Monday, October 22, 2007

Bowling vs. Mini Golf

A recent conversation about dating activities raised the following question: Why is bowling more popular than miniature golf for a date? (I don’t know this is true, but based on the relative number of bowling alleys versus mini golf courses in my region, it seems to be.) The obvious answer? Bowling alleys typically serve booze, while mini golf courses don’t.

But that answer raises a different question: Why don’t mini golf courses serve booze? At first, I figured the answer had something to do with geography. A bowling alley can have one bar convenient to all the alleys, and players can go grab drinks during other players’ turns. But given the circuitous nature of mini golf courses, mini golf players would have to walk long and winding paths to and from a single bar.

Still, it seems like there could be some kind of solution. Have employees wander around with trays of food and drink, like at a baseball stadium. Or place small bars in strategic locations between holes (say, between hole 8 and hole 13, which happen to be contiguous in your mini golf course). If mixed drinks take too long to prepare, serve beer and wine only.

A better explanation, I think, is provided by inter-customer externalities. Drunken players tend to take longer to finish, thereby delaying other customers. In a bowling alley, this effect is very limited – you usually only get ten frames, you only get two shots per frame, and you can only delay people whose games have not yet begun. But in a mini golf course, slow play can affect every player behind you on the course. And while there is allegedly some limitation on the number of swings (6 swings max, I believe), players sometimes flout this rule, and in any case 6 swings can take twice as long as 3 (the usual par).

With most inter-customer externalities, the natural solution is to “tax” the players who create it. This could be accomplished by simply charging more per drink. But if the required tax is especially large – as it might be in this case, given how many other players are affected by any one player’s slowness – then the total price could be higher than most players are willing to pay. And with few enough buyers, it’s just not worthwhile to incur the fixed costs of setting up bars, acquiring liquor licenses, and so on. Boozehounds will just have to wait ’til the nineteenth hole.

5 comments:

A Yalie said...

If the cost to other players were the issue, why is alcohol so common at real golf courses?

dgm said...

Bowling, huh? So that's what you kids are doing on dates these days. Back in my youth, mini golf was the place to go and bowling alleys were considered sad remnants of our parents' era.

Jacob Grier said...

Actually, a developer in DC is working on bringing exactly this kind of concept to the H St NE area. It sounds fun:

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/index.php/2007/02/22/par-bar/

Ken King | King Marketing said...

a yalie touches on a related topic - drinking is common at a regular golf course in part because golf carts typically come equipped with 2 cupholders per player, an affordance that makes it easy to keep drinks at hand throughout the round. I prefer to walk and carry my bag, which imposes a cost on me for carrying a beer (or in plainer terms, making it a pain in the ass).

The same is true on a mini-putt course - you're already carrying a putter and golf ball around with you, adding a drink to that mix means that each stroke requires a bit of choreography. Unless, of course, you choose to sacrifice performance for convenience and putt one-handed.

In contrast, players at a bowling alley are seated behind the lane, and have tables to hold their beer, plus plenty of time to socialize and drink their beer between shots.

Hamilton said...

Here you go... have single hole of mini-golf that reconfigures itself after every round to a new geometric shape (boundaries, obstacles, height and depth). Therefore, you stay in front of one "hole" the entire game, much like in bowling.