I am unequivocally not a sportsman. As such, when it comes to chatting about Wimbledon and the like on this blog, I’ll probably farm the task out to some friends who are keener than I am. But despite all that, I’m not completely anti-sport. After all, who doesn’t love a bit of golf? And when I say golf, I mean crazy golf, of course. The sport of kings.
You see, London isn’t all old statues, expansive museums and fancy architecture. London might well be a working city, but my god if it isn’t a fun one too, and what could be more fun than whacking a few brightly coloured balls around an obstacle course peppered with denizens of the Jurassic era? Accompanied by my better half, Sophie, we set out to explore Jurassic Encounter Adventure Golf.*
But first, some history.
Mini golf, I was happy to discover, seems to have had its origins in London. The first mention of something along these lines is in The Illustrated London Review, way back in June 1912, when it advertised something called “Golfstacle”. After this, the Americans and Canadians took it and ran with it, the first opening in 1916 in North Carolina and called the Thistle Dhu course. In 1922, Thomas McCulloch Fairbairn changed the game and made it more accessible to people by inventing the right material for the greens. By the late 1920s, there were over 150 mini golf courses in New York alone, although the vast majority were destroyed during the Great Depression.
The sport returned to Europe in 1926, first in Germany and then up through the Scandinavian countries. The Swedish, in particular, seem to adore the game, forming the Swedish Minigolf Federation in 1937; the oldest mini golf sports organisation in the world. The game has seen very little popularity outside of North America and Europe, and even there it is seen only as an occasional pastime, rather than a competitive sport.
Anyway, back to the present day.
We arrived around lunchtime having walked from Raynes Park (I have no idea how we used to cope before Google Maps) and, with it being a Saturday, found it fairly busy with families and, right in front of us, a birthday party. We collected clubs, balls and scorecards and waited by the first hole. It is a full eighteen hole run, apparently “designed and built one of the world’s best adventure golf designers”, with all the trappings one comes to expect of crazy golf. Some holes are fairly straightforward, while others have lumps, bumps, slopes and steps to navigate as you aim your ball for the hole. The more elaborate ones contain water hazards and tunnels.
The holes are generally par two or three, but I’m so damn terrible at the sport I didn’t do many of them in less than four. Sophie, however, trumped me when about halfway round she got a hole-in-one and I began to fear that she’d been hiding a secret skill in mini golf and I was about to get royally trounced. (I wasn’t.) The final few holes are inside a cave with more tunnels and opportunities for your ball to end up in the river.
Accompanying you around the course, and giving it its theme, are the dinosaurs. Nine of them, including an overbearing Tyrannosaurus rex at the course’s opening, move and roar as you go round. Other dinosaurs featured are the Velociraptors, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Brachiosaurus, as well as the lakes being full of crocodiles. Dotted around the course are fact plaques too, giving visitors information about the reptiles they’re currently sharing the course with.
The whole place is on the site of the World of Golf, which offers lessons and practice sessions for proper golfers, including a large driving range, and a golfing shop, so if you want to be a bit more serious about things you can always go there but, frankly, who wouldn’t want to play golf surrounded by dinosaurs? Fools, that’s who.
I’m assured that getting there is easy, but frankly it’s probably easiest to drive. The course is in New Malden, not far from Kingston or Richmond. There’s a bus stop directly outside for the 265, so that’s handy if you’re already in the area, but otherwise it’s just a couple of stops south of Clapham Junction. Get off at Raynes Park and then walk for about twenty minutes. It’s not very well signposted from this angle, and there are other stations nearby you could use, but get up Citymapper or Google Maps and you should be able to get yourself there quite easily.
Prices vary depending on when you go. On the weekends, it’s £10 per adult and £8 per child, but these prices drop by a quid for weekdays. Alternatively there are options for family passes and adult groups, and if you want to play a second round on the same day, you pay half price, which seems fairly reasonable. For London, the prices are about what you’d expect, but in Brighton you can play two rounds for the price of one here. There’s also the option for children’s birthday parties (as we saw) with extra tailoring to personalise the day, and dinosaur themed party bags. Bit jealous of those, whatever they contain.
All in all, it’s a fun experience and a bit of a laugh. You can’t take these things too seriously. Obviously it’s built more with kids in mind, but the fact they even offer price discounts for adult groups proves that we aren’t alone in wanting to go and play this daft game. We had a laugh doing it though, and if you want to do something a bit more relaxing and frivolous, you could do much worse than this.
Frankly, I’m just surprised I’ve managed to eke out a thousand words on the subject of mini golf. That alone deserves a trophy, surely?
*(Alright, technically, technically, this is in Surrey, but since I can get there on a London Overground train ticket, for the purposes of my London love letters, it totally counts.)