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Monday, August 27, 2012
Kauffman Stadium: home of … mini-golf?

By Matt Lindner
Special to ESPN.com

Kauffman Stadium
Kansas City Royals fans can play mini golf in center field if they want a break from baseball.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When a franchise has finished better than .500 just three times in the past 20 seasons, marketing departments have to get creative to keep fans coming back to the ballpark.

If you’re the Kansas City Royals, part of that plan involves building a mini-golf course inside Kauffman Stadium.

“It’s a little odd to see at a baseball stadium,” Carrie Bligh, the team’s director of event operations and fan experience, acknowledges with a laugh.

The five-hole, par-11 course sits in the shadow of the team’s iconic, crown-topped center-field scoreboard and was brought in as part of the stadium renovations prior to the 2009 season.

The only one of its kind in the major leagues, the course costs just $2 to play, so the Royals don’t view it as a moneymaking enterprise.

“We’re not going to be signing any major contracts just solely based off the income we’re making off the putt-putt course,” Bligh said.

While the course was designed to enhance the overall fan experience, Bligh says it’s been a draw for another set of ballpark visitors as well.

“I’ve seen players prior to the gates opening go out there with a putter from our team and other teams,” she said. “There might have been some egos at stake during those championship rounds.”

Mini-duffers face a number of baseball-themed obstacles, including a giant baseball they must knock the ball through and into the hole, an obstacle Bligh says is designed to get things started on the right foot.

Kauffman Stadium
The five-hole course at Kauffman Stadium costs $2 to play and includes baseball-themed obstacles.
“The giant baseball on the first hole, actually he’s kind of the Buddha out there, so you can do a pat on the giant baseball head and you can breeze through the rest of the holes out there,” she said. “It’s your little good luck charm.”

On the second hole, golfers must hit a reverse single up the middle in order to get a hole in one, going over a pitcher’s mound and into a hole on a slightly-raised home plate. Hole three features a water hazard that Bligh says has seen many golfers meet their demise.

“We drag the lake once a homestand to drag out all the balls that got lost into the pond,” she said. “It’s quite the little bear trap out there.”

But the biggest challenge, at least for Royals fan Ryan Doannou, was the bat rack on hole No. 4.

“Definitely the bats, you gotta get through the bats,” he said. “That’s hard.”

So why’d they go with only five holes instead of nine or 18 like most mini-golf courses?

Bligh said the team had a limited amount of space because they had to shoehorn the golf course alongside other attractions such as a carousel and a batting cage in the outfield.

On the day ESPN Playbook went to check out the course, there was a steady line going before the game. Bligh says that’s pretty typical as fans trickle into the ballpark and stumble upon it as they’re exploring the concourse. Bligh said things will generally pick back up around the third inning.

Of course, the ultimate goal is for the course to help shape future generations of Royals fans to the point where they won’t feel the need to hit the links every time they visit the park.

“Kids are going to remember coming out here since they were knee-high to a weed, and they’re going to remember coming out and seeing Sluggerrr and going to mini-golf or going on the carousel, and eventually they’re going to be coming out here strictly to watch baseball,” she said. “It’s worked well for us.”