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Fantasia Fairways

Fantasia Fairways
Image: Flickr, user: Joe Shlabotnik ;https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Disney offers miniature golf at Disney-standard quality and Disney-standard prices. Years back, there was a buy-one-get-one deal that just about blew every other option out of the water. Now you can only get a discounted second round if you play again that same day. Resort guests might get a discount, but I make no promises. Every time I’ve walked up to one of their counters over the last few years, the deals were different, if there are any deals at all. Call ahead if you’re committed.

Not that a BOGO deal is a must for Disney miniature golf. Sure, their courses have all the motorized pomp and elaborate circumstance you’d expect, but the holes are fairly simplistic. Fun, yes. Challenging, only if you’re holding the club upside down. 

But Fantasia Fairways is another beast entirely. You probably won’t even notice it when you pull into the parking lot, even though it surrounds the cartoonish crags of its sister course, Fantasia Gardens. It’s only miniature golf by the most literal definition: miniature...golf. Greens regularly run 100 feet long. Par for the course is a teeth-gnashing 72. Golf Digest voted it the most challenging mini golf course in the world. Course records belong exclusively to PGA Tour pros.

Putting through a windmill, this ain’t.

This is as close to a test of pure skill as any miniature golf course in the county, if not the world. No lucky ricochets. No bald patches on the green. Just long shots, sand traps, and steady aim. On account, if there’s a line out front, I guarantee it’s for the Gardens side. Foolhardy souls still play the Fairways, but rarely come back for more.

It’s not for everybody, but there’s no other putt-putt experience like it. Without a single gimmick, Fantasia Fairways is the most unique course on Disney property. If you do spring for a second round, try the Winter side of Disney’s Winter Summerland. At least you’ll get a miracle for the price - snow in Central Florida.

Hollywood Drive-In Golf - The Haunting of Ghostly Greens

Hollywood Drive-In Golf
Image: Flickr, user: Dave R Chasteen; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The newest game in town is also the priciest, not counting the additional CityWalk parking fee, but it’s still worth a round for putt-putt purists.

The Hollywood Drive-In’s two 18-hole courses are a celebration of B-movie chintz - flying saucers made from dinner plates and gill-men with zippers up their back, respectively. Each side offers a similar difficulty and variety of holes, but it’s tough not to pick horror when you’re at the studio that monsters built.

The Haunting of Ghostly Greens is what incoming guests see first from the moving walkways. It’s hard to miss the haunted house wearing a bus-sized slug from its sci-fi counterpart like a carnivorous scarf. While the boarded-up mansion may be the pinnacle of theming across the Ghostly Greens, there’s plenty to love across all 18 holes.

This is classic Clown’s-Mouth design in its Sunday best. Try not to lose your ball in a hedge maze based ever so slightly on The Shining. They may pose little threat to your ball, but creatures from black lagoons tend to spit when startled. Mind the gravestones and the familiar feet sticking out of the ground not far from them. It may not be the hardest course you’ve ever played - it’s probably the easiest par on the list - but you can’t beat the Drive-In for uncomplicated, unadulterated fun.  

Play it after dark, when the purple rope lights outlining each hole come on, for a little extra atmosphere. A little extra discount, too - you don’t have to pay for parking after 6 PM. Universal’s buy-one-get-one deal isn’t a deep discount, but it does last as long as the receipt if you’re planning on coming back. If the price still puts you off, a full three dollars more than Disney as of this post, it’s worth mentioning that Hollywood Drive-In is easily the best maintained course around.

 If you dig old-fashioned mini-golf and speak fluent B-movie, there’s no reason to play anywhere else.

Bonanza Golf

Bonanza Golf
Image: Jeremy Herbert

The Wild West of miniature golf, in more ways than one.

It’s literally west, on the end of 192 closest to Disney property. You can spot Everest and the Tower of Terror if you know where to look. It’s Wild West themed, with 18-hole courses named “Prospector” and “Gold Nugget.” The flat rate is about $10, already less than all of its competition, but you can’t cross a hotel lobby without finding a coupon for $5.99. Packages are available if you’d like to chase your game with all-you-can-eat pizza from the Cicis conveniently built right into the Bonanza mountain range.

Then there’s the actual play.

The design abides by no chain standard. From most tees, a hole-in-one is only possible by dizzying mathematical probability. The cups aren’t always easy to spot, often guarded by a ridge just high enough to ruin gimme-putts and just low enough to hide in plain sight. Instead of the usual bricks or planks, holes are lined with jagged plaster rocks, making banked shots no less strategic than playing blindfolded. By the end, scorecards read like phone numbers.

But you just can’t beat the sum of its kitschy parts.

Bonanza’s website brags about the height of its mountains and the gurgle of its waterfalls, 21,000 gallons strong. You already know if you’ve passed the place - GOLF is spelled out in block letters across the highest peaks like a monument to the sport. In a way, it is. This is miniature golf in its purest form. A completely incongruous artificial landscape. A goofy, if borderline nominal theme. No discernible advantage between surgical aim and kamikaze force. Affordable enough for any night out. Built over a pizza buffet and a gift shop that, until recently, was still selling postcards for Kongfrontation.

Now that's what putt-putt is all about.

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