Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Almost Free Fun in Northern Virginia: Mini-Golf

A year ago, I only knew of local miniature golf courses that cost $7 (adults) or $6 (kids) for a single game. We used coupons from the summer reading program to reduce the cost a bit, but still paid a pretty penny for six of us to golf at Jefferson Falls Mini-Golf in Falls Church, Virginia.

Now I know better. I've discovered that the regional parks in Fairfax County have much cheaper mini-golf courses. Our family has enjoyed two of them in the past few months, so can compare and contrast them for you. One is Fountainhead Regional Park (in Fairfax Station) and the other is Pohick Bay Regional Park (in Lorton).

Fountainhead is a lovely park along the Occoquan River. It includes many amenities, including mountain bike trails, boat docks, and hiking. We were pleased to find that it also has a mini-golf course that only costs $2 per person! This price is for ball and club rental, and is good for as many games as you care to play during their hours of operation (the park closes at dusk). The course is right in the woods, so has the benefit of being shady. A potential drawback, though, is that tree debris falls onto the course, so if you care about perfectly clean greens, you might be annoyed.

If you care about aesthetics, you'll want to know that there aren't any cute structures built on the course and it is a bit run-down looking. The holes are still creative and fun, challenging us with their bridges and turns, and making us figure out proper angles for success. We cried out in frustration and squealed in glory, as one should in any good mini-golf course. We did not find the pine needles a hindrance in any way and the cheap cost was totally worth the lack of beauty. Another bonus is that a bathroom is close by. It will be my go-to place from now on!

Pohick Bay is a similar park in many regards. It also is on water, located at the bay where the Pohick Creek joins up with the Potomac River. It also has boat docks, hiking trails and additionally features a campground, frisbee golf course, and water park. Its miniature golf course is similar in price to Fountainhead's, but not quite as good: games cost $3 per person at Pohick Bay (again: play as much as you like during open hours, which are likewise 'til dusk).

The course at Pohick is better maintained and nicer looking. While still simple compared to commercial sites, it does have a few structures built on the course and has cleaner greens. The paths and holes are all in good repair, and my daughter especially appreciated the beauty of it. The bathroom is farther away, though, and is not obvious as one has to hike a short trail through woods to get to it. We had a great time playing at Pohick Bay, but I don't think the slightly better condition and looks were worth the extra money. To most people the extra $1 is not a big deal, but it adds up when you pay for many players.

So if you're looking for family fun in the D.C. suburbs, give these regional parks a try! I'm so glad we did. We love the memories we're making with our kids, the laughter we enjoy together, and even the improved skills the more we play! It's not quite free, but worth every dollar.

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