'Wild Woods' Is Too Wild for Young Golfers

Legoland California's hot streak with new attractions comes to a close with a kids-sized course that's too much frustration and not enough fun. Save your money for the park's breakfast buffet, instead.

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Published: July 11, 2005 at 3:54 PM

Hot streaks can't last forever.

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.

Wild Woods Golf at Legoland California
Two young golfers on the course at Wild Woods Golf.

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.


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."

Readers' Opinions

From Chuck Campbell on July 11, 2005 at 7:30 PM
Sheesh--what good is a mini-golf course without a clown head or a windmill? Now the Magic Carpet courses and Kings Beach Mini-Golf at Lake Tahoe--they know how to do it right.
From Russell Meyer on July 12, 2005 at 6:42 AM
A lot of the newer miniature golf courses are like this one. Getting rid of the windmills and clown's mouths allows for easier upkeep, and more money can be used for landscaping instead of paint for all of the props and to make sure they're working correctly. I tend to like these newer courses, as they play more like a real golf course (I have played a round of real golf once in my life, and may not do it again). I can see how it would be really frustrating for kids who cannot read the greens, but isn't hitting that fan blade equally frustrating? These types of miniture golf courses are becoming increasingly popular at driving ranges, some even have sand traps and simulated "roughs" where the turf is a little longer and plays slower. The idea is that the kids can start learning the game of golf early, and become a good putter before they hit the driving range. There are even some courses approved by the USGA, and in College Park, MD, there's one that was designed by Jack Nicklaus.

From George Jackson on July 12, 2005 at 9:04 AM
I don't think most people and kids go to a theme park of any type to actually learn the finer points of any game or sport. A golf experience at a theme park should be over the top (themed and have silly suprises) and designed to be fun for all. Its a different expectation than if you take your family to one of the newer and harder to putt mini golf courses.
From Jason Lester on July 12, 2005 at 10:40 AM
I agree with George. Mini golf is supposed to be fun, and only a little bit challenging.

You're not trying to teach kids to be pro golfers, you want them to have fun.

From Robert Niles on July 12, 2005 at 12:28 PM
I think what Lego tried to do here, as the courses Russell alluded to have as well, is to create something other than Mini Golf -- Post-Mini Golf, if you will. The intent is something more like the real game of golf than the game of Mini Golf, which really is something else entirely.

Yes, Mini Golf has its challenges. But a youngsters' eyes and hands can react better to the oversized stimuli of Mini Golf than the subtle green terrain of the Legoland course. That should not prohibit kids from playing Post-Mini Golf, or real golf, for that matter. But kids need a little instruction to avoid the frustration that might drive them away from the game forever.

From Jason Lester on July 12, 2005 at 12:49 PM
It's Legoland and that's why it's a mistake. If this was a course at some family fun center or another theme park it wouldn't matter.

Legoland is targeted at younsters who aren't interetsed in post-mini golf. They want real mini golf with fun colors and obstacles. At Legoland, this type of course doesn't cut it.

From George Jackson on July 12, 2005 at 2:51 PM
Look- one of the mistakes made here is that there is nothing on this golf experience to make you feel like you are at a theme park. Here's a simple idea that I think would improve the situation a lot. Have a mini, putt-putt version of some of the more famous holes in golf. For example, you could putt the road hole at ST. Andrews complete with miniature road and miniature surrounding architecture and landscape. That would at least distract those who aren't as interested in putting by giving them something cute to look at.
From Jason Lester on July 12, 2005 at 6:40 PM
But this is Legoland. No kid is going to know about St. Andrews!
From Joe Lane on July 12, 2005 at 6:46 PM
Sports Cafe on par with Mythos?

I wish I could get out to Cali, now, just to check this place out.

From Robert Niles on July 12, 2005 at 8:28 PM
Well, the atmosphere is nothing like Mythos. It looks like a basic cafeteria dining room, with banners and bobbleheads adorning the walls and a Lego playroom in the back. But the food is superb. I especially like the glazed salmon with Japanese rice and grilled asparagus for lunch.

Legoland's one of my favorite theme parks for food, along with IoA, Epcot and the SeaWorld parks. Even the counter service stuff here is good -- they go Hebrew National for the hot dogs, for example.

From Robert Niles on July 12, 2005 at 8:35 PM
Actually, I think George's idea is inspired. Think of it as a golf-themed Miniland that you can play through. It'd be tough to execute -- the St. Andrews example would be among the easier ones because it would involved buildings (which could be depicted in Lego). The others would require more miniature flora, which is much tougher to maintain.
From Jason Lester on July 12, 2005 at 11:18 PM
I think it would be a good idea any place other than Legoland where children won't even know where they're playing.

Maybe a mini golf course with a Miniland environment of famous places other then golf courses could work. But no famous golf courses in Legoland.

As to the Mythos/Cafe thing, I've always thought if a restaurant has atmosphere and great food, that tops a restaurant with just the food.

From George Jackson on July 13, 2005 at 1:04 PM
Jason is right. No kid is going to know about the famous holes in golf. But - they might be interested after playing the a bunch of holes with this theme. At least they have a greater chance of being interested in golf than they would after being frusterated by overly challenging holes. Robert - thanks for the "inspired" comment. I grew up in Florida on Tampa's east side (easy access to I-4 and the theme parks) and find this web site addicting. I have to limit myself to one or two visits a day.
From Robert Niles on July 13, 2005 at 2:27 PM
I don't know how many kids know about Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, or many of the other details in Miniland, either. But Legoland does work well to mix in enough detail to interest parents, too, so I think a golf-themed Miniland-type attraction could work. But there still needs to be some space where a Model Citizen, or at least parents, can provide kids with a little instruction before they play.
From Jason Lester on July 14, 2005 at 10:48 AM
With Miniland they don't need to know about the specific things in New Orleans. As long as they know what New Orleans is they can appreciate and marvel at the Lego designs. Besides, the specific things are more for the parents, the kids just like the Legos.

Mini golf isn't about getting children into golf. It's about having fun.

From Dave Land on September 1, 2005 at 5:21 PM
When we saw that the "We Will Rock You" static display had been replaced with what looked to be a totally un-themed mini-golf course, my wife and son kind of scratched our heads. If they had made any effort to make it a Lego miniature golf course (other than the custom putters), it might have worked. Oh, well: this park is so full of hits, I think we can spot them a couple of misses.

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