WILDWOOD - With the opening of Wildwood Mini Golf on Rio Grande Avenue, developer Gary Papa has transformed what was an unappealing section at the entrance to this popular resort city.

The golf course - a first for Papa and partner Joe Costantini, both of whom have homes in Wildwood Crest - is directly across the avenue from Papa's Marina Bay Condominiums at Rio Grande, with 36 residential units.

Papa, 54, also owns the Tomcat Restaurant adjacent to Wildwood Mini Golf. He said he has built nearly 100 homes in the Wildwoods in the past decade.

To design and build their first mini golf course, he and Costantini chose Harris Miniature Golf Courses Inc., conveniently located nearby on Burke Avenue.

Harris has been creating mini golf courses of all kinds for 50 years. Papa said the firm liked the idea of building a course nearby that could then be used to show some of its techniques and design elements.

Wildwood Mini Golf is a large, southern-style course with natural hazards and plantings. Those who want short holes with windmills and other motor-driven obstacles should look elsewhere.

Here the curving, undulating greens reward attention to turf breaks and accuracy of shots past boulders and water hazards.

A waterfall, four fountains and a river running through the course give it an island look, as does the choice of seascape-appropriate plantings of grasses and tropical plants.

Papa said creating Wildwood Mini Golf cost close to $1 million.

Harris Miniature Golf Courses estimates gross seasonal revenue for well-located and designed courses at $250,000, with some newer courses grossing $500,000 per year.

Mini golf may seem like it has been around forever, but it hasn't quite reached its 100th anniversary and largely disappeared during the Great Depression.

The first known course with features typical of nearly all today was created in 1916 in Pinehurst, N.C., according to the Miniature Golf Association U.S., a trade group.

Six years later, three men patented a standardized course and started Miniature Golf Courses of America Inc.

Wildwood Mini Golf also sells ice cream, beverages and novelties.

Papa's son, a professional photographer, has added another element that has quickly proved popular with visitors: souvenir photos of the family.

Matt Papa, 25, of Wildwood Crest, takes portraits in front of the waterfall and offers them in formats from medium to large. Vacations being one of those rarities when everyone is together and having fun, many want to remember the time.

With Gary Papa's restaurant and condos next door, the marketing synergies are obvious and already starting.

Show your golf scorecard in the Tomcat Restaurant and get 10 percent off the bill.

Coupons are available for 10 percent off the price of golf, which is $10 for adults and $8 for children.

Papa said the course's LED sign will offer specials at various times for holidays, young children, seniors or groups.

"In the fall, we're going to hold a miniature golf tournament," he said, and he and his partner are already looking into developing another mini golf course.

Contact Kevin Post:

609-272-7250

Wildwood Mini Golf

Location: 447 W. Rio Grande Ave., Wildwood

Owners: Gary Papa, 54, and Joe Costantini, both of Wildwood Crest and Glen Mills, Pa.

Opened: July 20

Employees: 5

Phone:

609-600-2314