A freelance writer and father of two, I am interested in almost anything the ever-changing city of Brisbane has to offer. When I am not seeking the kid-friendly and affordable, I am tracking the home-grown and the unique... Come and discover with me!
Published November 25th 2011
One recent hot Saturday I was faced with a challenge. The kids and I needed to get out of the sweltering house, but with my seven year-old daughter hobbling around in a plaster walking-cast after a nasty ankle sprain, our fresh-air options were restricted. I found myself wondering how to keep two active youngsters entertained until sundown, within the usual budgetary constraints, but without the involvement of running, playground-climbing, ball-kicking, water or sand. Parents who have faced similar situations will confirm that this is asking a lot from brain-cells already overtaxed with heat and tiredness, especially if a nine year-old boy and a seven year-old girl first have to agree on the choice of activity.
In a flash of inspiration I remembered the kids raving in unison about mini-golf (or Putt-Putt) after a recent stay with golf-mad cousins in Sydney. A quick Google search brought up the Victoria Park Golf Complex's website, where I saw a whole page dedicated to advertising their Putt-Putt facilities. The opening hours—6am to 10pm all week—were convenient, and at $16 for an adult, $13 for a concession, and $10 for ages 17 and under, the price was well within reach. I had just found my Saturday salvation.
My delight was tempered by my son's solemn warning—"The best mini-golf courses are in Sydney, you know, Dad"—and while I vigorously promoted my new plan regardless, I admit to some quiet misgivings at the time. Memories of former disappointments resurfaced—sun-baked courses whose advertising promised much, but whose main challenges were the unintentional ones: cracked concrete, holed astro-turf and heat exhaustion, amongst damaged fixtures and revolting colours. To be sure, the attractive website spoke against such dire possibilities, but who hasn't been fooled by glossy photos before? Still, the kids had agreed on something at last, so I hustled them into the car before they could change their minds.
I can happily report that from the moment of our arrival, the "Putting Garden" at Victoria Park Golf Complex began not only to replace mediocre mini-golf memories, but to establish new standards in my mind regarding the humble pastime of Putt-Putt. Guided by clear signage, we drove into immaculately-maintained grounds where we immediately found ample parking space. Following the footpath to the Garden, we took in sweeping views of the CBD and felt a cooling breeze in our faces due to the Complex's elevation on the Herston ridgeline. Friendly and efficient staff at the dedicated Putt-Putt register in the Pro Shop directed us swiftly towards the course clutching a well-designed score card and a brightly-coloured ball each. We chose from a range of putters to suit almost any size player, and within minutes of arrival we were on the greens.
The course itself is stunning, and with the exception of two in Tasmania built by the same designer, is unlike any other mini-golf course in Australia. In a radical departure from familiar cutesy formulae, designer Craig Bartlett's creation is as much a display of the landscaper's art as a challenging adventure for serious putters and casual day-trippers alike. Rockeries, water-features, generous seating areas, and native gardens provide an environment so relaxing that the fifty-odd people playing the course simultaneously during our visit only noticed each other long enough to exchange smiles. Waiting periods were sometimes necessary while the group ahead completed their shots; however, in such pleasant surroundings, and with drinks and snacks close at hand in the Pro Shop or the Putting Lounge, these periods became an opportunity for conversation rather than a cause for frustration.
In an innovation unique to Bartlett's Putt and Play Mini-Golf Systems, each hole offers three levels of difficulty—Beginner, Intermediate, and Professional—effectively expanding an eighteen-hole course out to a fifty-four-hole extravaganza. Players nominate which of the three colour-coded holes they wish to try for and score accordingly via an easy-to-use points system. This is ideal for parents with kids, as the scores remain reasonably even regardless of unequal skill levels, and everybody has the chance to emerge from the course feeling like Tiger Woods. And if golfing glory proves elusive, at the sixteenth-hole-mark there is a courtesy "Frustration Bag" available on which to safely let off some steam.
In place of gimmickry, the course relies on gradients, natural features and surface variations to present its challenges, and increases substantially in difficulty from the first to the eighteenth hole. However, as Bartlett says, the course is designed so that even the player who simply "closes their eyes and hopes for the best" has a chance of a hole-in-one at every stage. To illustrate the fun factor which is at the heart of his design, he proudly points to the fact that pro golfers regularly receive thrashings on his courses from spouses who have never before picked up a club.
The proof of the soundness behind this design principle could be seen in the mix of people there. Ahead of us was a young family of five, who took advantage of the three-tiered system to play simultaneously; while behind us, a couple in their early twenties flirted their way through a first date. We saw groups of friends ranging from late teens to over-sixties, some locked in quiet rivalry, others giggling their way from hole to hole and mounting frequent searches into the gardens and water features after stray balls. Music from well-concealed speakers maintained a festive but low-key atmosphere, and although I would still recommend that parents bring hats along for the kids, the trees and water-features lent a cooling effect which made us feel as though we had successfully escaped the heat of the day.
And the kids? Perhaps I can encapsulate their response by saying that I heard no more about the "awesomeness" of Sydney's mini-golfing facilities that day. From the very first hole they were thoroughly absorbed. (Barring the possibility that your child is a golf prodigy, however, be prepared to offer a great deal of assistance to anyone under seven as the last nine holes unfold.)
Far from being an opportunistic add-on, the Putting Garden has been cleverly shoe-horned into the very heart of the Victoria Park Functions Complex, and, in terms of atmosphere, grows more fully-integrated with the Putting Lounge and the Caddy Shack Bar and Grill as the afternoon fades to evening. Although we were gone well before night fell, even at 5pm it was easy to imagine the party / function potential which has led to the Putting Garden to become a regular team-building destination for such local luminaries as the Queensland Reds and the Brisbane Roar F.C.
Should you wish to discover this potential for yourself, the perfect opportunity to do so is coming up very soon with the FREE Putt-Putt Fifth Birthday Party Event on Wednesday December 7th. Just find and "like" Victoria Park Golf Complex's Facebook page and click on the "Free and Fun" icon on the left-hand side to receive a voucher entitling you to FREE Putt-Putt from 2pm – 10pm, as well as a $10 pizza-and-drink voucher valid from 2pm - 7:30pm.
The Putting Garden truly is both a local treasure and a world-class experience, the likes of which cannot be found elsewhere in mainland Australia (although dedicated Putt-Putt enthusiasts will be rubbing their hands with glee at the news that another Craig Bartlett creation is due to be unveiled to the public on December 14th, at the Parkwood International Golf Course on the Gold Coast—watch Weekend Notes for further details.) From a few hours of simple outdoor fun with the kids through to full-scale Putt-Putt parties with family, friends or work colleagues, Victoria Park Golf Complex is an option well-worth checking out.