Not Your Goofy Mini Golf Game: Nature's Village Course Meant To Challenge

The Hartford Courant

For three or four years, Roger Phillips considered adding a miniature golf course to his network of attractions at Nature's Art Village in Montville, which he and his wife Linda own. If he was going to do it, Phillips says, he wanted to do it right.

The result is the 18-hole, "tournament-style" Copper Creek Mini Golf course, next to the village's best-known exhibit: The Dinosaur Place. The course, built for a half-million dollars with a Western mining-town theme, is marketed as an equal challenge of wits and ability, made more for aficionados and local adults than for children.

Kids under 6 are not allowed on the course — "We don't like them to use it as a playground," one employee says — and Phillips says the inspiration to finally build the course, which opened in July, came from local residents and the village's own business model.

"We had people saying there's nothing to do around here," Phillips says. "People don't want something to buy. They want something to do."

Nature's Art Village's other attractions, especially the sprawling dinosaur exhibit with 40 life-size replica animals and New England's largest Splashpad water park, already satisfy the youth market, Phillips says. But with declining retail revenues at stores, he needed another venture. They wanted something for the high school students who need a date spot, and the adults starving for new activities.

So far, so good. The daily attendance at Copper Creek has been between 250 and 300 people, Phillips says, and the crowd gets older as day turns to night.

"The attendance has surprised us," he says. The distance the customers have traveled has also been surprising. Phillips has had customers from throughout the Northeast, from Massachusetts to Long Island, who come "just to play mini golf" here.

On a recent sunny Thursday, Brian and Diane Rhynard, a married couple in their early 70s, decided to try it out. Brian is an avid golfer — the traditional kind, not miniature — but shoulder surgery abbreviated his season. "This is all the golf he'll get now," his wife jokes.

"It's nice to have something around here," Diane says. "It's nice to get out in the fresh air."

The Rhynards had just finished the fifth hole, which takes the name Opal Outhouse to satisfy the course's theme: Each hole corresponds to a certain stone or gem. The hole is one of "many unique things" about the course, Phillips says.

Players must shoot through a replica outhouse with two "water hazards" meant to imitate waste collectors, or primitive toilets. It's a joke, of course, and there's only filtered water in the holes. "Fortunately no one has tried to use it," he says, joking.

The Western-mining theme is inspired by one of Phillips' early hobbies: mineral collection. He has a mineral store on the campus he takes particular pride in, selling large amethyst geodes and quartz crystals.

To that end, the gems' presence on the course isn't merely symbolic. There are two large crystals, purchased by the Phillips on a trip to Central Brazil, on the first-hole's Quartz Quarry. They're real, as are the amethyst stones, purchased from Uruguay, that adorn the arches of Hole 15, and the calcite blocks from Northern Mexico that abut Hole 7.

The second hole's main obstacle is the Sodalite Saloon, complete with two swinging doors and a horse, and there's an impressive rocky tunnel that passes through the Fluorite Falls after that. Along the way, players will find — and try to avoid — a replica mill and a threatening diamondback snake, assorted water hazards and, oddly, a polar bear.

And while the thematic additions are meant to be educational, they're also meant to frustrate even serious-minded putters. It's not your everyday, goofy course, Phillips insists. Players come to the course, and then they return to see if they can beat their score. It's competitive.

Also on the course that Thursday afternoon were Jerry Santiago, 31, and Adam Montanari, 30, who identified as hardcore mini golf aficionados — the kind Phillips sought. They play wherever they can find a course, and hurried to Copper Creek when they heard about it.

The two were plotting their plans of attack on the front nine. "I was preparing for it. ... I expected it to be hard," one says.

"It's hard, man," the other agreed. "This is definitely unique."

COPPER CREEK MINI GOLF is at 1650 Hartford-New London Turnpike in Montville. Rounds are $11.99 per person, and $10.99 for seniors over 60. Children under 6 are not allowed. The mini golf window is on the right-hand side of The Dinosaur Place. The course opens daily at 10 a.m., and last rounds begin at 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The first nine holes are handicap-accessible. 860-443-4367 and naturesartvillage.com.

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