraph such as: 
The management has the right to terminate a round without refund or to exclude anyone from the course should they deem it necessary. Again - Seek legal advice! 

Example simplified rules to appear on a scorecard 

1. Split into groups of four or less. 
2. 6 stroke limit on all holes, if the ball isn't holed after 6 shots you should mark a 7 on the card. 
3. All players should tee off before second shot is played. 
4. You may move the ball a score card length from any obstruction. 
5. If ball enters hazard or leaves the course, replace it at the nearest point on the fairway and take a one stroke penalty. 
6. Please allow faster groups to play through. 
7. Do not tee off until the group ahead have cleared the hole. 
8. Control your swing so as not to endanger other players. 


Children should be supervised at all times. 
Add any disclaimers and breakage policy here..... 

More details on rules here: 
British Minigolf Association Competition Rules (These rules are effectively a summary of the WMF Competition Rules). 

US ProMiniGolf Association 

The Professional Putters Association (USA) 

Planet Hastings Crazy Golf Club rules

  

Hole order

Many designers of minigolf courses fail to understand the three peaks principle, understandable as made it up only recently. 
Basically you should order the holes such that holes 5, 9 and 14 are the toughest. 
Here is my idealised Stroke Index (1 is the hardest hole on the course, 18 is the easiest. So anything between 1 & 6 is tough, 7 - 12 is middling, 13 - 18 is easier).

1      17 
2      13 
3      9 
4      5 
5      1 
6      15 
7      11 
8      7 
9      3 
10      18 
11      14 
12     10 
13     6 
14     2 
15     16 
16     12 
17     8 
18     4 

So you get an easy intro - people get away quickly and there is a minimum of balking. Balking occurs where people see the queues and don't bother to play or if you're lucky they wait until later.  Interest is maintained through the middle section and you finish on a moderately difficult hole. The lesson is intersperse the more difficult holes. There's nothing worse than playing a group of very easy holes and likewise a group of very difficult ones. 

It also allows you to plan where to have waiting areas and thus the best places to put advertising material or exhibit something to be sold.

 

Planting 

The key is safe, low-maintenance, appropriate, inexpensive planting. The goal is to create a well-drained aesthetically pleasing course. 

Safe 
No plants with poisonous berries, fruits, leaves, stems or roots. There are some nasty poisonous weeds here in the UK that may pop up - ragwort (DEFRA PDF) is one and is the host to the toxic cinnabar moth and it's caterpillar.
US - database of dangerous plants
No stings, prickles, cutting, trip hazards 
Plants that grow over the edges or overhang runs are not helpful. 
Insecticides/pesticides NO!! 

Low maintenance 
No watering, no pruning, no spraying, disease free, pest free (relatively!), no dead-heading. Check before you buy. 
No plants that are high maintenance and shed leaves all over the course. Even pines shed their needles and these are particularly difficult to remove. Roots of trees break up runs and paths. 

Appropriate 
Soil type is critical. Bear in mind what grows well in your area. Look around. Take into account average rainfall, plant hardiness, wind, average and high and low temperatures. Consider the level of sunshine and shade at the planting location given the other plants full size at maturity. And be aware when your course is going to be open, it should be at its best then! If it's going to be open all year make sure it will look good in all seasons. Don't fight nature, it will win. How big will the plant be when fully grown? How long does it live for? 
Beware of what your flowers/trees may attract. Fruit/berry bearing trees will bring birds and they leave their own kind of thank you! 

Inexpensive 
They might well be stolen. 
Don't expect/want a complete picture at the opening of your course, plants take time to mature. If you want it to look right from the start then it's going to cost you in terms of time and money. 
A hedge (I'm a big fan!) may block the wind, but also mean passers-by in car or on foot can't see the course. Make sure it's as far away from the run as possible and at the correct height. 
TIP: Preparing for planting. Strim it, put cardboard on top, water it and mulch to a depth of 2 inches and water again. 
Be aware people will tread in the mulch and spread it all over the course, minimise this by having a buffer zone between plants and course. Also wind will spread it. Avoid peat, there are too few peat bogs left and they're not being replaced quickly. 
Budget for replacements and mistakes. 

Stones around run borders - make sure they are too big to get stuck in the soles of your shoes. A useful buffer zone between plants and runs. 

Paths - not grit or gravel!! It WILL end up on the course. It's best to have a hard non-slip surface. 
The essence is you want the course up and running after rainfall quickly. 
Paving stones have gaps, filled with camomile is a plus, filled with weeds a minus. 

Grass, again a fan, but beware cuttings. Even vineyards have finally seen the value of grass as something to soak up surface water. 
Consider a professional landscaper, they should know the answer to all your questions and at least you'll have some redress should they get it wrong. 

 

Obstacles

Windmills

 

Risk assessment

 

Internet Promotion

 

Miniature Golfer 2009 UK Price Survey