We've been having some very lovely days recently, so one nice evening last week I headed down to Old Orchard Lanes & Links for a round of miniature golf. Of course I couldn't just leave it at that and have a good time puttin' around and drinking beers, I just had to review each and every hole. Well actually just the 18 holes in the "Orange Course," there's a whole other "Blue Course" that I guess I'll save for a future column.
Pre-game impressions: Wow! There are little cup holders on every hole for your drinks! This is great!
I’ve got my golf duds on, I’ve got my trusty yellow club and matching ball, I’ve got a Bud Light Lime, and I’m ready to party.
Tom's Score: 4
Real Tom Quote: “Shit. SHIT. Alright, gettin’ back in the groove, it’s been awhile since I’ve putted in any context.”
So, there’s a little path around the boulder on the left hand side, but there’s absolutely no reason you should ever go that route since you can just take a straight shot from the tee off right to the hole.
Tom's Score: 5 “FUCK ME. HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?”
Don’t let the canyon of bushes intimidate you, this just a simple dogleg right, though there is a “sand trap” (actually a carpet trap) down near the hole. It should be easy to avoid.
HONEST TO GOD, a freight train went by right as I was trying to shoot and MESSED ME UP!
Tom's Score: 3 “Goddamn trains. Can’t they see I’m trying to concentrate?!”
Alright, Hole 4 is where the difficulty level of the Orange Course ramps up enormously. Suddenly there’s a narrow land bridge you have to cross or else your ball will go in the drink.
Well folks, I made it over the bridge and my ball still went in the drink. Sigh.
Even though this is the Orange Course, all the water for both courses is dyed blue. I do not like it. It looks like Powerade and it makes it extra weird to try and scoop your ball out of the pond. Like, “is this water gonna dye my hands? My clothes?” No thanks.
Anyway, I can’t be that mad at Hole 4 cuz it provides some real, old-fashioned mini golf bullshit.
Tom's Score: 4
I don’t even know how you’d have to mess up to get your ball in the water on this one. You’d have to really be trying to fail.
Tom's Score: 2 “HELL YEAH”
Hah! You thought I’d fuck this one up too eh readers? Well, I was finally getting the hang of this of this tiny golfing, so NO MORE HILARIOUS MISHAPS.
This is the closest hole to the active power station next door, so that’s fun and exciting.
Tom's Score: 2 “Sweet holy crapples, my ‘bounce the ball off the rock in the center’ plan actually worked!”
One of several holes on this course which has been designed in a lab specifically to punish those players who “drive” their balls too hard. Gotta respect a hole like this. Mini golf isn’t about POWER it’s about FINESSE, and don’t you forget it BUB.
Tom's Score: 3 “FINESSE FINESSE FINESSE FINESSE OHTHANKGOD.”
Just DO NOT look in the bush and you’ll be fine. It is a spooky bush.
Oh hey there’s a REAL PLANT somehow living in this FAKE PLANT. That’s not allowed. Old Orchard Links needs to fix this pronto.
Tom's Score: 2 “Birdie! Woohoo!”
Looks simple until you notice the deadly indentation on the left side. IT IS THE PIT OF DESPAIR. AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
Tom's Score: 4 “Aw pisss.”
Don’t veer left.
Tom's Score: 2 “Ugh, I have to finesse AGAIN?”
Very sharp left turn here, but whatever. There’s also a convenient trash can right next to the green for your empty drinks. Or if you get super fed up and need to immediately and vehemently throw away your club, ball, scorecard, tiny pencil, and golf hat, the trash can will hold all of that too.
One nasty surprise though, the actual hole here was partially filled with water and algae. Gross. But that’s the kind of thing you gotta deal with as a miniature golfer.
Tom's Score: 2
The Waterfall - “Powerade Falls”
I wanted to take the time to point out that there is a perfectly good waterfall on this course but IT’S NOT ACTUALLY A PART OF ANY HOLE, which honestly is a mini golf crime of the highest order. If there’s a waterfall on your course, I need to be shooting into it or out of it, or off of it, or something.
Gasp, a precarious mound right in the center of this green. Good thing it’s not in the way at all.
Tom's Score: 2 “I just wanna climb up that waterfall! Aww nuts.”
Seems like they were worried about 13 being unlucky so they made it super easy.
Tom's Score: 2
This is the hole that will take you closest to the waterfall. Also, it’s got a convenient power outlet… for when you really need to charge your phone, or your golf cart if you brought one.
Tom's Score: 2 “GAH, this dumb bush is right in the way of my butt.”
Next to hole #4, this one is about as wacky as this course gets. There’s a hole to the right, which leads down a tunnel and dumps you out in roughly the direction of the actual hole.
Basically the fun tunnel hole should be completely ignored though. Just putt towards the real one.
Tom's Score: 2 “You can’t fool me Old Orchard Links, that ball tunnel is just a fun distraction, and FUN is the opposite of WINNING.”
OK, here we go: this hole combines a number of elements from previous holes into one challenging combo. It’s got a water hazard (with fountain!) which is actually in a direction you might be shooting towards, it’s got a rock smack dab in the center, and it’s got a tight turn.
Tom's Score: 3 “Ok, I’m gonna shoot just to the left of the rock and end up right by the… nonononoNOOOOOOOOOO.”
Step 1 - don’t hit the rock. Step 2 - don’t roll down the incline into the carpet. Got it.
Tom's Score: 3 “I’d be doing way better if I had another Bud Light Lime.”
Here it is! The final challenge! What this course has been building towards for 17 other grueling holes! And it’s uh, just a sad little island with a lamppost in it.
Tom's Score: 2 “Woohooo now I can go get dinner!”
VERDICT: I was gonna rank all 18 of these holes from worst to best, but honestly, none of them are that compelling, so let’s talk about Old Orchard Links in general.
This is a nice little mini golf course. It’s pretty clean, it’s cheap, and you can have some fun putting around, but there’s no unifying theme here! You’d think with and Orange Course and a Blue Course there’d be an Illini theme, but there’s really not. Beyond the flags and dyed water, there’s nothing “U of I” about any of this. There’s maybe a vague Southwestern theme what with the red rocks, and occasional pointy plants, but that’s not taken far enough. Also, what are these sad planters here for?
I realize that heavily theming your mini golf course is an expensive and potentially dangerous proposition. If you pick a bad theme you’ll alienate some players, and if you pick something trendy, it might become tacky in just a few years (you don’t see many Austin Powers mini golf courses anymore). So, here are five humble theme suggestions direct from me to Old Orchard Links that are guaranteed to be both popular, and stand the test of time. Also they all partially use the existing environment for inspiration.
Old West: This is the cheapest option I think, and one that could be done without changing the holes much. Just mount a rusty old mine cart on the top of the waterfall, toss a bunch of fake cow skulls around, have a covered wagon sinking into one of the ponds, and call it a day. YEE HAW!
Car Wash: Old Orchard Lanes & Links already straddles the Savoy Super Wash carwash. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a carwash-themed mini golf course? Instead of rocks and carpet obstacles, you could have WHIRLING SCRUBBY BRUSHES, and JETS OF HOT SOAPY WATER to try and navigate. This one might be expensive, but maybe the Super Wash has some spare parts just lying around?
Renewable Energy: The Orange Course is already right next to a power station, why not use this opportunity to create a fun AND EDUCATIONAL mini golf course that teaches players about different types of power plants. This is how you can bring a much-needed windmill to this golf course, though this would be a wind turbine-style windmill, not the dutch countryside kind. You could have a little model coal plant constantly churning out obscuring smoke, and contrast that with an entire hole made from beautiful, clean solar panels (step carefully folks).
Train: I complained about how that freight train ruined my shot before, but what if there was a whole mini golf course ON A TRAIN? Like each car is a different hole. That’d be mega rad (provided the train wasn’t moving). So Old Orchard; just bulldoze your current courses, buy up 36 gently-used train cars and let’s get this thing started.
Beer: This is the least family-friendly option, but honestly my favorite part of playing this course, and the best part of all golf period (mini, or maxi) is drinkin’ some beers outside. So, why not make a beer-themed mini golf course? There’s no reason that the fake turf needs to be green, just get beer logos printed right on it. A different beer for each hole obviously. Ideally, the themed holes would match the selection at the clubhouse bar. I guarantee you’ll have a different bachelor party or fraternity event there every night!
Alright, this very long column is finally over! Just wanted to say, that even without a theme, the Old Orchard Links Orange Course is still a fun time, and you should go and play a round or two before the snow shows up again.
Photos by Tom Ackerman