Exotic adventures await mini-golf fans in Yarmouth

The Taylor brothers would be proud.

New York mini golf developers Joseph and Robert Taylor are credited with the zany idea of placing windmills, wishing wells, and other elaborate obstacles into their courses. Who knew the trend they started in 1938 would evolve to such extremes?

Thanks to the brothers’ Taylor, today’s mini golf courses are one part Pebble Beach and nine parts Disney – with creative obstacles that not only make it more challenging to sink the ball in the cup but also draw families with children who revel in the theme-park settings.

It’s enough to make you smile at muffing a 2-foot “gimme.”

Yarmouth residents and visitors are lucky enough to have four flamboyant mini golf courses in town, each with its own assortment of ostentatious obstacles – from life-sized jungle animals to a half-sunken pirate’s galleon to Captain Ahab and the elusive white whale. But the icing on the kitschy cake has got to be the giant steam-spewing skull with light-up eye sockets just a couple miles west of the Bass River Bridge.

SKULL ISLAND AT BASS RIVER SPORTS WORLD

Skull Island Adventure Golf wasn’t always a maze of waterfalls, mountains, and palm trees.

When owner Lou Nickinello and his father Tony opened 60 years ago in 1961, it was essentially a flat course with traditional sculptures. The holes were challenging, Nickinello said, but it wasn’t nearly the attraction that it is today.

Nickinello hired Castle Golf and spent two years renovating and expanding the old facility to create an elaborate Swiss Family Robinson-themed minigolf adventure park – complete with 18 challenging holes.

Today Skull Island is a 38,000 square-foot-marvel, with 20 waterfalls, 25 fountains, a haunted treasure cave, and a towering treehouse. Nearly a quarter-acre of the course’s surface area is covered in water.

Every hole has a water obstacle, and all 18 holes are challenging. But the hardest hole might be No. 3, which runs uphill, Nickinello said. If you don’t hit it just right, the ball comes rolling back down.

When the redesigned Skull Island first opened, not everyone was a fan of the giant namesake statue, Nickinello said. But today, the skull is a Route 28 landmark. It’s a familiar meeting place and a setting for parties, functions, and charity events. It hosted this summer’s Yarmouth Pirate Festival and it marks the starting area for the town’s world-famous St. Patrick’s Parade. Wedding parties pull up in their limos so people can get out and take pictures with the iconic skull, Nickinello said.

If you want more than a 90-minute round of minigolf, Skull Island Sports World is ready to accommodate. The sprawling complex at 934 Main St. (Route 28) in South Yarmouth also features a driving range, batting cages, a go-kart track, and an indoor arcade. That means you can practice your long game or your short game, while the kids ride go-karts or play in the arcade.

Skull Island’s season runs from April 1 through the end of September. Find more information on prices, birthday parties, special events, and hours by calling 508-398-6070 or visiting skullislandcapecod.com.

WILD ANIMAL LAGOON

Can’t make it to the zoo this summer? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered – with 18 holes of challenging mini golf to boot.

Wild Animal Lagoon, 62 Main Street (Route 28), West Yarmouth, offers the chance to putt your way past elephants, a mountain gorilla, a white-horned rhinoceros, and other exotic beasts – all while listening to the roar of cascading waterfalls.

The course features bank shots and boulders to make the putting more interesting, along with watering holes where jungle-themed statues hang out. Think of a bellowing hippopotamus and sunbathing crocodile. By the way, have you ever tried to sink a putt while standing next to a giraffe and fighting the shadow of a crashed airplane? Here’s your chance.

Call 508-790-1662 or visit https://www.wildanimallagoon.com/ for prices, a coupon, and more information.

PUTTER’S PARADISE MINI-GOLF

Maybe you’re a Cape Cod traditionalist, who prefers lighthouses, sea captains, and spouting whales for mini golf statuaries. If so, head straight to Putter’s Paradise, 119, Main St. (Route 28) in West Yarmouth.

The 18-hole course features concrete statues of a stern-looking Captain Ahab holding a harpoon in search of the elusive white whale – which just happens to be spouting water in the nearby lagoon. There’s also a concrete lighthouse, lobsterman, and squirming pink octopus clutching a putter, all created by local artist T.J. Neil.

After your round of minigolf, you can pick up an ice cream cone, smoothie, frozen yogurt, or sundae made with Gifford’s ice cream from Skowhegan, Maine. And what could be cooler than that?

Call 508-771-7394 or visit puttersparadise.net for more information.

PIRATE’S COVE ADVENTURE GOLF

You’ll find more cascading waterfalls – along with caves, skulls (albeit considerably smaller than the big one at Skull Island), and a model pirate ship – at Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf, 728 Main St., (Route 28) in South Yarmouth. Pirate’s Cove is one of more than two dozen pirate-themed minigolf courses in a chain that stretches from Florida to New Hampshire and Arkansas to South Dakota.

The Yarmouth Pirate’s Cove features two 18-hole courses – the Captain’s Course and Blackbeard’s Course, which is handicap accessible. (There’s also a special rate for those who want to play all 36 holes.)

Pirate’s Cove is usually open into October, but this year the attraction will close Sept. 12 for renovations before opening again in the spring of 2022, according to the company’s website.

Call 508-394-6200 or visit piratescove.net/locations/massachusetts/south-yarmouth/ for more information.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

Yarmouth retailers learn from COVID-19 hardships

shopping bags

Online ordering, curbside pickup, virtual merchandising, and personally reaching out to loyal customers are some of the creative strategies used by Yarmouth retailers to buoy their sagging bottom lines during the COVID-19 shutdown. And now that Massachusetts businesses are reopening, some local merchants say they will retain the strategies into summer and beyond.

First-year trial for Cape Cod Toy Chest

Matt Barbo, owner of the Cape Cod Toy Chest on Route 28 in West Yarmouth, says he was hit particularly hard by the pandemic because he had only been in business for 10 months when he was forced to close. But loyal patrons stayed with him during March and April, thanks to a combination of online marketing and old-fashioned customer service.

Barbo said the Cape Cod Toy Chest has an informational website, which doesn’t feature a shopping cart for online purchases. So customers would visit the website, see something they liked and then call the store to make their purchases. “When customers arrived at the store, they would call from their vehicles and I would make eye contact and wave to them through the window,” he said, “just to make sure it was the right person.” Barbo would then put the items outside the door for pickup, so there was never any face-to-face contact.

He also used social media and text messaging to communicate with customers, sending photos and suggesting items, like birthday gifts for a nephew who collected Batman toys. And he moved his most popular items to storefront-window displays, posting signs with instructions on how to make purchases.

Now that the Cape Cod Toy Chest has reopened and employees are back to work, Barbo said he will continue taking telephone phone orders while reinventing some of the fun promotions he sponsored before the pandemic. The store had quickly gained support (and a reader award from Cape Cod Life) for its hands-on style — hosting family parties, events, games, and even creating an activities area where visitors could experiment with art supplies. That kind of personal interaction is no longer allowed under social distancing requirements, so Barbo converted the activities area to additional display space and began hosting a Facebook Live bingo tournament. (The bingo games are being taken over by the Yarmouth Library now that the store has reopened, he said.)

Barbo watches the number of people inside the store (his limit is 16 people including staff). There’s also a heightened focus on cleaning surface areas, and he pays attention to items that customers handle, then he follows with sanitizing supplies. A detailed description of how the store is handling its Phase 2 opening can be found on the Cape Cod Toy Chest’s website.

The decision to continue policies that helped customers during the shutdown is a way of thanking people for their business, Barbo explained. “Every little bit that people reached out for something, it helped bridge the gap.” The shutdown was still a major setback, he said, “but it was a little less of a catastrophe because people kept me in their minds — which was fantastic and flattering and humbling.”

Innovative Customer Service at Adrene Jewelers

Todd Mendes, co-owner of Adrene Jewelers, had already closed his doors a week before Gov. Charlie Baker’s March 24 shutdown of nonessential businesses. Mendes was banking on the e-commerce generated by the store’s website, which makes up 30 percent of Adrene Jewelers’ income. He was also taking appointments with customers for specific jewelry items or to replace watch batteries.

But after the shutdown business was slow, including online commerce, Mendes said. So he followed the advice of his wife and business partner Amanda Mendes, who suggested he create virtual showcases of the store’s merchandise. Mendes used social media to let customers know about the service.

Those who want to check out Adrene Jewelers’ inventory can contact Mendes to set up a session on FaceTime, Google Meetings, Zoom, or most any other video conferencing application. He cited the example of a gentleman who wanted to purchase a pair of diamond earrings for his daughter’s graduation.

“I just did a FaceTime with him and showed him what I had in stock for diamond earrings,” Mendes said. He made the sale, took credit card payment over the phone, wrapped up the graduation gift, and then personally delivered it.

As businesses open up in Yarmouth and across the state, Mendes says he will continue to use traditional and social media to reach customers. He’s still working part time at the store, and arranging meetings for repairs, watch batteries and customized work. His business is less than 1,000 square feet of retail space, which would accommodate eight people under state guidelines. But he noted that he has so many display cases that he only allows two customers in the store at a time, which allows ample space to remain 6 feet away from others. He has chairs outside, and he will work with customers who aren’t comfortable coming indoors.

Mendes says he will continue to create customized jewelry while keeping an inventory of his top sellers — LeStage Convertibles and Cape Cod Jewelry. He is also holding monthly drawings for a $100 gift certificate to the store. And those who don’t win go into a database and receive $25 gift certificates on their birthdays.

Being flexible and finding innovative ways to keep your customers satisfied are keys to running any business — especially a small, family-owned store like Adrene Jewelers, said Mendes, who strives to provide a level service that a person will always remember and later describe to others.

 “Word-of-mouth advertising is a very powerful tool,” he noted.

Back in the swing at Fit to a Tee golf shop

Keeping customers safe and comfortable is an ongoing concern — especially after the recent spike in COVID-19 cases across Florida, Texas and other states that mishandled their openings. Meticulous attention to safety is now part of the daily routine at Fit to a Tee Golf Shop on Route 28 in South Yarmouth.

Massachusetts golfers began hitting the links as soon as Gov. Baker allowed courses to reopen on May 7. The move released pent-up enthusiasm for the sport, said Fit to a Tee owner John Perrone. So business has been steady, as those who love the game got back outdoors and into the swing.

During the shutdown, commerce was at a standstill, Perrone said. The store and adjacent driving range at Bass River Sports were closed, and lessons were canceled. But as restrictions eased, John and his father, John (Jack) Perrone, helped customers return to the sport while working to ease concerns about safety, cleanliness and social distancing.

“I wipe down just about everything that customers can touch,” John Perrone said. “You do as much as possible to keep people comfortable and safe.” Face masks are de rigueur, and maintaining adequate space for customers and staff to remain at least 6 feet apart is mandatory.

Fit to a Tee is a full-service pro-shop, offering repairs, regripping, club fitting, and lessons via an indoor golf simulator and an outdoor section of the Bass River Sports driving range. The outdoor facilities provide plenty of open space for lessons, Jack Perrone said. But personal protective equipment is still required. (A post on the store’s Facebook Page reads: “I’m a Golf Pro not a politician so let’s wear a mask and stay at least 6 ft from each other and be safe.”)

The result? Business has been better than expected. “It hasn’t been great, but it’s been steady, and that in itself is great,” John Perrone said. He added that more people are entering the sport so there’s a greater demand for lessons.

Customers have responded well to the safety measures, too. “Everybody seems to be cognizant of what they should do, Jack Perrone said. “And even though we’re not a big, big, store, they seem to understand the 6 feet of space. And we also try to direct traffic,” he said.

In the coming months, the owners say they will continue to work with customers, keeping both patrons and employees safe. John Perrone is the resident golf pro, and he is back to giving lessons by appointment, said his father, Jack. To make an appointment, call John Perrone at 508-398-4653 or visit fit-to-a-tee.com for more information.

Andy Tomolonis is a nonfiction author, travel writer and multimedia journalist.