(WHTM) — The U.S. Open teed off last week and with it, golfers of all levels start breaking out the clubs and hit the links. But what if you don’t want to break the bank to lose your first drive in the woods and spend three-plus hours searching for a ball instead of swinging at it? Thankfully a lot of people, myself included, can fall back on mini-golf to scratch the golfing itch without hurting the wallet.
VisitPA released a list of the best mini-golf courses in the state. For those of us in south-central Pennsylvania, there’s not just one, but two courses that cracked the top 15! So if you’re feeling inspired to work on your short game in some unique settings, check out these best-in-state courses in the area.
Water Golf on City Island
There’s a lot that can fit on a 63-acre island in the middle of the Susquehanna River. A minor league baseball stadium, a steam train, riverboat cruises and yes, mini-golf. Water Golf on City Island has been a staple on the Susquehanna for 32 years and as owner Jeff Palkovic explains, it all started with a single, risky idea.
“I gave the city the idea for a mini-golf course 33 or 34 years ago. They said give us a proposal and build it. I was shocked at the cost of it all, especially since we had a two-year-old child. It was scary,” Palkovic said. “The following year they put it out for bid and we won the bid against 9 others. Needless to say, the cost was 75% more than the year before.”
While finances may have been a sore sight, the course was coming together like a work of art.
“We had, without a doubt, the best person to build the course in Dave Lepro. He sold fireplaces and did backyard designs, patios, and landscaping. I saw a course Dave built in 1988 and I thought it was a very well-thought-out design and landscaped course. He was an idea man. He did things differently. He knew what worked and what didn’t and he made the course fun for the whole family,” Palkovic said.
An added bonus came with an interest in the landscaping surrounding the putting greens.
“We were one of, if not, the first to use red stones as a mulch. There was a horticulturist convention in Harrisburg and the attendees came back the second day just to see the landscaping. They paid just to walk through!” Palkovic said. “Having the course along the river, the beautiful flowers and landscaping really make it special.”
It all comes together along with a committed team to produce one of the best mini-golf courses in the state, something Palkovic has a lot of gratitude for.
“Our whole team takes pride in our appearance, the cleanliness of the course, we try to always give great customer service to everyone. We get a ton of referrals from previous customers who were thrilled with their experience. This is the best advertising you can get and it speaks volumes about our facility,” Palkovic said.
For Palkovic, the best part of Water Golf on City Island is the people.
“Seeing the smiles and friendly attitude of the customers is awesome. After 32 years, we meet at least 999 nice people out of 1,000. People are happy to be there and we all look forward to coming to work. It is great to hear thank yous for having affordable prices so some less fortunate families can treat and enjoy themselves,” Palkovic said.
I asked Palkovic what’s something unique about his course that not many people know and his answer comes right from the heart.
“Water Golf is a great spot for first dates since you can talk to each other and find out more about each other. In 32 years, we had at least 28 people get engaged on the course. That is a pretty good feeling when I put so much into having a great course for all to enjoy,” Palkovic said.
Strasburg is mostly known for its wide display of trains surrounded by Amish farmland. Just two and a half miles down the road from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, lies a mini-golf course seemingly tucked away in the woods. That course is Village Greens, a course so in touch with its surroundings, you would have thought Mother Nature built it herself. Instead, it was a couple by the name of Oscar and Jean Petters.
The duo was sitting on a piece of land that they were trying to find a use for.
“Jean was actually the brainchild behind this venture, finding an ad in the classifieds touting building miniature golf, and suggesting that as an option to use their land for,” Village Greens Manager Melissa Seltzer said. “Oscar, who was an engineer, did the research that brought it to life.”
The research turned out to be rather disappointing.
“Oscar actually traveled extensively up and down the east coast, and nothing quite measured up to what he was looking for,” Seltzer said. “So he created it with the help of a course designer of a course in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.”
In 1972 the first course opened and did rather well, maybe even a little too well. “With wait often reaching 30 minutes during the evenings on weekends, Oscar and Jean discussed the addition of a second course,” Seltzer said. “This led to the creation of the gold course, which Oscar designed all on his own. He designed it around the existing natural terrain and designed the holes to skirt around the majority of the old-growth trees.”
There was just one problem. “When he completed hole 18, he was still some distance to the clubhouse. He decided to just put in some more holes!” Seltzer said. 11 years after the orange course opened, the gold course made its debut in 1983 with 23 holes instead of 18.
So what sets this course apart from the others?
“Hands down the setting. The woods, the flowers, the ponds, there is something so relaxing about playing golf when you get to listen to the wind in the trees, the birds chirping and the frogs singing,” Seltzer said. “This is what our guests love too. It is what makes us unique. If I had to pick just one aspect of that, when guests compliment the course, I would say the flowers are probably the piece I hear comments on the most. They really just make the course come alive with color!”
While the courses at Village Greens are beautiful, they can also be rather challenging. If you’re looking for a good test of skill, see if you can best these records.
“The all-time record on the gold course stands at 55 with the course par at 74. The all-time record on the orange course stands at 36 with a par of 52,” Co-Owner Cindy Fairchild said.
When I asked about some other unique facts about the course, I learned that there’s a 49-year-old mascot who had some adventures in recent years.
“Oscar (the moving man obstacle) has been golfing daily at the first hole of the orange course for 49 years. He has undergone four outfit changes and has only left his post once unintentionally when he was the victim of a late-night prankster” Fairchild said. “Also, once a year since 2012 he leaves to participate in the Strasburg Memorial Day Parade for about 3 hours.”