It can be a solid attraction in the right environment

It’s well documented that bowling is a great attraction, and bowling-anchored entertainment centers represent a very successful trend. However, there has never been a cookie-cutter model that works in all markets, and that’s where the science of choosing the best mix of attractions to complement the bowling piece is critical to success.

Miniature golf has been popular for more than 100 years. Outdoor miniature golf, with its scenic beautiful and peaceful greenery and water elements, could be considered a contender for the No. 1 or No. 2 outdoor family attraction ranking. However, indoor mini-golf is a different animal and even comes in different styles (blacklight, as an example).

One difference that comes to mind is that outdoor mini-golf, at its best, is played in a leisurely manner in a quiet, sunny and warm atmosphere. The attraction is strong enough to be operated year after year, with a large majority of the business being seasonal. The players can hear the sound of the putter striking the golf ball, as well as the unique sound of the ball falling into the hole cup. (Note: You get a better sound with a metal cup than with a plastic one).

Indoor mini-golf, in its regular form, does not fare as well long-term but does exceedingly well in its blacklight and animated format. A well-designed, challenging course can have a throughput of 80 players per hour.

Now let’s look at what’s inherent to a bowling center. Even in older facilities, there’s typically a high-energy environment. There’s the unique sound of a bowling ball hitting the lane and then, a few seconds later, striking the pins. In fact, the sound of a perfect strike is so special that virtually everyone recognizes it instantly as it brings a smile of recognition of perfection.

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People are moving about, talking, cheering, high-fiving. Projection monitors, sporting events on TVs and music all add to the high-energy environment and guest participation. Other high energy attractions may be present such as amusement games, laser-tag, bumper cars, go-karts, ropes courses and birthday parties. High ceilings usually create an echo effect throughout the facility that adds to the excitement.

As we know, bowling lanes take up a lot of space and, once installed, are intended to remain in place for a long time. And bowling has benefited by embracing new technologies (automatic scoring, bumpers, flashing lane colors, glow bowling, Hyperbowling, and more on the way). In addition, one person can bowl by him/her self for pleasure and/or practice, but rarely will anyone play mini-golf individually.

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at what’s inherent to regular mini-golf inside a bowling center. As with bowling, a nine-hole or 18-hole course — the two most popular configurations — take up a lot of space. Hopefully, the players will be able to hear that special sound of the ball falling into the (metal) cup. But the high energy of the center tends to speed up the game’s traditional leisurely pace.

Now let’s look at what is inherent to mini-golf inside a bowling center.

With regular mini-golf in an open space, the players can hardly hear their putting sound or the little golf ball falling into the metal cup. The high energy of the bowling center tends to cause players to subconsciously speed up their play from the leisurely pace the game is intended to be played at.

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Mini-golf takes up a lot of floor space for 9-holes or 18-holes (2500 sq.ft. and 5000 sq.ft. respectively).

Blacklight mini-golf needs to be in an enclosed space that eliminates or reduces the outside noise level, thus making the experience more enjoyable.

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Ultimately, should the attraction not drive the revenue anticipated, removing an entire mini-golf course (whether nine or 18 holes) is a lot easier and less costly, in most cases, than removing several bowling lanes. The space then could be used for other attractions that would help bring new life to the center.

Regular mini-golf — whether indoors or outdoors — hasn’t seen a new technology introduced that has had a huge impact on revenues. It’s still a great attraction, but is the indoor version a great long-term fit for a high-energy bowling center? Some may say yes, but in many cases, it’s regular mini-golf that is the first attraction in the mix to be rotated out.

That said, blacklight mini-golf has had and continues to have great success as an attraction in our industry. It also has the advantage of being upgraded with new technology features that can make repeat play more attractive.

More point can be added to each of the sections above but the result will most likely be the same. Mini-golf is a great attraction,  but in its regular form, is it a long-term great fit for a high energy bowling center?  Some may initially say ‘yes’, but in many cases, it is the regular mini-golf attraction that is the first attraction in the mix to be rotated out.

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The bottom line: Whether it’s mini-golf or anything else, always do your homework before choosing the attractions for your center, and plan ahead assuming that someday in the near future that attraction will need to be changed out.

Bowling Entertainment Center Quarterly – Spring 2018

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