Thursday, April 30, 2020

The next normal rules of minigolf

A look at how minigolf will be played after lockdown.


A look at how minigolf will be played after lockdown

With social distancing in place for the foreseeable future the way we access goods, services and experiences will continue to be quite different to pre-pandemic times.

Minigolf was among the fun leisure experiences that were previously very easy to pay to access, pick-up and play.

The rules of indoor minigolf at Lane7 (2018)
The rules of indoor minigolf at Lane7 (2018)

In recent times some of the newer more 'wet led' indoor miniature golf courses such as Swingers, Junkyard Golf, Ghetto Golf, Lane7, Caddies, Puttshack, Birdies, Caddyshackers, House of Holes, BCK YRD GOLF, Teezers, Fore Play Crazy Golf, Puttstars etc. have required or encouraged online bookings and payment online and in advance, although most still 'hold back' a set number of tee-off times for walk in customers.

Many of these new style of competitive socialising courses are 18+ venues are more of a bar with a minigolf-attached, rather than the traditional minigolf course with snack & drink kiosk found at the seaside or in public parks. As these venues will have capacity limits for people inside the venue the online booking tool is essential in managing peak times, as well as being a great way to promote the business through digital channels.

Quite a few of the newer Adventure Golf courses, both indoor and outdoor, have also been created with a strong online element to the business, with online bookings seen as the norm for a lot of players, as it is to be a 'walk up' player as was traditionally the way to participate.

Interestingly those new indoor courses could be better equipped to handle business through the next phases of the easing of lockdown restrictions, as they already have the infrastructure in terms of websites, booking functions and mobile apps to ensure courses are not overwhelmed and that queues are properly managed.


Virtual queuing


There's a long-held view that the British love nothing more than queuing. That and talking about the weather, whilst complaining about queues.

It's quickly become a familiar sight to see lines of people queuing to enter a supermarket or other key store for essential goods. A few months ago such scenes were only seen on TV news and we all thought 'it'll never happen here'. But it has.

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease some venues will begin to reopen, albeit with restrictions on the size of playing groups, timings and how bookings are made.

With gatherings of groups of 10 people or more likely  to be banned for quite some time a lot of courses are introducing strict limits of only 2-4 players per group. These groups will also play with a large gap from the group ahead and behind them.

We'll be seeing virtual queuing in place for a long time to come. In fact it could be one of the real positives to come out of the necessary changes of how we live and socialise.

Virtual queuing has been a thing at a lot of bars, restaurants and competitive socialising venues for a while, where you place your order and then receive a handset to take to your own table to wait for your order, rather than standing in line as is conventional.

The virtual queue is being introduced in theme parks and retailtainment venues in the parts of Asia that have begun to re-open in recent weeks and it looks like they are here to stay.


Keeping in touch


While most minigolf courses around the world are still closed, during the last month or so we've seen a mixture of messages, communications and promotions from those venues.

In the early days of the pandemic and before lockdown some sites were holding out and promoting fresh air and sanitised equipment as a safe way to have safe fun, while others took the precaution of temporarily closing their doors.

Once lockdown was announced there was a flurry of coronavirus-themed messages about the unfortunate closures and the hopes of the courses in 'getting back to normal' as soon as possible.

It's been very interesting to see that some courses have done little beyond this initial activity and have not keep in touch with customers during the lockdown.

Others have been more active during the downtime and some have arranged competitions around designing minigolf holes and obstacles whilst playing at home.

The team at Strokes Adventure Golf have a regular weather update when the course is open, which they have kept up during the lockdown and it brings a smile to my face when I see it each morning. I've been sharing it across my Facebook Pages every day.


Now is an ideal time for minigolf course businesses to be looking at the way they market their business. While the outside game has always tended to be weather dependent and seasonal there has always been an opportunity to regularly keep in touch with players throughout the year.

There are a number of channels to use and as people spend more time online now is a good time to be looking at digital marketing methods in addition to more traditional promotional activity.

There are so many ways to market a business. It's important not to just revert to a standard default in promotion or jump on the bandwagon of the 'next big thing'.

It's essential to look at the overall strategy of the business, identify customer needs and then meet those needs.


Examples from around the world


Two countries beginning to ease lockdown restrictions and see miniature golf courses reopen are the USA and Australia.

The courses I have seen opening up have been highlighting in advance that there were will be new rules and restrictions in place.

Social distancing is always prominent in the communications.





One of the offers we've seen at a few courses is a discount if you bring your own putters and balls when you play.


Minigolf tournaments


As with all sporting events minigolf competitions have also been postponed or cancelled around the world.

There are a number of efforts to keep competitive spirits up with putt at home and isolation minigolf events taking place, as well as tournaments on relatively new formats of the game such as Putt18.

The World Minigolf Sport Federation has postponed all international championships in 2020, with all events now to take place next year. The first tournaments will be held in Germany, with the Under-23 Nations Cup in Murnau and the Seniors Nations Cup in Wanne-Eickel next May .

The first miniature golf tournament I've seen that will go ahead is from the Professional Putters Association, with their South West Putting Tour's weekend scheduled to take place in Tyler, Texas on the 16th and 17th May.

As expected, there are a number of additional rules and restrictions in place for anyone taking part in the event.



Minigolf apps


Before the pandemic there were some minigolf courses that had taken a look at how they marketed themselves and how they offered customers a better experience. Some venues had introduced apps.

We've found a real mixed bag of apps in use.

Most offer a scorecard function, some of these more basic than others. Those such as the Paradise Island Adventure Golf app had gone a step further than scorecard and loyalty card elements and had fairly recently added a fun interactive augmented reality feature.

The Hastings Adventure Golf app is one of the best we've used and offers a wide-range of functions, from scorecard to course 'caddy' offering tips on how to play a hole, to offering discounts on food and drink before or after a game.

The excellent Hastings Adventure Golf App and hole 2 in real-life - it's the trickiest hole on the Crazy Golf course in Hastings. This was me playing it during a previous edition of the World Crazy Golf Championships
The excellent Hastings Adventure Golf App and hole 2 in real-life - it's the trickiest hole on the Crazy Golf course in Hastings. This was me playing it during a previous edition of the World Crazy Golf Championships

While we hope the traditional way of keeping score with pencil and paper doesn't become extinct we do see more courses opting for a mobile app based scorecard.

One of the pain points as a user in the past has been the length of time to input the scores into a phone versus the quickness to scribble down the scores on a piece of paper. Now with more time between playing groups and an extended time to play a round there is less need to be quick about entering the scores.


'Experience minus' and 'Experience plus'


When seeking out new places to visit and minigolf courses to play Emily and I look to have the best experience possible.

It's always incredibly pleasing when we visit a business and receive a really positive experience.

It's also disappointing when a business fails to deliver.

With minigolf courses re-opening for business, it looks that while they will be offering a chance for people to get out and enjoy some fresh air and friendly competition, they will unfortunately have to offer their gaming experience with additional rules, restrictions and changes to the way people are used to playing.

In the times of coronavirus it looks like playing minigolf will be a sterile experience, both in real terms of the sanitisation of clubs and balls, and the wearing of gloves and masks by players and staff . As well as in terms of the fun of getting together with a group of friends, playing a competition, or even just having a chat to the people in the group behind as you watch the group in front struggle with a particularly tricky hole or obstacle.

In the world of 'regular' golf I've seen a number of players upset that they can't get a round in even though a golf course is a 'perfect' place to social distance because of the physical space.

There are a number of issues that  they, and a number of other people also pushing for an easing of lockdown restrictions, are not necessarily considering.

It could very well be that there are some players of sports and games who play purely for the game itself and don't consider a drink at the 19th hole, a bite to eat in the restaurant, or an ice cream from the kiosk an essential part of the experience.

This is obviously not the case for everybody and there have been examples of miniature golf and big golf courses being played by people during lockdown. Even when cups, flags and obstacles have been removed, some people will do anything to grab a free game.

I, like a lot of people I know, am in the other camp where I want, and in some cases expect, to have a number of other 'things' available to enhance my experience before, during and after playing a round of minigolf or pitch & putt. Or indeed when I'm doing anything. I like having multiple options of when and how I access a service or product as well as the opportunity to purchase further memory enhancing things related to the experience.

If you're just pushing the basic option it will soon become clear that it's not something you'll necessarily be keen to return to again and again.


Next and new norms?


It will continue to be of interest to monitor the systems and processes put in place at minigolf, entertainment and competitive socialising venues around the world in the coming months. There will be restrictions and changes, but there will also be renewals, innovations and improvements as we head from now, to the next normal and the new normal beyond that.

It's highly unlikely we'll see a return to how the game was played, or indeed how life was lived in general, pre-February 2020. Thankfully, some of the changes look likely to be short-term, while hopefully some of the positive changes are kept in the long-term.

In the meantime and while the UK remains in lockdown I'll be putting at home and reminiscing about the times we were able to get out and play minigolf with no restrictions.


Minigolf consulting


With twenty years of marketing and sales experience each we offer consultancy services to people and businesses looking to set-up courses, review their operations, hole designs, contests, tournaments and more.

While a lot of the minigolf world is out of action, plans are still being drawn up for new courses, work is ongoing to finish courses where permissible, and ideas formulated for when it's safe to get back out on the course. If you'd like to have a chat about competitive socialising, minigolf, marketing, or minigolf marketing please do get in touch.


The Minigolfer's Guide to Marketing


I've been so pleased to see my book bought and used by a number of competition players, course owners and managers, bloggers, course reviewers, minigolf associations and federations around the world.

You can buy The Minigolfer's Guide to Marketing ebook on Amazon and Kobo.