McKenzie Kirvin was happy to play through Dan’s Miniature Golf in Ballston Lake on a late summer night.
McKenzie was happy anyway.
On this particular evening, with more people lining up for milk shakes and banana splits than for putters and purple golf balls, the energetic 4-year-old had time to explore the red barn, kangaroo, space ship and other elaborate challenges at the course on Round Lake Road, near the Adirondack Northway.
Miniature golf, great for dates and family outings, is winding down in many Capital Region places. People are getting in their last licks before local courses close down for the fall.
Regulation golf courses will head into autumn with more colors along the fairways — and more challenges, once leaves start to frustrate the hook-and-slice set — and less time to squeeze in 18 holes. Sunset tonight is shortly after 7:30 p.m.; a quartet starting 18 holes at 4 p.m. is probably going to need flashlights for the finish.
Dan Roerig, who owns the combination course and ice cream stand — cool stuff for the latter is inside an old D&H Railroad car — said the golf-and-snack business is more of a hobby for him. He has other business interests, and is satisfied people can just have a good time at the course. But the good times end Sept. 6, when the place closes for the season.
“Once the kids return to school, the business fades,” Roerig said. “My workforce dries up as well for me. I like the seasonal part of it.”
It can be tough enough during the summer, when county fairs begin competing for summer dollars. And when the big heat of July and August shows up, some people won’t come out at all. They’ll go to the movies and lounge by the pool.
Chris and Kathy Kirvin of Malta seemed to have more fun watching their daughter’s exploration. McKenzie wondered if the small dolphins in the water under the bridge on Hole 14 were real. She examined the red-lighted plastic streams that served as the “flames” under the rocket ship.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Kathy Kirvin, 39, adding her daughter is at an age where attention goes quickly from one thing to the next. “And there’s not too many strict rules.”
Chris Kirvin was more concerned about the rules of nature. He knows what miniature putts in the dark — at 8 p.m. — mean during late August. “Summer is over,” he said.
Pirates Hide-Out will close at the end of September. The Glenville Mini Sportplex on Freeman’s Bridge Road, which offers golf, bumper cars, go-karts and batting cages, will close Sept. 18.
‘Likes to compete’
Taulie Frierson, 20, of Troy, wanted to make sure she got in a few more swings at Pirates with her sister, Lailie, 6, and their friend Dylan Wood, 20, also of Troy.
“She loves the game,” Taulie said of her sister, who took great care planning her putts. “She likes to compete, and she likes to eat.”
The eating takes place at the end of the round. The Hide-Out, like other miniature golf places, offers a big ice cream and sandwich menu. But the course is the big attraction. It’s filled with miniature trees, trimmed shrubs, stone beds and flowers such as marigolds, zinnias and black-eyed Susans. A wooden bridge, blue lagoon, black cannon and pirate’s ship mast are nods to life under the Jolly Roger.
“We used to stay open until Columbus Day, but people aren’t thinking about ice cream and golf,” said Al Parker, who owns the Hide-Out. “They’re apple picking, and there’s football.”
Like the service crew at Dan’s Miniature Golf, some of the young men and women serving chocolate milk shakes and cheeseburgers at Pirates’ will leave for classroom engagements. Parker said he tries not to hire too many people who will be make early departures.
“I’ve had kids, they want to quit work a month before they have to leave because they want to spend time with their boyfriend or girlfriend,” Parker said. “Some of these kids don’t want to work.”
In September, Parker will change his hours on the weekdays. Where people can begin visits this coming week at 11 a.m., after school starts the business will open at 3 p.m. The golf course and restaurant mates will also close an hour earlier, at 9 p.m.
“We’ll be doing more ice cream and food at that point,” Parker said.
While golf fans might think summer is the boom time for the miniature game, Parker said that’s not the case. People love their first times on the course, and that happens during early spring.
“That’s our best time, March and April,” Parker said. “You get a 65-degree day in April and it’s like a whole different world than a 75-degree day in October. It’s a whole other mind set. You want to get out, you want to enjoy the spring.”
For Sarah and Mark DeForest of Clifton Park, golf was a family affair last weekend. Daughters Maddy, 11, and Ava, 10, were along for the challenge.
“We only got out a couple of times this year,” Sarah DeForest said. “We had a broken arm.”
That was Maddy. She raised her right arm, all pretty much healed now and ready for autumn.
“For us, it’s apple season.,” Sarah said.
For Duncan Kerr, it’s still golf season. His late-night appearance at Pirates’ followed a local 18-hole tournament earlier in the day. Kerr was glad for the evening competition with his wife Colleen Kerr and stepdaughter Katie Falconio. “I think I finished in the top three,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.
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