Grand Prix Tampa
14320 N. Nebraska Ave.
Tampa, Florida 33613
Early Bird Special $3.75
Adults $7.25, Children $6.25, Seniors $6.25
All Day Pass (Unlimited Miniature Golf & Family Track) $26.50 per person.
To the best of our knowledge, Grand Prix has the last surviving miniature golf course in Tampa. The key word in that sentence is “surviving” and barely at that, but before we get into that there are some other reasons you might want to visit Grand Prix. Located only a few miles west of the University of South Florida, Grand Prix luckily offers much more than miniature golf – other attractions include go-karts (an awesome fast track and a slower family track) which you are allowed to drive after visiting the bar, a paintball arena, batting cages, two arcades, and a small restaurant that has decent buffalo wings and beer specials.
Grand Prix Tampa, though now independently owned and operated, used to be part of a chain, Malibu Grand Prix, with locations still in existence in other states. This franchise was immensely popular through the 80s and into the early 90s (classmates went every weekend to drive the go-karts, and presumably occasionally hit around a golf ball). What is left now is simply a remnant of a previously beloved entertainment complex. With a little paint, new turf, and some T.L.C., this course could recover some semblance of respectability. In its current state, however, it is simply evidence that the proprietors will try any new gimmick (i.e., the giant inflatable water slide now in the parking lot) to get customers instead of improving an already existing framework.
Grand Prix’s website describes its courses as “4 acres of lush landscaped terrain with many colorful ponds.” Sounds good, right? That’s what we thought when we picked up our putters, exited the arcade castle and started the course to the right, which we’ll call the Windmill course. It didn’t take long before we came to the conclusion that this is quite possibly the worst-kept course that we have ever played. The carpets are torn, tattered and covered with leaves and garbage. The holes were missing cups, leaving the ball to fall into a deep dirt pit, obstacles were in major disrepair and structures were rotting and crumbling. Ants infested the course, so sitting between turns was out. Hole 6 had a gross oily puddle near the hole that we did our best to avoid. On top of this, we discovered pencil shards, torn up score cards and a discarded putter lying in the dirt around the course.
The whole experience had an eerily post-apocalyptic feel to it (being the only ones on the course definitely contributed to this), which would be cool if it were part of a more elaborate theme. Alas, there was no recognizable intentional theme, especially not one as avant-garde as “Armageddon” (how amazing would that be though, seriously). The course, even if it were in better condition, is pretty generic – its theme is in fact “mini golf.” It has all of the iconic “mini golf” architecture that one would expect to find – two castles, one a fairy-tale construction, and a second more fortress-like structure, a windmill, a sultan’s palace, a lighthouse, and a pagoda. There are also pirates, miniature waterfront houses, and topiary monkeys hanging from the trees, though one has ominously been torn asunder and is missing its bottom half.
The turf is in such bad condition that game play would be more consistent if they simply removed the carpet altogether and made the fairways bare concrete. The holes are excessively repetitive in their obstacles. Three holes have you hitting your ball onto a ramp (which progressively become less and less ramp-like) that delivers the ball onto a lower, circular green either in front of or behind a block near the hole. Sometimes this doesn’t even work right, and instead the ball lands in part of the concrete decoration surrounding the green. Two other identical holes, both Y-shaped, make appearances nearly back-to-back. And every time there is a split-level course, you can bet your bottom dollar that the lower level is round with a long red block between the pipe and the hole.
We know that some of these structural/formal issues simply arise because this is an old course, before the immersive theming that is popular in newer courses made an appearance. But we’ve played old, sparsely themed courses that are both clean and in excellent repair. Apparently for Grand Prix, being the only mini golf gig in town just means that you don’t have to put out any effort because there is no competition. If you go to Grand Prix, play at night so you won’t see how bad everything looks. Or come for the early-bird special and revel in the results of entropic decay.