August 10, 2001
Many golfers daydream about what it would be like to own their own golf course.
Patty and Tom Derrick are living proof that some dreams do come true.
They own a golf course, called Shell We Golf, and it’s a remarkably successful one at that.
Some might quibble, and point out that it’s a miniature golf course.
Even so, the Derricks don’t have to worry about losing their greens to the record-setting heat wave of the last week. Instead, they and the owners of the many other miniature golf courses in the Cape Region are enjoying a busy summer season, watching thousands of happy putters try their luck on the wide variety of challenging layouts.
Tom Derrick originally conceived of Shell We Golf as a way to entice customers to the couple’s newest Sea Shell Shop. After years of operating their popular gift stores in-town at Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach, the Derricks gambled that they could also run a freestanding store on Route 1, between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.
The parcel of land they bought, just off Airport Road, included a wedge-shaped piece with limited utility for either their building or its parking lot. A miniature golf course design fit in well for that part of the property, however, and the couple followed through on their plans.
“When we opened the store and the golf course in 1995, we really thought that the golf course would bring people to the store,” explained Patty Derrick recently. “It turned out that the combination worked better than we thought. We really didn’t know it would be so successful!”
“Now, people come to the shop and then play golf. Others play golf and then go in the shop. The two parts really work hand-in-hand now,” she continued.
The par 40 layout matches its Hawaiian theme to the store, with the help of thousands of plants. “Every year we put in new tropicals, such as palm trees and hibiscus. This year we have a few Hawaiian Elephant plants, with their huge leaves. We’ve got one of the largest live ponds in the area, with over 10,000 gallons of water, lily pads, and fish,” Patty explained. “Maintaining all that landscaping is like having five huge yards to keep up with.”
Players can wear free Hawaiian straw hats during the round to keep cool, or take a break under the grass huts during sudden rain showers. As Patty put it, “If it’s not thundering, they won’t leave.”
Some customers come to their layout just for the park-like setting. “They just like to sit here and enjoy the gardening. They insist on paying, even though they’re not actually playing,” Patty said. “We also have several ‘regulars’ who play every day. We also get a huge number of retired folks.”
To add to the fun, the Derricks also posted a sign at each hole that tells a story about a seashell, such as how quahog shells were used as money.
While shooting the pictures that go with this column, I met Beth Miller, Stephanie Smith, Megan Smith, and Kayla Adrian of Detroit and Jackson, Michigan, as they laughed and putted their way around.
“We’re on vacation here, and it’s fabulous,” Beth Miller said. “I don’t normally play miniature golf, but we’re having a great time. We love the little placards about all the different shells.”
Some appreciate the opportunity to learn more than others. One 6-year old tracked Patty down inside the store after his round, and in a deeply serious tone told her, “I’m here on vacation and I read every one of your shell stories. I learned something, and I didn’t go on vacation to learn anything!”
It might be a little too hot right now to really enjoy playing regular golf. Thankfully, the Cape Region’s miniature golf course operators can readily fill the need for a little fun with the small ball, despite the heat.