Small Business Startup: River Golf Adventures – Sept. 2014

"We want to keep things interesting and continue incorporating the river. Developing activities for people to enjoy is just awesome." - Jill Bach, co-owner, River Golf Adventures. Photo by Justin Sorensen / NNY Business

“We want to keep things interesting and continue incorporating the river. Developing activities for people to enjoy is just awesome.” – Jill Bach, co-owner, River Golf Adventures. Photo by Justin Sorensen / NNY Business

THE INITIAL IDEA

Natives of the north country and the river, Karl A. and Jill D. Bach are no strangers to small business ownership. Mr. Bach owns and operates Bach & Co. Construction, Clayton, servicing all areas and phases of commercial, residential and environmental construction. Mrs. Bach owned a salon in Clayton for 13 years and still rents a booth 30 hours a week.

“It can get a little hectic,” Mrs. Bach explained. “But we just love it.”

The Bach’s had always been active in their community and wanted to continue their involvement, even as their twin children were set to graduate in 2012 and school activities would come to an end.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for families to have quality time and fun together,” she said.

They recognized the need for a family entertainment center in their community, but with other jobs, needed something that would be relatively easy to manage. They began to think about the possibility of a miniature golf course as a viable business and welcome attraction for the community.

TARGET CLIENTELE

River Golf Adventures is located in a high traffic area in the north country between the riverside towns of Clayton and Alex Bay.

“This is a resort area, so we want to be attracting summer visitors,” Mrs. Bach said.

Activities can be enjoyed by children and adults. “We want this to be a place for everyone, not just kids,” Mrs. Bach said.

The course operates from mid-May through mid-October, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Each round of golf is $8 for adults, $7 for children 10 and younger, seniors and military, with ID. The course is arguably one of the most challenging in the area.

A driving range was added in 2013 per numerous requests and has since had a very positive response from league and tournament competitors who use the range at their leisure.

With 12 stations, four on natural grass and eight on covered turf, the 300 yard driving range was almost an immediate hit with customers when it opened last year.

“Within a month of opening the range, we already had regulars,” Mrs. Bach said. The range is open from 6:30 a.m. to dark with a self-dispensing ball machine for convenience. Small, medium (45 balls) and large, 90 ball buckets are $3, $4 and $8, respectively. 

“We had the land and it was fairly easy to set up,” Mrs. Bach said.

The business also features an arcade, snack bar, treasure dig and pavilion for birthday, anniversary and even company parties.

THE JOURNEY

With a clear heart for hospitality, Mrs. Bach earned an associate degree in hospitality and tourism from Jefferson Community College. “I’m definitely customer service oriented,” she said.

They bought 10 acres of land from a family friend on Route 12 between Clayton and Alexandria Bay in December 2010, started construction in April 2011, and opened June 2012.

“We had a lot of family help,” she said. “It was still quite an undertaking with twins graduating the same month we opened.”

The course design was provided by Harris Miniature Golf, Wildwood, N.J., Bach & Co. built the clubhouse and pavilion on-site, and Land Pro, Watertown was contracted for golf course landscaping.

“Much of the work was done by my husband and myself, though,” Mrs. Bach said. “We wanted everything to be river themed,” she said. “And we wanted the course to be challenging,” she added.

It takes about 40 minutes to complete the St. Lawrence River-themed course, with putting greens ducking in and out of miniature waterfalls, rivers and clear blue ponds. Even the balls float. There are nets to fish them out once they inevitably fly off the fairway around a tricky bend.

“We’re one of only two courses in New York with floating balls,” Mrs. Bach said.

IN FIVE YEARS

“The next phase is bumper boats,” Mrs. Bach smiled.

She also plans to integrate river facts and information into signs and activities throughout the course.

“We want to keep things interesting and continue incorporating the river,” she said. “Developing activities for people to enjoy is just awesome. We just love it.”

— Grace E. Johnston