For many entrepreneurs, owning a fun, family-friendly mini golf course seems like a hole-in-one business idea. Beyond just plopping down some windmills and clown heads, building and operating a successful mini golf venue requires careful planning and preparation.
Are you intrigued by the idea of tapping into this lucrative market but not sure how to start? You’re in the right place! Our guide will walk you through the process, providing an overview of the business, steps to get started, and answers to common questions.
A mini golf business is an entertainment venture designed to offer a fun and engaging experience through a miniature golf course. Unlike traditional golf, mini golf is known for its whimsical obstacles, shorter playtime, and accessibility to all age groups.
The primary revenue comes from ticket sales for rounds of golf, but many businesses diversify their income streams by including snack bars, arcade games, and even hosting events. Often located in areas with high foot traffic, such as shopping centers, tourist spots, or standalone venues, a mini golf business attracts a wide array of customers—from families and friends to couples and corporate teams. It combines the elements of sport, entertainment, and social interaction into a profitable business model.
Related Business Ideas
Mini Golf Industry Overview
The mini golf industry is a segment of the broader amusement and recreation industry. It’s characterized by family-friendly environments and caters to a diverse demographic, from children’s parties to corporate events.
While the industry saw a period of rapid growth in the 1960s and 1970s, the number of mini golf courses has declined over the past couple of decades due to several factors. However, mini golf remains a classic family entertainment option as the National Golf Foundation research states that 18 million Americans played mini golf an average of four times or more last year. In addition, the mini golf industry generated $350 million in 2022, which was 5.5% higher than the previous year.
Despite the growth, the industry faces ongoing challenges like seasonality and competition for entertainment dollars. A few trends to keep your eye on as you research starting your miniature golf course include:
- Increased interest in outdoor recreation and entertainment as consumers seek safe activities. Mini golf offers accessible outdoor fun.
- Focus on unique theming and creating a fun experience beyond just golf. Courses incorporate waterfalls, caves, music, and lighting effects.
- Providing food services, arcades, ice cream, and other amenities to enhance the family experience and revenue streams.
- Offering party packages, corporate events, and hosting kid’s birthday parties to boost traffic.
- Use of artificial/synthetic turf reduces maintenance costs and expands the playable season in some regions.
- Leveraging digital marketing, social media, and online booking to attract younger generations.
The target market for a mini golf course is quite diverse as it’s a recreational activity that appeals to a wide range of age groups and demographics. Here are some key segments:
- Families: Mini golf is popular for family outings as it offers fun and engagement for all ages. Parents with young children often seek out mini golf courses for a day out, birthday parties, or special events.
- Teenagers and young adults: It’s also a popular entertainment option for teenagers and young adults. They might visit a mini golf course for a casual hangout, date night, or group event.
- Tourists: In tourist-heavy areas, visitors looking for a fun, local activity may gravitate towards mini golf courses.
- Corporate groups: Companies looking for a relaxed, enjoyable way to foster teamwork often turn to mini golf for corporate events.
- Schools and community groups: Schools, clubs, and other community organizations might use mini golf courses for field trips or social events.
It’s important for a mini golf course business to identify which segments are most prevalent in their local area and tailor their marketing and services accordingly.
Checklist To Start A Mini Golf Course
Ready to turn your mini golf dreams into a lucrative business? This checklist is your go-to guide, covering the essential steps from market research and business registration to securing funding. With this roadmap in hand, you’ll navigate the startup journey with the kind of confidence that makes even the trickiest putt look easy. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Assess the Market
“Build it, and they will come” isn’t usually a good approach when starting a business. So, before sinking your time and capital into a mini golf course, it’s essential to figure out if enough people are actually interested in whacking a ball through a windmill or around a loop-the-loop.
This research won’t tell you for sure that your business will be successful, but it is better than going in blind and hoping it works. Here are some cost-effective ways to see if the market is receptive to a new putt-putt course:
- Local surveys: Consider creating a quick questionnaire and circulating it in the community, both online and offline.
- Social media polls: Use social media platforms to run polls and ask people if they’d be interested in a mini golf course in their area. You can get a pretty fast sense of public opinion this way.
- Competitor analysis: Check out existing entertainment venues, including other mini golf courses. How busy are they? What do reviews say? This will give you insights into market saturation and potential gaps you could fill.
- Public data and reports: Resources like the local Chamber of Commerce or tourism boards can provide statistical insights into local population and tourism trends. They may even offer specific reports on local business opportunities.
- Talk to real estate agents: They often have the inside scoop on community growth, development plans, and overall vibe—all crucial factors in assessing demand.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
After confirming that your community would likely support a mini golf course, writing a business is next. The business plan for a mini golf course serves as a strategic tool that helps to organize and articulate your vision, goals, and strategies. It outlines your business’s operational and financial details, giving you a clear picture of where you are and where you want to be. Moreover, lending institutions and investors will want to see that you’ve done your homework. Your business plan is evidence that you’re serious, have thought through the risks, and the business is feasible on paper.
When writing a business plan for funding, there are a few sections that I recommend focusing on. These include:
Market analysis: This part should provide an in-depth understanding of your target market, competition, and customer demographics. Explain why there’s a demand for your mini golf course and how your unique selling proposition sets you apart from competitors. Show how your course will meet customer needs better than existing options.
Management team: The success of any business largely hinges on the individuals steering it. In this section, detail the qualifications, experiences, and skills of the management team, including the owners. Highlight how their combined expertise will contribute to the successful operation and growth of the mini golf course.
Location: The location of your mini golf course can significantly influence its success. Discuss why your chosen location is a great fit. Consider factors such as visibility, accessibility, population density, surrounding businesses, and local attractions. Explain how these elements will contribute to attracting a steady flow of customers.
Financial projections: Banks and investors will pay very close attention to this section. They are looking to see if your numbers are reasonable and that the business is profitable on paper.
Before presenting the plan to a bank or investor, I strongly suggest you have the business plan looked at by someone else, like another business owner or accountant. It’s better they poke holes in the plan so you have a chance to make changes before presenting it.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Secure Funding
Securing the necessary funding is often the trickiest part of starting your own mini golf course. There are several avenues to explore, each with its own set of expectations and considerations.
Personal savings: The first and most straightforward source of funding is personal savings. Investing your own money has the significant advantage of not having to worry about loan payments, interest rates, or external investors.
The reality is that it’s really expensive to start a mini golf business, and often outside funding sources will be needed. The most common ones include:
Bank loans: Banks are traditional sources of business funding. Generally, they require borrowers to invest a minimum of 15% of their own funds, possess a good credit score, and provide sufficient collateral. If the bank considers the loan risky, they might suggest a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantee.
SBA loan programs: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers loan guarantee programs like the 7(a) and 504 to lessen the risk for a lender. The 7(a) program is the SBA’s primary loan program for helping start-up and existing small businesses. The 504 loan program provides small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing to acquire fixed assets for expansion or modernization.
Friends and family: Another source of funding is seeking help from friends and family. This can be a more comfortable option as these individuals know you personally and may be more willing to support your venture. Yet, it’s crucial to maintain professionalism; agreements should be put in writing to avoid misunderstandings and protect relationships.
Investors: Angel investors are typically local individuals with a high net worth who take a personal interest in your type of business. They can provide significant funding in exchange for equity or convertible debt in your company. However, securing angel investment can be challenging, as these individuals often look for high-growth, scalable businesses. It’s crucial to have a solid business plan and demonstrate the potential for a good return on investment.
Step 4: Acquire and Begin Setting Up the Location
You’ve done the legwork, secured the funding, and crossed all the T’s on your business plan. Now comes the fun part—transforming your mini golf dream into reality. This is the stage where you’ll start to see your vision come alive, but it’s also where you need to be extra vigilant with your execution.
Acquiring the Property
Choosing your property is more than just picking a spot on the map. You need a place that aligns with your market analysis—accessible, visible, and in tune with your target audience. Locating a miniature golf course close to other family attractions or fun centers, such as batting cages, go-kart track, video arcades, etc., can help generate more visibility to the right audience, which should translate to more income.
Having funding lined up prior to committing to a property is strongly advised since financing can take longer than anticipated or be denied altogether, so avoid signing commitments prematurely. Also, make the property is correctly zoned for your business before moving forward.
Designing the Course
To create a course that truly stands out, hit the road. The design of your mini golf course can significantly influence its appeal and success. To create a unique and engaging experience for your customers, it’s recommended to visit other successful mini golf courses and talk with their owners. You can also join industry organizations or check out forums to gain insights into the latest trends and best practices in course design. If the budget allows, consider hiring a professional mini golf course designer to bring your vision to life.
With your design in place, it’s shopping time. You’ll need to buy everything from turf and barriers to putters and scorecards. Don’t skimp on quality; remember, you’re setting up for the long haul. Work closely with vendors and suppliers who understand your vision and can offer equipment that will stand the test of time.
Careful planning, preparation, and attention to detail in designing and outfitting your mini golf course translates your vision into an engaging, competitive venue that delivers lasting enjoyment for players.
Step 5: Register the Business
You’ve done your homework on market demand, sorted out your funding, and you have the location. The next phase in launching your mini golf course is getting all the legal boxes ticked off. Every state has different requirements, but here is a general overview on making it officially legit.
Forming a business structure: The first step is to decide on a business structure. The four main types are: Sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC).
- Sole proprietorship: The simplest structure of the four, often chosen for businesses with low risks and often only operated by one person. It’s cost-effective and easy to start, but offers no liability protection.
- Partnership: A partnership involves two or more people sharing ownership. Each partner contributes to all aspects of the business, including money, property, labor, or skills. Just like sole proprietorship, the setup is simple, but both partners share liability.
- Corporation: This is a more complex structure that provides liability protection. However, it’s more complex and costly to set up.
- LLC: This offers the liability protection benefits of a corporation but with the tax benefits and simplicity of a sole proprietorship or partnership.
For a mini-golf course, an LLC is often a popular choice, given that it offers a balance between liability protection and operational simplicity.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
ZenBusiness - Best for beginners. $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Northwest - Best privacy protection. $39 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
Related: Tips for naming a mini golf course
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Obtain business licenses and permits: Some cities require the licensing of places of amusement, which a mini golf course typically falls under.
In addition, there will likely be a variety of general licenses or permits needed before opening. This could include a business license, seller’s permit, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).
Step 6: Hire Staff
So, now that you’ve got the business registered and it’s legal to operate, now you’re staring at the next big hurdle: staffing your mini golf course. This part of the process is important because the right team can make or break your operation. The type of employees you’ll typically need for a mini golf course include course attendants, maintenance personnel, and possibly a manager or supervisor.
Before you jump into the hiring process, there are some legal requirements to consider. Make sure you’ve registered your business and obtained an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS, which is used for federal payroll and tax reporting. You’ll also need to comply with labor laws, which include everything from minimum wage to employee benefits. Employment eligibility verification is another must; this means confirming that your hires are legally allowed to work in the U.S., usually verified through forms like the I-9.
There are also state-specific employment registrations and regulations, which often also include obtaining worker’s compensation insurance.
In addition to salary costs, your budget will also need to include other employee-related expenses, such as payroll taxes, which can add an additional 15%.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Step 7: Create a Marketing Plan
Alright, so you’ve just about got everything in place, and now you want people to actually show up and enjoy your mini golf course. That’s where a good marketing plan comes into play.
Developing an online presence is key – build a professional website showcasing the unique course theme, features, and amenities. Claim and optimize free listings on directories like Google Business, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the Yellow Pages.
Promote on social media popular among families and youth. Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are great for showcasing those fun holes you’ve designed, or maybe that cool retro windmill. Customer testimonials and reviews go a long way too, so encourage happy golfers to share their experiences online. You can also run social media contests and giveaways to build your audience by offering promotions like discounted play times to incentivize first visits.
Billboards and local print ads still work wonders in many markets, especially in touristy areas. And you can never go wrong with a well-placed sign on a busy road.
Network with local schools, youth groups, churches, and camps to offer discounted group rates or host private events. These organizations often look for fun group activity options.
Especially in tourist areas, look at distributing coupons and flyers at hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and other family-frequented businesses to reach your target market.
Step 8: Prepare to Open!
Alright, you’re almost there. Before you cut the ribbon and welcome a flood of mini golf enthusiasts, there are likely still some final boxes to check off. Let’s roll through the most common ones:
Business insurance: Depending on your location and the specifics of your business, different types of insurance may be required. At a minimum, you’ll likely need liability insurance to protect against injury claims, property insurance for your physical assets, and workers’ compensation insurance if you have employees.
Bank account: A dedicated business bank account is useful for separating your personal and business finances, making tax time easier, and providing a more professional appearance to customers and vendors.
Management software: Depending on your needs, you might consider industry-specific software like Gatemaster or BMI Leisure, which offer point-of-sale, booking, and management features tailored to mini golf entertainment venues.
Pricing: It’s time to crunch some numbers. What will you charge for a round? Any group rates? Season passes? Make sure the pricing is competitive but also covers your operational costs.
Preparing for the grand opening: Last but not least, how will you make a splash in the community? An opening event with some special deals can draw a big crowd and generate buzz.
Therefore, ensure you budget accordingly, taking into account potential low-revenue periods during inclement weather or winter months in your local area.
Common Questions When Starting A Mini Golf Course
How much does it cost to start a mini golf course?
The cost to start a mini golf course can vary significantly based on various factors like location, size, and quality of the course. However, as a rough estimate, you could be looking at anywhere from $250,000 to $750,000 to get things up and running.
The majority of these costs will be spent on designing and building the course itself. This includes expenses for land acquisition or lease, landscaping, construction materials, labor, benches, outdoor lighting, waste bins, and signs.
Equipment such as putters, balls, and other basic equipment will be needed. You can expect to spend around $5,000 initially.
Initial marketing costs are another factor to consider. Marketing efforts might include website development, social media setup, print advertising, signage, and grand opening events. The cost here can vary greatly depending on your marketing strategy, but it’s important to budget for this essential aspect of launching your business.
Insurance is another significant initial cost. The type and amount of insurance needed will depend on specific factors like your location and the size of your course, but at a minimum, you’ll likely need liability and property insurance, which could run into several thousands of dollars for the first year.
You may also need to budget for legal and professional fees related to things like licensing, permits, contract review, and accounting setup. These costs can also vary widely depending on your local requirements and the professionals you choose to work with.
Last, it is always a good idea to have a buffer of operating expenses on hand. This should ideally be enough to cover three to six months of costs, such as utilities, maintenance, wages, and other ongoing expenses. This buffer can provide financial stability as your business begins to bring in revenue and during slow periods.
How profitable is a mini golf course?
Calculating the potential profit for a mini golf course isn’t an exact science, but some general industry guidelines can help sketch out a picture. A common formula used in the mini golf industry estimates revenue by considering the number of holes, the price per game, and the estimated number of rounds sold per day.
Let’s assume that your course charges $10 per round and averages 100 rounds per day. Assuming you’re open year-round, this would generate daily revenue of $1,000, or about $365,000 annually. When you are doing your estimates, you will want to refine this further since the weekends will be much busier than the weekdays.
Next, it’s important to account for operating expenses. These could include costs for staffing, utilities, maintenance, insurance, marketing, and other ongoing costs. Let’s say these expenses total to $150,000 annually.
By subtracting your annual expenses ($150,000) from your annual revenue ($365,000), you’d arrive at a potential annual profit of $215,000.
This is a simplified example and actual profits can vary widely based on factors such as location, pricing strategy, operating hours, seasonality, and more. It’s also important to note that any loan repayments would also need to be considered in your overall profitability analysis.
What skills are helpful when running a mini golf course?
A business degree isn’t necessary to run a successful mini golf course, but there are some skills that are beneficial to have. Here are some of these essential skills:
Business management: You’ve got to understand budgeting, planning, and how to manage people.
Maintenance skills: A well-maintained course is key to attracting and retaining customers. This involves regular cleaning, repairing any damage, and keeping the course safe for players.
Customer service: Providing excellent customer service can differentiate your mini golf course from competitors. This includes ensuring a positive experience for customers, handling complaints effectively, and creating a friendly, welcoming environment.
Operations: Knowing how to run the day-to-day, whether that’s scheduling, maintenance, or inventory, is key. Operations are the backbone of any business, mini golf is no different.
Marketing and sales: You’ll need to attract folks to your course and get them to come back. Knowing how to promote your business effectively is key.
Don’t fret if you’re not an expert in all these areas. The key is knowing what you’re good at and then bringing in others to fill the gaps. That’s how you build a successful mini golf course—or any business, for that matter.
What is the NAICS code for a mini golf course?
The NAICS code for a mini golf course is 713990.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.