Written by Robert Niles
Published: July 11, 2005 at 3:54 PM
Legoland California this month follows up an impressive string of new attractions with Wild Woods Golf, a dud of a course that left many kids frustrated and their parents wondering why they'd bothered paying the extra money.
We do not usually list or review extra-fee attractions on Theme Park Insider. I prefer our focus be on those attractions which come part of your daily ticket -- after all, you've spent quite enough on that already. Plus, most extra-fee attractions tend to be one-dimensional gimmicks -- arcades, rock climbs, go karts -- that one can find at any asphalt-lot carnival.
But I decided to give Wild Woods Golf a go, simply because Legoland has done such compelling work recently and I was curious to see what the company could do with a miniature golf course. (A round of 18 holes on Wild Woods Golf costs $5, in addition to regular park admission. Premium annual passholders pay half price.)
My curiosity was further stoked by Legoland's reticence to use the phrase "miniature golf" in describing its new attraction. Park officials, in press releases and personal interviews, took great care to portray Wild Woods Golf as a "kids' sized" course rather than a miniature one, in an obvious attempt to avoid expectations of clowns' mouths and windmills. Here, they said, the focus would be on the game of golf. Legoland even enlisted a golf-equipment company to sponsor the course and to craft specially-designed clubs, with Lego-brick markings on the heads to help kids better line up their putts.
So when Natalie opted for a day at Legoland on her birthday this Sunday, I suggested we play a round of Wild Woods Golf, too.
Lego officials had described the course honestly. No clown mouths. No windmills. No spiral tubes. Just a series of putting greens with enough breaks to challenge anyone without a PGA Tour card. I lined up several shots using the Lego-themed guide on my putter, only to watch them take nasty breaks away from the cup that would make proud any sadistic USGA official during Open Week.
And that's when I realized that most children simply have not yet developed the necessary masochism to play "grown-up" golf. If a task frustrates them, they ignore the rules and try to craft their own, more pleasing game. And if that doesn't work, they quit and move on to something else. Kids can see the fun in whacking a ball into a clown's mouth. But, without instruction, almost none will show the discipline to teach themselves how to read a green and line up a putt.
I did not see a single child under the age of 10 playing the course as it was intended to be played. Most just ran around, batting their clubs at still-moving balls or brandishing them as swords and other assorted weapons. I made the mistake of gently trying to show my two kids and my daughter's best friend how to do it right, only to be rewarded a few holes later with the site of my daughter, the Birthday Girl, running from the course, tears streaming down her face.
"I'M NEVER PLAYING GOLF IN MY LIFE!"
Not exactly the response Wild Woods Golf's golf-equipment sponsor was hoping for, I suspect.
In retrospect, the concept just doesn't work. Golf isn't a kiddie game. If kids are to learn it, they need some instruction. Lego used to do this sort of thing well, such as with Driving School, a instructional attraction where kids drive their own cars to learn the rules of the road.
Unfortunately, Lego crippled Driving School when it redesigned the queue after signing Volvo to sponsor the attraction. Before, the vital instructional video played on a queue wall, in a position where riders were forced to watch before going out on the course. Now, a Volvo occupies that preshow space, and the video plays on overhead monitors in the queue. Never mind that youngsters can't see above the adults waiting with them to watch those overhead screens, and can't hear them even if they could see. So most kids now go out on to the course unprepared and smash away.
Driving School needs preshow instruction to work. And Wild Woods Golf needs it, too.
Why not take those five-dollar greens fees and pay for a small practice green, with a Model Citizen to help each child select a club and learn how to use it? A moment of individual instruction would help kids focus on the game, instead of swinging metal sticks around the woods, which appears the best as can be hoped for under the current arrangement.
A extra body on the course might help Lego's Model Citizens better focus on the overall customer experience, too. When we turned in our clubs and balls after just nine holes, the harried young lady who was left to run the attraction by herself made no effort to inquire why we were leaving early, with a crying child in tow. If anything, her expression gave no indication that ours was anything other than normal behavior.
Perhaps, on this course, it isn't.
* * *
Save your money, instead, for Brickfest, Legoland's underpublicized early-admission breakfast buffet. Each morning at 9, Lego opens the Sports Cafe for a yummy morning meal, while also opening the nearby AquaZone Wave Racers, Bionicle Blaster and Technic Coaster for early riders. Fifteen bucks for adults and seven for kids, in addition to park admission, gets you in for the buffet and the rides.
The spread includes all-you-can-eat cinnamon French toast, scrambled eggs with cheese and tomatoes, hash browns, bacon, sausage, cold cereals, fresh fruit, bagels and cream cheese as well as drinks. The Sports Cafe has long been one of my favorite theme park restaurants with food, in my opinion, on par with annual Theme Park Insider Award winning-restaurant Mythos, at Universal's Islands of Adventure. And the Sports Cafe does not disappoint with this breakfast. While it lacks the made-to-order omelets and waffles that could have put it over the top, this selection beats many hotel breakfasts buffets offered at higher cost. And they don't include an hour of private riding time at Legoland.
Don't bother looking for information about Brickfest at Legoland's front gate, however. For whatever reason, there isn't any. There are no signs. It isn't listed at the ticket windows. Getting a ticket to Brickfest is like ordering a Double-Double "Animal Style" at In-N-Out. The secret best value in the theme park business is only for those in the know.
Too bad for Legoland, because I suspect a good many of the folks queue up at 9:15 a.m. last Sunday for the park's 10 a.m. opening could have been upsold on Brickfest, had they known about it. But they didn't. Which left more food, and no ride waits, for us.
Consider yourself now "in the know."