Miniature golf reaches a new age, right in the heart of Stone Harbor.
It’s represented by Harbor Golf Club, a new complex on the site of the former, more traditional Tee Time miniature golf course. The revamped facility, which sits atop Blufish Designs on 96th Street, opens July 2 with a unique vision: multi-use.
Varied elements have come together, including a synthetic grass putting course, a social area, big-screen television, and a simulator to create fantasy golf rounds at more than 100 classic courses.
Avalon-based owners Eileen LaPenta and Whitney Kotzman gained this idea after seeing it displayed in Bermuda.
“People are excited every time I show them this,” says LaPenta, who has previously owned standard miniature golf courses. “The putting here mimics a high-end golf course. There are no tricks, no whales, no houses, etc. This is very challenging.
“Once they are here, people can enjoy a big-screen television, outdoor seating and refreshments. We will also facilitate them if they’d like to eat. We will have menus from local businesses. They can order from there and we will get that for them.”
Combining the activities is feasible. It’s not difficult to envision Sunday NFL games being shown here, perhaps amid golf rounds or as part of an impromptu tournament among friends. The scope of this operation will evolve, and likely extend into shoulder seasons.
Overall, it’s adult-themed.
By owning the property, LaPenta and Kotzman are under no pressure to recoup rents. The business can be operated at their discretion. Harbor Golf Club will probably be open well beyond Labor Day and become another downtown entertainment destination.
LaPenta, the Conshohocken, Pa., native who played golf when she was younger, says owning this kind of business is “fun.”
But the proprietors also took this endeavor seriously, investing roughly half a million dollars to launch it.
That’s extraordinary in the miniature golf sense and pragmatic in the local business realm. The investment strategy mirrors the high-end capital that downtown merchants have used to entice affluent clients. Harbor Golf Club fits well on 96th Street.
Construction on the simulator area was progressing quickly in early June. It had been delayed because of COVID-19 restrictions but should be finished well ahead of the July 2 opening, LaPenta says.
But the golf course was ready to show.
The owners delivered a layout that should produce a reasonably tough putting test.
This is a par-57 and holds one of the rarest commodities in the miniature putting world: It has par-4s. Six of them, to be exact. There are holes in which the tee shot will merely establish position to set up the next one. Many holes are par-3s.
The key to scoring, just like in standard miniature golf, will be those 3-to-6-foot putts to hole out. Reading the break and measuring the inclines will be important.
The Harbor Golf Club layout is picturesque, green and aesthetically enticing. The main surface is synthetic grass with different heights.
Some holes bend sharply. Some are long. There is rough to slow the ball down. There are narrow openings to place the first shot through in order to position the putt near the hole. There are steep embankments made of high-density foam. There is a waterfall that is visually pleasing but does not come into play.
The course has ridges, slopes, rock formations and putts that will break, LaPenta says. The cup is small, offering no help for a putt that isn’t quite accurate.
Here are some of the more interesting holes on the scorecard:
No. 9 is a Y-shaped hole with a narrow area for the shot to go through. The cup is on the left, but if you end up on the right, there is a lot of work to do getting back to the hole.
No. 16 might be the most aesthetic hole. It requires a tee shot that starts up a slight incline, bends left and speeds down toward the cup. A rock and a patch of grass essentially form an island in the middle and a shot that winds up right will require a tough comeback putt.
No. 18 has a mound in the middle of the surface. It’s a good judgment test. The putt requires speed to scale the hump. Hitting it too lightly results in the ball being propelled back toward the tee, a wasted stroke. Hitting too firmly could drive the ball past the cup and into the rough. This shot is all about touch.
High grass between holes and umbrellas to project shade will add important design touches.
Six strokes will be the maximum allowed per hole. A score of four or three on most holes will be respectable. A two will be a birdie or an eagle on most holes and a hole-in-one would be a rare work of art.
The course will operate 10am-10pm most days, although the final schedule is being determined. Golfers can just walk up to play, but LaPenta suggests patrons reserve the simulator.
Both owners enjoy success outside of golf.
LaPenta owns Grapevine Visual Concepts in Southampton, Pa. As a full-service exhibit house for more than two decades, the company provides everything from trade-show exhibits to interactive kiosks and corporate interiors. It designs, builds, installs and services trade-show exhibits across the United States.
Kotzman previously manufactured decorative glassware as the owner of Whitney Works in Huntington Valley, Pa. Kotzman designs custom pieces for the Blufish Designs store the partners own. Customers can accent design with a number of accessories including art, rugs, linen and tableware.
Blufish Designs also can be found in Avalon, Sea Isle City and Clermont.
The partners have been successful in varied ventures. They have thrived on anticipating markets. With Harbor Golf Club, they might be leading one.