Cedar Rapids’ Mini Pines golf course tees up successful first season

Brenda Walkner putts as her father, Mike, looks on Sept. 11 during the Cedar Rapids Special Olympics Unified Golf Tournament at the Mini Pines miniature golf course in Cedar Rapids. Mike Walkner said that the family will continue to use the course even after the tournament. (Nick Rohlman/Freelance)

Signs pointing out accessible paths are seen Sept. 11 at the Mini Pines miniature golf course in Cedar Rapids. The course’s Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility has allowed it to host a wider variety of events. (Nick Rohlman/Freelance)

Cal Hartnett of Center Point putts Sept. 11 during the Cedar Rapids Special Olympics Unified Golf Tournament at the Mini Pines miniature golf course in Cedar Rapids. Hartnett has participated in Special Olympics events since 2008. (Nick Rohlman/Freelance)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The new Mini Pines miniature golf course in Cedar Rapids has already teed up success nearly four months since its opening.

The golf course opened as the city of Cedar Rapids looks to repurpose the now-closed Jones Golf Course in the southwest quadrant — a flood-prone venue that had long been a revenue drag on the city’s then-four-course municipal golf system. Officials had hoped a mini course could help offset the subsidy provided to the enterprise and provide a new amenity in town.

The 18-hole mini course, at 3800 42nd St. NE on the Twin Pines Golf Course, opened May 28 — and its performance has been up to par so far, according to the city.

Golf Services Interim Manager Dave Roe said 25,000 people have come to Twin Pines to play miniature golf since its May 28 opening, bringing in $164,000 in revenue. This will go toward the $580,000 construction of Mini Pines, he said, and ultimately reduce the amount of subsidy the city provides to municipal golf operations.

As golf’s popularity waned before the spread of COVID-19, the city as of February 2020 had lost a net $1.54 million in the previous six years, or an average $256,540 per year. It subsidizes those losses through general fund transfers.

The city’s fiscal 2022 budget, beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2022, reflects $176,000 in revenue from miniature golf course admission fees, so it appears on track to surpass original projections. Roe hopes next year, the course will perform even better as it will be ready to open immediately in April.

Mini Pines golf course hours, admission

What: Mini Pines miniature golf course

Where: Next to Twin Pines Golf Course, 3800 42nd St. NE, Cedar Rapids

When: Fall hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Cost: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for students, $3 for kids age 4 and younger

Golf a popular activity in pandemic

On the course’s highest-performing day on one summer Saturday, Roe said there were 650 plays. Traffic has slowed on weekdays with school back in session, but he said it remains busy on weekends.

On weekdays, Roe said it was typical to see 300 plays, and the weekends would range between 500 and 600 plays.

It has helped that more people are turning to golf as a recreational activity as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, Roe said.

“It’s one recreational activity that everybody can feel safe being outdoors,” Roe said. “But we’ve seen an influx of golfers from start of COVID to now, and it hasn’t slowed down this year.”

The name “Mini Pines” shows in the course’s design, with several mini pine trees planted. The course features a 9-foot waterfall and four holes involving water play, and a final “horse race” challenge hole. It also is accessible for people with disabilities.

Next year, Roe said the city hopes to add more shade structures so people can escape from the sun as they play.

The course has attracted people who do not usually golf, Roe said, and even out-of-town guests who frequent miniature golf courses. It also attracts larger tournaments and group events for organizations such as Special Olympics Iowa or for local employers.

“You get a whole different clientele, which is kind of neat to see,” Roe said.

Part of city’s effort to provide amenities

Whenever Mayor Brad Hart has used the course, he said he has seen wide age ranges among other golfers, from children to groups of teenagers to senior golfers.

He has taken his 5- and 7-year-old grandchildren to play the Mini Pines course, and said they enjoy it though they tend to “want to swing too hard.”

“Everyone I see out there playing is having fun,” Hart said.

The city continues to focus on providing amenities that many in Cedar Rapids can enjoy, Hart said. Approving a mini course seemed like a good decision by the Cedar Rapids City Council as the city could use the existing bathroom and clubhouse for concessions sales, he added.

Hart said he envisions the course will stay active with visitors, with potential for golfers from the regular Twin Pines Course to putt on the mini golf course in addition to the families and others who come to Mini Pines.

“It always made sense,” Hart said. “It was kind of strange that Cedar Rapids didn’t have a public or private mini course already, but the fact that we could do it next to an existing course and use its facilities was a terrific benefit … It’s paying off.”

Council member Ann Poe said the course “exceeds expectations.”

It was something that Cedar Rapids was missing, she said. The closest miniature golf course was at Airport National Public Golf Course, 3001 Wright Brothers Blvd. East, so Poe said she was “thrilled” to see the amenity in a nearby, more accessible location.

“These kinds of amenities, everything we’re doing is building for the future,” Poe said. “Everything we’re doing is with future generations in mind, and what will my grandkids have to do in Cedar Rapids so that even though they may go to school, they’ll enjoy being here in Cedar Rapids and raising their families.”

While Roe has not heard talk of the city opening another miniature golf course, he said “it wouldn’t surprise me that there’s a possibility that another one might be opened up somewhere” given Mini Pines’ early success.

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