Wisconsinites know better than anyone: When it's too cold to have fun outdoors, bring the outdoor fun inside. Developers in Wisconsin Dells have made a mint building indoor water parks, and now officials at Madison's Vitense Golfland complex have prepared an interior that invites duffers to do their thing regardless of the season.
Duffers, that is, who prefer their hazards whimsical and their golf balls brightly colored. Yes, the new attraction at Vitense is the Madison Landmark Miniature Golf Course, an enclosed attraction that (mostly) succeeds at bringing inside the mellow pleasures and occasional frustrations of putt-putt.
True to the course's name, each hole pays tribute in some way to a beloved local site or event. Some holes do so more literally than others. The fourth, for example, has an exquisitely rendered miniature of the Governor's Mansion, and on the ninth sits a magnificent replica of the state Capitol building. Similarly, the 11th hole, called Bascom Hill & State Street, boasts elaborately detailed paintings of that famous downtown thoroughfare, from Badger Liquor to the Orpheum Theatre.
Other greens take a more abstract approach to their subject matter. Although the third hole is named for Oscar Mayer, it features not that food concern's mammoth facility on Mayer Avenue but rather a colossal hot dog -- with mustard, natch -- that doubles as a slippery slide for the kiddies. It is one superb giant wiener, the grandest sight on the course. But the design of the 17th hole, which honors Madison's bicycle trails, does not capture much. Where is the pretty farmland of the Capital City Trail, or the smog-belching power plant of the Isthmus Bike Path?
As for the putting itself, let it be said: These 18 holes are no cakewalk. For my inaugural round on the par-65 course I hit a 73, and I was glad to get it. Some of the difficulty comes from the necessarily cramped layout of most holes. Also, the greens are covered with indoor carpeting, which makes for much speedier putting than the Astroturf of outdoor courses.
And some holes prove all but impossible for any but the shrewdest or luckiest putters. I am thinking especially of the seventh and eighth holes, which recreate the Rhythm & Booms fireworks display, and Monona Terrace. The design is arresting: fluorescent-colored murals, black lights. But much of the putting surface is concrete, which turns out to be more or less unmanageable.
But these are mere quibbles. The course is a welcome cold-weather destination, as is the splendid new facility at Vitense in which the course sits. This building houses, among other things, a snack bar and a comfortable lounge. On a recent wintry night, a roaring fire made the lounge a cozy place that strongly resembled a ski lodge -- but with views not of snow-covered slopes, but of a snow-covered driving range. Perfect for curling up with something warm.