Paradise Miniature Golf - A New Game in TownApr 29, 2007 09:40PM ● By Don Kindred
by Bill Thomas
In March 2007, the five San Clemente City Council members unanimously amended the La Pata/Vista Hermosa Community Park Master Plan, approving the addition of a miniature golf course amidst four soccer fields, three baseball fields, a football field and an aquatic complex. Granting exclusive rights to local businessman Scott Melcher, father of three and 40-year San Clemente resident, Council members had enthusiastically supported the concept when it was first presented to them over a year ago and turned the proposed project over to the Beaches, Parks and Recreation Commission and Department for analysis, study and plan development.
“What many told me was going to be an horrendous bureaucratic process was a tremendous learning experience,” stated Melcher. “We moved the proposed site location, determined where all the infrastructure would be, the drainage – things like that. I’m much more prepared and at ease at this point than when I started. City park planners Tim Shaw and Stacy Blackwood have been awesome. I’ve enjoyed working with Director Al King, Rita de Forest, the Parks Commission members – everyone with the City.”
Now that Melcher has an idea of the specific layout of his 36-hole course, where utilities are to be located, and how his plan fits in with the other amenities, he’s looking forward enthusiastically to fulfilling his project.
Miniature golf has been a popular worldwide game for decades. Predominately seen by most people as a layout of tiny lakes, windmills and obstacles, it historically began in the early 1900s as the short game of regulation golf. Known as “garden golf,” it was played with a putter on real grass. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, “bumpers,” “rails” and “fences” appeared, which kept the ball within a confined boundary. The playing surface was hardened for smoother putting.
During the ‘30s, there were 30,000 links throughout the U.S., with over 150 rooftop courses in New York City. Miniature golf was seen as an inclusive leisure time sport that anyone could play regardless of gender, age, or athletic ability. The ‘30s brought what was known as a “Miniature Golf Gold Rush,” as ingenious obstacles and hazards were created for courses with salvaged tires and wagon wheels, rusty stove and sewer pipes, and rain gutters, and architects created “rinkydink” courses with obstacle-laden castles, farmyards, battlefields and fantasy lands. Trade names like “Tom Thumb Golf” and “Fairyland Manufacturing” added play-through hazards for what became widely known as minigolf. The ‘30s also introduced the first national mini-golf tournaments, with top players competing from all over the country for cash prizes.
Through the ‘40s and ‘50s, 50,000 indoor and outdoor courses attracted some four million Americans. Several clothing manufacturers made attire especially for mini-golf patrons. Many outdoor courses simulated country club environments with trees, flowers and fountains, umbrellas, easy chairs and snack bars. Support columns depicted oaks and palms; walls were covered with murals depicting famous golf courses. Balconies became verandas and clubhouses, offering drinks, snacks and meeting space. Some courses even offered caddies.
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, following the introduction of Astroturf to football stadiums, indoor/outdoor carpeting was introduced. Courses sprouted imaginative animals, miniature houses, multi-tiered trick holes, with spinning windmill blades, revolving statuary and other careening obstacles, providing greater challenge. Through the ‘70s and ‘80s, there was a continuous fantasy craze for miniature golf by the post war baby boomers. Courses had names such as Pirate’s Cove, Adventure Island, Mountasia and Golfer’s Paradise.
In the ‘90s, the concept of Family Entertainment Centers (FEC’s) arrived. Courses were specially designed for mom, dad, kids, friends, and grandparents, adding game room arcades, picnic areas, pizza and full-service snack bars, as well as birthday celebrations. Attractions such as go-karts, batting cages, bumper boats and/or cars, and soft play laser tag became commonplace. The ‘90s introduced FEC’s to major city locations: Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, San Diego and Las Vegas. Some were added to “big golf” driving ranges and regulation golf courses.
Currently, according to the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association (USPMGA), “alternative golf” has continued its popularity. Professional golfers and trainers use smaller courses to place emphasis on putting skills, longer holes have been added so drivers can be used, and resort areas commonly add miniature golf courses to their facilities. ESPN airs annual miniature golf national championships as a top family sport show. This attracts members of international mini-golf players representing 24 nations, and similar contests are held throughout the world.
Scott Melcher’s Paradise Golf Course will consist of two separate 18-hole courses, lushly tropical in landscape design. One course will be named “Aloha” (welcome or love), the other, “Ohana” (family). Each course will have an artificial waterfall with water flowing throughout different sections of the course, as well as a spray fountain.
“I want everybody to have the opportunity, not only to enjoy a golf experience, but to have outdoor fun, listen to the birds, wind, waterfalls and tropical fountains. We’ll mix native California and Hawaiian plants. The holes won’t be like your grandfather or father’s course, stereotyped into what we used to play as kids with plastic windmills, giant clown heads, and big dinosaur sculptures. Kids, young adults, families and seniors don’t need another entertainment center. This will be a unique ‘San Clemente type of thing.’” Melcher declared.
President of MS Melcher, Inc., a mortgage lending company, Scott has contracted with Harris Miniature Golf, Inc. to design and build the courses. Having created over 400 profitable courses throughout the U.S. during the past 40 years, the Harris staff is particularly excited about their new San Clemente venture.
Bill Wilcox, Harris Account Executive, who has been working closely with Melcher, wrote, “I have been in this business for about 18 years and realize the amount of time it can take to get a project completed and/or even break ground. Scott’s persistence and patience has really kept this project going. I’m not sure if he at first realized what it would take to realize his dream.”
Wilcox is accustomed to building locations for tourists rather than the “local trade market.” He indicated that the planned length of holes at 35 feet “…gives challenge and fun to a course that makes people want to come back to play it over and over again.” With a developer leasing and operating the mini golf course but sharing the profits with the city, Wilcox feels it’s “… a win-win situation for both parties.” ”I think the city will be very proud of the finished project; it will be a compliment to the proposed complex.”
As to competition with nearby miniature golf courses, Janet Wilson, Regional Director of Sales and Marketing for Palace Entertainment, owner of Boomer’s courses and 32 parks and courses throughout the country, welcomes the newcomer. Six FEC’s in southern California offer miniature golf, as well as arcades, bumper boats, go carts, climbing walls, and a mix of additional diversions.
“We’ve been quite successful, providing lots of activity for company buy-outs, birthdays, grad nites, spring breaks and family celebrations. San Clemente should fully enjoy this new mini course,” said Wilson.
In preparing for his family enterprise (wife, Corrie, will run the promotional and group activities, and the kids will be assigned to all kinds of duties), Melcher has conducted considerable research, playing on miniature golf courses all over the country, studying the experiences of similar enterprises, and speaking with experts.
“I want to make the highest and best use of this acre of land. An arcade, climbing wall, and other activities will be considered, but I want to keep it simple. We don’t really have a lot of space. We’ll have a modest food service of bottled water, canned soda, chips pretzels, ice cream and other light snacks; an intercom system for safety and security, and a sit-down eating area. Other venues within the sports park will probably have concessions with pizza and sandwiches. There’ll be picnic areas where families can bring food. We’ll certainly allow birthday cakes on those occasions,” Scott Remarked.
Melcher has already announced his pricing structure: $6.50 per round for children (12 and under) and seniors; $8.50 for adults, which is consistent with most comparable courses.
“However, because of the debt we all owe them, and the community’s empathy with our Marine Corps neighbors, we’re offering miniature golf to Marines and their families for free, from 10am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Normal open hours are scheduled from 10am. to 10pm, seven days a week.
“The course will also be wheel chair accessible,” Melcher vowed, “and I’m looking forward to developing a relationship with Courtney’s Sandcastle to encourage youngsters, both abled and disabled, to take advantage of Paradise Miniature Golf.”
He’s also been thinking of sponsoring miniature golf tournaments for blind or sight impaired people and hopes to link with the Braille Institute.
“I don’t know of any other course in the country that offers something like that,” Melcher added. “Harris, having sponsored many, many tournaments, has a tournament guide I plan to use. I’d even like to set up competitive leagues similar to lawn bowling and tennis. We can have tournaments and fund raisers for service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis; youth groups from soccer, baseball, football, and swimming; teen tournament nights; and Sunday after-church youth challenges. In the summers, we’ll invite day campers and junior life guarders. We may even offer an educational class. ‘How to Win at Miniature Golf.’ We want to cater to three year-old little kids, to 103 year-old big kids. With two 18-hole courses, we can always use one for regular play and another to rent out. Every July 4, we can even sponsor a one or two-day San Clemente All American Miniature Golf Tournament, bringing people from outside the City for an enjoyable adventure.”
Melcher hopes to draw between 180 and 200 customers each day, depending on weather, with most playing in the evenings and on weekends, averaging 45 minutes a game for a group of four. Staff will include an operations manager; security; and someone to hand out putters, balls, and scorecards.
“At the eighteenth hole, your golf ball will disappear; you can bring in your score card to get a free round if you can prove any holes in one,” Scott explained.
Melcher, who, as a young boy, played at a small San Clemente miniature golf course at the corner of El Camino Real and Calle Valle, remembers those happy days.
“The whole spirit of my concept has never been about making a lot of money,” he said. We wanted a fun and inexpensive new way to do a great thing for this great community. We have a lot of marketing to do.”
Melcher reasons his course will draw from a potential population of 305,574 just from San Clemente and the surrounding four cities.
“We’ll advertise in the newspapers, use Cox’s Channel 3, have our own Internet website and promote through word of mouth,” Scott further explained. “We might even adopt a stretch of highway I5 to promote Paradise Miniature Golf. I’m just a local guy with a somewhat unique idea. Everybody along the way whom I’ve talked to has thought it is a neat idea and has been supportive. I’m not a developer. I just thought I could start building and away we’d go. This has been an educational experience I’m thankful for. In the beginning, I was very enthusiastic but unaware of all the things that were involved. Due diligence had to be done. The meetings with City staff, the parks commission sub-committee, and the public forums helped me slow down and look at the big picture. The most daunting moment was when I faced the Beaches, Parks and Recreation Commission for the first time. I didn’t even know how to answer their questions. But I found that everyone was trying to help me. There was a collective spirit of doing something positive for the entire community.”
Melcher still has many important steps along the way: signage has not yet been determined. A lease agreement, percentage of profit income for the City, and maintenance responsibilities have not been drawn up. Parking is still in question. Still confident, he promises, “Within the next two years, Paradise Miniature Golf will be a reality.” b