Walt Disney World Chronicles: Fantasia Gardens

by Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the August 21, 2012 Issue #674 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


Fantasia GardensThe 11-acre Fantasia Gardens miniature golf site located near the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort Hotel is home to two very different golf courses. 

Fantasia Fairways is quite literally a Lilliputian traditional 18-hole golf course designed for putting only, with diminutive water hazards, dog-leg bends, roughs and sand traps. This can be an extremely challenging course although it has become a favorite of many golf enthusiasts. Golfing legend Tiger Woods played this course and did not do well. (Disney CEO Bob Iger beat Tiger's score by one point.) "Fanfair is the hardest golf course I have EVER played, and WILL ever play in my life," stated Woods.

The other course, called Fantasia Gardens, is a miniature family-friendly golf experience themed to the Disney animated classic feature, Fantasia.

The name "Fantasia Gardens" has an interesting history. In the mid-1960s, it was to be used as the name of a planned but never built overlay themed to the film Fantasia for the Motor Boat Cruise attraction at Disneyland. In 1984, the name was once again revived for a planned but never created Fantasia-themed boat ride that followed the Swan Boat pathway at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Finally, it was to be the name for a leisurely boat ride at the never-built Beastly Kingdom section for Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Just as Beastly Kingdom was being cancelled, another Disney entertainment venue was being created near the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort Hotel to entice families and conventioneers: the The Walt Disney Company's first miniature golf course.

"Some of them (the items in the Fantasia Gardens' course) were no-brainers," claimed WDI Senior Concept Designer Joe Lanzisero in May 1996 after the area opened. "Things people identify with when they think of Fantasia: elephants and hippos, snowflakes, mushrooms, Mickey and the brooms. We wanted soft, classical sequences that were more garden-like and fit the environment. That's why there's no Rite of Spring section (with its oversized dinosaurs)." Nor is there the foreboding Night on Bald Mountain with the frightening Chernabog threatening to bring darkness into the world.

The final plan included five sections from Fantasia that fit the gentle garden theme: Toccata and Fugue, The Nutcracker Suite, The Pastoral Symphony, Dance of the Hours, and finally, The Sorcerer's Apprentice as the dramatic conclusion.

However, Fantasia was not the first choice for a theme for the area. Imagineering seriously considered concepts including Alice in Wonderland (with golf substituting for the Red Queen's croquet game at one point), Roger Rabbit (with a more extreme "toony" landscape) and Storybook Land (echoing the Disneyland attraction with guests journeying through the miniature world of Disney animation). 

Budget and the naturally elegant outdoor backdrop of the location were determining factors in the final decision to create a site based on Fantasia that would appeal to families and conventioneers. It immediately appealed to that audience. Predictions of 400 to 600 "plays" per day for Fantasia Gardens were exceeded that first week of opening by an average of 800 to 950 "plays" per day.

Two open air pavilions for conventioneers, the Dancing Hippo and the Sorcerer's Apprentice, were designed by architect Michael Graves to blend with the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort Hotel that he also designed. They served as a natural accompaniment to the two golf courses.

For Fantasia Gardens, Joe Lanzisero was the senior concept designer along with another WDI concept designer Robert Coltrin. It was one of the first projects where WDI merged forces with DDC (Disney Development Company). DDC's Bob Kamerlander as construction manager and DDC's Paul Katen as project manager were assigned to the project. Jack Wolfe of DDC and Charlie Hardiman of WDW were also involved in translating the WDI concepts into a physical reality.

As Kamerlander stated, "I believe our relationship demonstrated the strengths of each organization: the creative talent that dreams up the Fantasia Gardens and the development expertise that transforms the concept into a terrific guest experience, as well as a financially viable asset for the Company."

However, as with any large project, not everything went smoothly all the time. At one point, budget constraints threatened to eliminate the home of Zeus from the plans, but some creative re-working of the figures allowed Mount Olympus to be built. Lanzisero considered it to be the focal point that organized the rest of the design of the course.

On the 10th hole where Bacchus is pouring wine down a hill, it is a more difficult shot than originally intended by the Imagineers. 

"After a misinterpretation of the design, the hill ended up being elevated about three feet higher than the drawings. But what it lacks in playability, it really makes up for in aesthetics," stated Lanzisero.

Coltrin added, "It is pretty steep, like a 45-degree angle. You putt up the hill and the ball comes down the other side like a pachinko game, going 'bink, bink, bink, bink' as it hits the bubbles in the wine that's he's pouring down the hill."

The goal was to orchestrate each hole with varying levels of difficulty. Some holes are fairly simple so that guests get an immediate payoff -- for example, where the statue of a little faun plays a tune on his pipe when the ball drops into the hole. 

"Oh, the wonders of modern electronics!" enthused Coltrin. "Digitize the music, put into microchip, and push it through a 50-watt amp and two little, tiny speakers play it every time a ball drops in the cup. Nothing to it!"

Some holes are more interactive than others. One of the favorites of the Imagineers is the 16th hole, with the statues of the brooms standing above the fairway.

"Everyone gets the payoff here. You don't have to do anything special to get the brooms to dump the water. The water squirts not only over the putting area, but over where the people walk, too. This is programmed so that the buckets shoot water in sequence, but if you make it to the putting green in one shot, the ball has to go by three sensors so all the buckets splash at one time," smiled Lanzisero.

For those so engrossed in not exceeding the six-stroke limit per hole, or so entranced by the audio or visual treats that getting the ball in the hole might produce, that you might have missed it, here is the complete verse for each hole written by Imagineer Robert Coltrin, WDI concept designer for the course.

Tocatta and Fugue

In the film, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach featured shadowy live action shots of the orchestra that transitioned into abstract animated patterns that reflected the rhythm of the music.

1.  Our musical game has just begun/And here comes treble for everyone/Up to the top the ball must run/For any hope of a hole-in-one.

2.  The notes upon the staff you see/May seem quite lovely musically/But now as you begin to play/You'll see they may get in your way.

3.  Before our little fugue concludes/The music swells and changes mood/Avoid the rests and you will hear/Chimes a-ringing sweet and clear.

Nutcracker Suite

In the film, Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky featured sugarplum fairies, waltzing flowers, dancing mushrooms and the changing of the seasons.

4.  Spring is here and just beyond/Blossoms float upon the pond/The open bud should be your goal/Its dainty petals surround the hole.

5.  These lively mushrooms circle ‘round/While one is hopping up and down/At the feet little Hop Low/Is where you want the ball to go.

6.  As Winter arrives, the fairies create/A frost-covered pond where they can skate/Their path on the left is where it should roll/Then watch as it waltzes down to the hole.

7.  And so this musical suite we close/Amidst the flurry of winter snows/Weather the storm where snowflakes fall/Or easily putt around them all.

Pastoral Symphony

In the film, The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven depicted the mythical world of ancient Greece with cupids, fauns and centaurs and a playful Zeus on Mount Olympus throwing lightning bolts to disrupt the wine festival honoring Bacchus.

8.  Within Mount Olympus this opus unfolds/And what mythological creatures it holds!/When putting the ball, be careful to go/Straight through the pillars to the caverns below.

9.  The impish faun loves to tease/As he plays his pipes with ease/So if you putt straight and true/Perhaps he'll play a tune for you.

10.  In all of the land there's no one more raucous/Than this fellow here, the infamous Bacchus/He's poured you a path that you simply putt up/Hit it just right and it spills to the cup.

Dance of the Hours

In the film, Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli featured a comic ballet with dancing ostriches, Hyacinth Hippo and her dance partner Ben Ali Gator, as well as bubble-blowing elephants.

11.  You will notice in a glance/These graceful ladies love to dance/This bird ballet is lovely, but/They may distract you as you putt.

12.  And there, the dance grows even greater/Enter now: Ben Ali Gator/With hippo high, he strains beneath/Now simply putt between his teeth.

13.  After they dance their amusing duet/Hyacinth Hippo will now pirouette/Carefully watch as she spins here for you/Time it just right and the ball will go through.

14.  Twilight brings a mood of romance/The perfect time for an elephant dance/So while she strikes this beautiful pose/Aim for the path beneath her toes.

15.  Before we can finish this silly ballet/This fanciful fountain is ready to spray/So keep an eye out for each little jet/They're hopping and hoping to get the ball wet.

Sorcerer's Apprentice

In the film, The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas casts Mickey Mouse as the apprentice who attempts some of his master's magic tricks, bringing brooms to life and flooding the room.

16.  Mickey's in trouble for casting a spell/Meant to assist him in filling the well/Now armies of brooms with a water supply/Are ready to douse anything that goes by.

17.  When Mickey is dreaming, he's brave and he's brash/Conducting the stars and creating a splash/From high on a cliff, he's on top of it all/He'll show you his stuff when you're putting the ball.

18.  The wave has grown bigger, with magic it stirs/When up from the bottom, a whirlpool occurs/A putt to the left will spin it, and then/We hope you'll return here again and again!

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RELATED LINKS
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Fantasia Gardens Info Page:
http://allears.net/btp/golf.htm

Fantasia Gardens Photo Gallery:
http://allears.net/btp/golf3.htm

Other features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives:
http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm
Jim Korkis

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. He is the author of the book The Vault of Walt, which contains nearly 40 chapters of untold Disney stories. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

Read more about The Vault of Walt: http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/0615402429


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.