Single-seat Formula K go-karts sidle beside two-seaters on Kristof Entertainment Center's family-friendly driving track. After letting the wind tussle hair, friends and families compete on the 18-hole scenic miniature-golf course replete with challenging holes and flanked by waterfalls, fountains, and castles. In batting cages, baseballs and softballs hurl toward bat-wielders, and players send bowling balls careening toward pins across lanes during regular or cosmic bowling. Sports skills are further tested at seven billiards tables that leave ample opportunity for sinking in eight-balls, and the arcade's classic redemption games such as skee-ball facilitate fun and prizes. After exhausting all one's rounds of play, Kristof's Bar reenergizes visitors with Pepsi products and snacks while broadcasting sports on its many televisions.
Several years ago, during a filming of WTTW's Wild Chicago, Novelty Golf & Games owner Craig's brother stood next to a 10-foot fiberglass chicken and lamented, “This is the world’s loneliest chicken.” Its match had recently been stolen, and every fiberglass fox in the city had a solid alibi.
Shortly after the taping, a viewer called in with a tip: he’d seen the missing hen roosting in a backyard, clearly visible from the window of the Brown Line train. Boarding the "L" himself, Craig confirmed the spotting, and soon enough, the Loneliest Chicken's counterpart was on its way back home in the bed of a pickup truck.
Thus reunited, the two chickens stand proudly today over the 36 mini-golf holes at Novelty Golf & Games, along with the full menagerie of bears, elephants, mermaids, circus seals, and dinosaurs that the course has accumulated over its 63 years. Some of the attractions are as old as the course itself, including a 15-foot fiberglass shoe hand-built over a chicken-wire frame. While the statues are often replicated, Craig and his business partner Cassandra continue to design new obstacles the only way they know how, often sharing margaritas as they sketch their designs on cocktail napkins. “We change things,” they say, “but not for the sake of change.”
The course, after all, has always been a place of innovation. In the 1960s, Craig's mother opened an onsite restaurant and promoted the rabbit statue on the 14th hole to head doorman, earning the eatery its perennial nickname, “Bunny Hutch.” Throughout the years, the family has also acquired popular games, including four pinball machines, Dance Dance Revolution, an authentic photo booth, and a 1950s metal-stamping machine. Though they welcome each new addition, they strive to maintain the course’s classic appeal, insisting that “you can’t improve on perfection.”
On the same token, you can't just sit idly by when perfection flies the coop.
Since the first fairway drive in 1923, players at Sycamore Golf Club have sent their golf balls cruising down tree-lined chutes blanketed in pristine bentgrass in effort to conquer the course par of 71. The 18-hole course straddles the Kishwaukee River and extends to a total length of 5,817 yards from the back tees and 5,302 yards from the front tees. A meticulous maintenance team keeps the course in excellent condition, meaning golfers will rarely have to hit out of fairway divots or find their golf ball running away with vagabond gangs of crabgrass tumbleweeds.
Course at a Glance:
Volcano Falls Adventure Park's unlimited pass gives merriment-seekers a temporarily infinite supply of go-carting, laser tag, and miniature golf. The Lazer Zone allows young ones to grab light-shooting blasters and set out against their peers in futuristic battles or reenact the numerous laser skirmishes of Genghis Khan. A slick, bridge-laden go-cart track affords rubber-burners a six-minute spin around its lanes, and a kiddie track lets tykes join in on the zippy fun. Volcano Falls boasts two waterfall-flanked mini golf courses, including the 18-hole Palm course, which transplants putt-putt players to a tropical island setting surrounded by faux flora and fauna, as well as numerous marooned Tom Hanks wax figures.
The sharp crack of a wooden bat, the soft thumb of a catcher’s mitt, and the dusty smell of an umpire brushing off his seersucker suit; you’ll find the first two at Bash Sports Academy. The 12,000-square-foot revamped industrial space allows baseball and softball players to train year-round regardless of the weather. Though visitors can make use of Iron Mike pitching machines, Atec softball pitching machines, five batting cages, and a host of tees, bases, balls, and netted L-screens for batting practice, annual memberships grant unlimited access to the facility. Those seeking more personalized instruction can tap into the sporting wisdom and gum-chewing prowess of the seasoned staff, which includes a former head instructor at the Chicago White Sox training academy and one who manages both a minor league team and for Team USA.
Outside, snow falls, wind rattles leaf-less branches, and winter blankets the landscape. Then the crack of the bat rings out. That sound of summer is available all year long at Stella's, which offers heated indoor batting cages in the winter and open-air outdoor cages in the summer. An onsite bats and gloves shop outfits players with stacks of Easton and Wilson A2000 mitts and Louisville Slugger and DeMarini bats.
As the sight of pop flies and line drives keep summer always within reach, so too do the aromas of Vienna hot dogs, bratwursts, and burgers wafting through the air. Stella's restaurant also provides ball players and their families with homemade Italian ice and soft-serve ice cream. To celebrate turning another year older or finally getting zombie Babe Ruth on the team, Stella's offers party packages that include good eats, game tokens, and batting cages.