I can’t exactly call myself a miniature golf aficionado, but I probably have more interest in the game than your average adult. I used to love going to our local mini-golf course as a kid (now-closed), and I especially enjoyed the numerous miniature golf courses whenever my family went to the Wisconsin Dells. It’s a silly game, but it does require some skill if the course is made right.
With the exception of the Valleyfair Adventure Golf, I haven’t played in years. My wife and I rectified this situation this weekend by visiting the course we live by, and have lived by for almost three years now, for the first time. The unfortunately named The Links at Dred Scott.
Before I get into this course, let me explain what I look for in a mini-golf course. First, throw all of the novelty courses out. Novelty courses consist of flat greens with large statues, windmills and such blocking the way. These are courses of the kitsch variety. My favorite type of course, on the other hand, is one that has many elevation changes, corners, and obstacles, but is reasonable enough so that such challenges are not arbitrary. While I enjoy a few bumps here and there, I much prefer a fairly dramatic change in elevation in a lot of the holes. As such, I suppose I am not much of a putt-putt fan, but rather a fan of course with imagination.
To truly stand-out as a miniature golf course, it has to have the above elements, but it also has to have an interesting ambiance. Most often this is achieved through caves, dramatic changes in elevation from the first to last hole, and most importantly, fairly large waterfalls.
One of the courses I remember fondly from my youth, and perhaps my favorite of all time, is Timber Falls Adventure Golf in the Wisconsin Dells. Timber Falls mixed in the above elements very well, giving the whole course a logging-type atmosphere, complete with large waterfalls and trees. On top of that, the holes were rather creative.
Another decent course in that area is Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf (apparently all mini-golf has to be “Adventure Golf”?). It started out well enough, with waterfalls, large hills, changes in elevation, but once they started to add many more 18-holes, all creativity fell out the window, and they ended up creating holes that were essentially only straight, with a few rocks in the middle.
And so we come to Dred Scott, which suffers from some of the main problems as Pirate’s Cove, and even more. To begin with, it’s really not a bad course. In fact, it’s pretty above-average (which honestly says more about the state of mini-golf courses than it does the quality of Dred Scott). However, it also isn’t all that good.
Click on thumbnails for larger images
The main problem with Dred Scott is that it just isn’t creative at all. Instead of having to navigate hills and corners, the holes consist of random bumps and tiny-hills as obstacles. Almost every single hole is straight, and there’s rarely a change in elevation. Additionally, the course commits the great sin of relying on raising the hole up a little in order to create further “challenge” in putting the ball in. It wouldn’t be so bad in a couple holes, but a good half of them rely almost solely on this to create challenge. They might as well be putting greens with random bumps.
There’s also really not all that much ambience at The Links at Dred Scott. It’s a straightforward presentation, with a few fountains to add to the experience (they call them “waterfalls,” but I reserve that term for more than just water falling a foot from one small pool to another, where it’s recycled back to the top). Unfortunately, the fountains also somehow soak the greens, which makes judging the friction very difficult.
It sounds like I hated the experience, but again, it’s really not that bad of a course. It’s just rather unimaginative, and there’s no additional ambience to make it more interesting. Kids would probably have no complaints, but your average adult might just be bored by the repetition. The cost was $6.00, which is a bit much for less than an hour of entertainment, but still better than a lot of courses.
For a better course that’s not too far away from Dred Scott, I’d suggest the aforementioned Valleyfair Adventure Golf. It attempts, and for the most part, succeeds in creating an interesting atmosphere, full of caves, waterfalls, and interesting holes. Although, be warned, the last time I went, two years ago, the course seemed to be falling into disrepair. Hopefully they’ve fixed the issue, as it was one of the better courses around.
Also nearby is the golf course at the Mall of America. When the Mall of America originally opened, it had a miniature golf course near one of the food courts. The attempt at mini-golf wasn’t all that bad, as they tried to create an outdoor atmosphere where most of the mall was blocked from view, but the greens had more friction than shag carpeting. Eventually, it closed, and was replaced by a number of exceedingly commercial attractions. Luckily, those have closed, and there is now a new miniature golf course in its place: Moose Mountain… (say it with me)… Adventure Golf. It looks similar to the old course, but hopefully without the excessive friction. I doubt I’ll ever bother with it, it’s in the Mall of America after all and costs and astounding $8.95 per adult, but it might be a reasonable course, even if lacking in atmosphere.
June 29, 2008 Update:
I just returned from trying out Adventure Gardens Miniature Golf in Richfield. While not a great course, it is a few steps up from The Links at Dred Scott. If you have a choice between either, try out Adventure Gardens. I will post a full-ish review in the next few days.
July 4, 2008 Update:
The full-ish review is now available.