Kingsley Loso, granddaughter of Harmony residents Dave and Leanne Kingsley, attempts to put the ball into the hole in Niagara Cave’s newly completed 18-hole miniature golf course.  ANTON ADAMEK/NEWS-RECORD
Kingsley Loso, granddaughter of Harmony residents Dave and Leanne Kingsley, attempts to put the ball into the hole in Niagara Cave’s newly completed 18-hole miniature golf course. ANTON ADAMEK/NEWS-RECORD
After being delayed over a month past the original completion date, local tourist attraction Niagara Cave opened its new 18-hole miniature-golf course just in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The mini-golf course, which is the largest in Fillmore County, is located on the cave property. Owner Mark Bishop said the course gives visitors another thing to do in addition to seeing the cave. For those who have already seen the cave, it gives them a reason to come back.

The idea to have a mini-golf course on the property was conceived close around the time Bishop bought the cave in 1995. He initially considered having a nine-hole course with possible future expansion. The Mini Golf Construction Company from Neenah, Wis., which built the course, recommended Bishop put in all 18 holes at once to save costs.

The initial land survey was completed in April, but the start of construction was pushed back two weeks into May after inclement weather. Continued wet weather frustrated Bishop's initial plan to open Memorial Day weekend and his second plan to open in June. The course was completed on the morning of June 3 and the first people to enjoy it played that afternoon. Bishop reported a constant presence of players on the course on the Fourth of July and said many had commented that the mini-golf was a nice addition.

Bishop has already started advertising the latest attraction through radio and will soon be updating his TV, billboard and newspaper ads. This year, the cave has already been featured in spots on regional news networks KTTC and KAAL. Bishop said he hopes the increased attention on the cave will have a positive economic impact on the surrounding communities.

Several area contractors helped in the construction and preparation process of the course. Bruening Rock Products at the Big Springs Quarry supplied the crushed limestone used as buffer regions between holes. Gjere Construction placed the rock. Cement work was contracted out to Croell Concrete Products and Stateline Insulated Concrete. J&M Construction built the concession and putter rental stand located next to the course. Morem Electric, Fisk Plumbing and Heating, Hahn Lumber, Harmony Telephone Company and Harmony Foods all supplied their services in one capacity or another. Bishop said other businesses were involved with the process as well.

The cave, which sees around 30,000 visitors each tourist season, is preparing for its 80th season next year. Parking is being expanded to double its previous capacity. Cave safety was enhanced when fiberglass skid-proof treads from Strongwell in Chatfield were installed on most of the stair steps.

The cave can now be "liked" on Facebook and "circled" on Google+.

Bishop said he plans on putting new siding on the building for next year's anniversary. Other than that, he said he will recuperate from the mini-golf project and wait to start working on others.

If one is interested in playing the course, visit the concession stand sitting under the shade of a tree in front of the main building. Rates include sales tax and are $8 for 18-holes and putting green, $5 for nine holes, and $3 for the five-hole putting green.

One can select from seven different putter sizes to find the right club. Putting green clubs are also available for smaller children.

Once started, even an experienced golfer will need to take a few holes to get used to the course. Each hole presents a different layout and challenge. There are rocks and water hazards to avoid. Several hills and sloped areas make getting a hole in one not so easy. One hole has the player hit the ball into a tube that diverts it onto another playing surface. Each hole is connected to the next one via a concrete walkway. A couple bridges throughout the course span a stream and fountain pool. Players can keep score of their round by picking up a scorecard and pencil at the concession stand. Once finished, players can relax at a picnic table by the concession stand, which sells soft drinks, deli sandwiches, chips, muffins and novelty ice cream treats.

An 18-hole round with four playing won't take more than an hour. If a group is interested in visiting the cave, they may be able to squeeze in a round prior to starting their tour. If they can't finish, they can drop their scorecard off at the concession stand and finish up the round after their tour.

As Niagara Cave moves into its eighth decade of providing educational and entertaining tours of a natural wonder, there will continue to be improvements that will enhance the experience enjoyed by all who visit.