Miniature Golf With Kids: Six Tips for Keeping it Fun

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Miniature golf is famous for challenging players to hit balls through windmills, but it can be even more challenging to play an enjoyable round with your kids.  Putt-putt can try kids’ patience as well as their skill, and more than once I’ve witnessed fraught scenes of parents admonishing kids that “No, you’re not holding it right” or “Here, let me show you again”. While a few of these comments might have been welcome or helpful, it was obvious that a constant stream of them were creating frustration for parents and kids alike.

Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Entrance - Natalie Reinert
Disney’s Fantasia Gardens

There are two courses at Disney World and a Google search for miniature golf in Orlando finds 12 more, so there’s a decent shot you might give it a try on your family’s Florida vacation. Here are my best tips for keeping it fun so that they’ll want to come back and play again next time.

Know Before You Go

Different courses can be very different experiences, and not just in the design of the holes. It’s not essential, but a quick review of reviews for a course you plan to visit can help you to avoid the most crowded times, or know to make an evening visit in the summer if the course has little shade. If many reviews say that greens are not well maintained or it’s hard to keep the balls on the course, then it might not be the best choice for kids. Whether or not you researched in advance, don’t be afraid to leave some holes unplayed if you find that the course just isn’t fun for you.

Safety and Courtesy

Let’s start a rules discussion with the no-fun “no” stuff.  Much of the rest of what I’m going to tell you will be about how to modify or dispense with standard rules that aren’t working out, but there are some places where it’s worth standing your ground.

Disney World Mini Golf Score CardNo “just one more try”. Most courses have a stroke limit per hole, usually five or six strokes. This is not only to keep your game from turning into a marathon experience that your kids will get bored with in the middle, but also to keep other players from having to wait … and wait … and wait … as they follow you through the course.

No swinging the putter. I don’t know if it’s human nature, but it seems like kids who are holding a putter they aren’t using on a ball right that minute have a tendency to swing it around. Unfortunately, that means a lot of unintended connections between the putter and the greens, the walls, and the fences, not to mention other players’ kneecaps.  To prevent damage to the putters and the surroundings, our family rule was that the head of the putter couldn’t be higher than your knees — and multiple infractions could result in having to sit out the next hole.

Rules? What Rules?

Many courses have a posted sign, or perhaps an area on the back of the scorecard, listing The Rules.  Does that mean that these are the rules you and your family need to play by? I’ll borrow from our famous Saturday Six blogger: Nay Nay. Mini golf is one of my family’s core vacation activities, and here are a variety of “extra” rules we’ve used over the years to bridge the gap between our desire to play and our kids’ readiness to play grownup-style with us.

1. Kids are allowed to use their hands, including picking up the ball and putting it in the cup. I already talked about the six-stroke limit; kids who are routinely using all six strokes and still can’t get it in can get pretty frustrated. This frustration usually doesn’t come from the high score, but from having failed to “finish” by getting it in the cup.  Putting the ball in the hole with their hands after six strokes is often all that’s needed to keep everyone happy.  It’s not only kids who’ve taken six strokes though; some kids are just “done” with the hole after two or three strokes, and want to put the ball in and move on.  Some kids want to push it in with their hands if it’s close enough, to avoid that painful experience of taking the short putt and watching it totally miss.

Hollywood Drive-In Mini Golf at Universal Orlando

2. Kids can hit their balls again before they stop rolling. I don’t know why some kids are so enamored of playing polo-style, but as long as they’re willing to agree that every time they hit the ball it counts towards their six-stroke limit, is it really worth arguing about? For kids who don’t default to this mode, it can still help them reach the green on holes where it’s up a steep hill or the ball has a tendency to roll back to the tee.

3. Kids can piggyback an adult’s tee shot. This is another great option for kids who have trouble getting to the green. A grownup shoots to the green, and the kid places their ball near to where the shot ended up.  There are some fun opportunities for creative team play here if you’ve got equal numbers of kids and adults.

4. Kids (and grownups) can play the entire hole straight through. Standard play is that everyone hits to the green, and then everyone putts. We’ve often found that it’s faster for everyone to just play through the entire hole one at a time.  A bonus is that if the course isn’t crowded, part of the group can advance to the next hole and everyone does less waiting.  If there are two adults we like to have one go first and the other go last.

5. Kids get a re-do, one per hole. Sometimes it’s all about where the ball ended up. It was two inches from the hole, it looked like an easy putt, and somehow things went horribly awry. Now it’s two feet away and in the water hazard to boot.  Just let them put it back and try again.  As kids get older and more capable you can change this to a fixed number of shots for the whole course instead of one per hole.

6. Kids can tell you their score. No, I’m not talking about whether they can open their mouths and pronounce the word “four”, I mean that they can literally tell you what to write on the scorecard. I mean really, they hit the ball a second time while it was still rolling towards the green, took a free re-do after it ended up on the wrong side of the rock, and eventually just tapped it in with their foot.  Winning and losing are already kind of meaningless because they skipped hole 5 after whacking the bench at hole 4 twice with their putter. If they want to say they got a two on this hole, you’re really going to argue with them about the number? Many kids are happy to dispense with scoring completely, but for those who want to be like the grownups and write down their scores, just let them make it up.

Disney World Mini Golf Fantasia Gardens
This young gentleman may always have had perfect form, but even the ones who insist on using the putter like a croquet mallet grow out of it eventually.

Transitioning to Grownup Play

We used all of the above rules when my kids were younger, but now that they’re teenagers they play like regular adults. So how to get from here to there?  An obvious approach is to put in an age-based cutoff, but we took a different tactic: bribery.  Our rule was: if you could beat Mom you got an extra topping on your post-game ice cream — but you had to play straight to win it, using (mostly) the same rules as Mom. We did still give them a handicap to make it fair shakes, but this strategy gave them control over when they felt up to the challenge of playing like a grownup.

Have you played miniature golf with kids? How do you keep it fun?  Let us know in the comments!

 

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Jennifer Heymont

Jennifer Heymont has a background in math and biology, but since she couldn't pick between the two she ended up in Data Science where she gets to do both. She lives just north of Boston with her husband, kids, and assorted animal members of the family. Although it took three visits for the Disney bug to "take", she now really wishes she lived a lot closer to the Parks.

4 thoughts on “Miniature Golf With Kids: Six Tips for Keeping it Fun

  • September 28, 2021 at 3:28 pm
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    We just took our four-year-old to Winter Summerland this weekend for his very first “real” mini-golf experience, and it actually went much better than I thought it would. We didn’t even attempt to keep score, but just tried to reinforce good play habits; don’t swing the club past your knees, let the ball stop before you hit it again (unless trying to get it up a big hill), let everyone take their turn, cheer on others when they do well, only hit your own ball, etc.

    My advice for others in a similar boat would be:
    -Buy a Gator Golf set ($20 at Target) and play it at home before the trip. This let our kid learn and practice the basics (swinging the club, aiming the ball, navigating around obstacles, taking turns) in the calm environment of home. This was much better than trying to teach him how to play while the families stacked up behind us.
    -If your kid is bored by, or doesn’t like playing Gator Golf, spending precious vacation time & money at a real mini-golf course may not be the best choice.
    -If going to one of the WDW mini-golf courses, get there by 4pm and use one of your “Water Parks & More”/”Park Hopper Plus” entitlements. We had far more of those on our tickets than we could ever have used, and it let me have a calm “I hope we have fun, and if we aren’t having fun we can just bail” attitude that I probably wouldn’t have had if we had paid $40 out-of-pocket to play.

    Reply
    • September 28, 2021 at 8:23 pm
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      Hey Andy, Sounds like you guys had fun, and some advance practice is a great idea if you can swing it. The Gator Golf is a good suggestion.

      If you can’t practice in advance, I like to go when the course first opens so that it’s not crowded.

      Reply
  • September 30, 2021 at 10:31 am
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    You mention being aware of parties behind you and playing efficiently to not make them wait, and THANK YOU for that. But it’s worth adding that just like in big golf, mini-golf etiquette sometimes also involves pausing to let the party behind you play through, if the hole ahead of you is open.

    My partner and I usually end up letting several parties pass us each game because we’re competitive and not trying to rush through — we’re scoping out the hole, lining up our shots, and trying to beat each other — so even though it’s usually just the two of us, more casual players are often faster than us.

    The downside of encouraging a fast-moving game is that some kids might get the impression that they’re *supposed* to be racing ahead, when stepping aside for other people is sometimes a better and more thoughtful option. In particular, this can be an alternative for families with kids who are old enough or even just competitive enough to want to play like adults.

    Reply
    • September 30, 2021 at 5:00 pm
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      Hi Lea, that’s a terrific point and I couldn’t have made it better myself. Being courteous to others is appropriate, but you’re absolutely right that this doesn’t mean rushing and sacrificing the proper enjoyment of your own game.

      Reply

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