Greenspan’s latest project makes the headlines at Blooloop – taking readers on a journey through the creation of the course in an underworld cavern…
Zip World Llechwedd offers unforgettable experiences in the slate caverns of Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales, surrounded by hundreds of years of slate mining history. Alongside a fascinating Deep Mine tour that delves into this heritage, visitors can enjoy a range of activities to get their pulses racing, from a zip wire experience against the backdrop of Snowdon to a subterranean trampoline adventure. This summer, guests can also experience the latest attraction to open at this Zip World site; the world’s first underground adventure golf course in a cave.
Introducing the brand, Zip World co-founder and CEO, Sean Taylor, puts it simply: “We do world-class experiences, both underground and on the ground.”
The new underground adventure golf course is 500ft underground, inside a disused slate mine, and can only be reached by Europe’s steepest cable railway. Set over four levels, the course has 18 holes in total, and takes around one and a half hours to complete, taking guests on a journey through the cave’s history as they battle each other through a series of interactive challenges.
“Our mission is to create award-winning attractions for our clients,” says Greenspan’s managing director, Rod Morton. “We have a great team from many diverse backgrounds which allow us to offer a real collection of skills and experience. No one project is ever the same. We first look to understand our client’s needs and then bring a project together to suit their exact requirements. This enables our clients to have a personalised experience.”
Why add a new attraction?
The new attraction is the world’s first underground adventure golf course in a cave. Speaking about why Zip World decided to add such a unique offering, Taylor says: “It’s in our DNA to push the envelope.”
While it may seem an unusual addition to the venue, Taylor explains why the new installation is a perfect fit:
“Blaenau Ffestiniog is steeped in history, with the culture of slate mining. It’s literally the town that roofed the world. It’s such an iconic setting, so when we do things, they must be good enough for this site; they must have a wow factor and they must be world-class.
“Also, it’s one of the wettest places in the UK. So, the new adventure golf course provides something that is always open, no matter the time of year. It’s always dry and it’s always the same temperature. People can now come and play 18 holes of adventure golf underground, all year round, and stay dry.”
It was, however, a new direction for Zip World:
“We are an adventure tourism business, combining things like swings, parachute simulators, coasters. Golf is not what we were used to doing. But we always had this hunch that the public would love doing an adventure golf experience underground.”
Elevating the offer at Zip World
The goal was to come up with an exciting new attraction that elevated the offer at Zip World while also respecting the context and honouring the unique place in which the attraction is located.
“It wasn’t purely about just creating a fun attraction,” says Richard Paget, senior architect at Greenspan, speaking about how the company helped it to achieve this goal. “It was about bringing the distinct story of the place to life and weaving that into the design. Visitors also learn about the background, the history and story of the slate mine, what they did, how they did it, and the conditions and the drama and the atmosphere that goes with that. We worked that into our design in a very successful way.
“We applied our expertise with adventure golf, with playability and theming and we were able to add value to the client’s brand with the world’s first adventure golf course down a cave.
“Essentially, they wanted to create something with impact. I think we certainly did that, right from the initial concept presentation, which was hand drawn sketches, through the design development, and delivered something special.”
Morton adds: “From the outset, we knew that Zip World were market leaders globally for innovative and one-of-a-kind projects. So, the bar was set high. To start with, we utilised our standard approach with the creative team working up the concept, getting approval for that, agreeing on a budget, then achieving project sign-off and moving into the construction phase.
“The key from here was creating a fully detailed 3D model of the project. We had the cavern surveyed and from this, we could create our 3D model that showed exactly how the attraction would look. This allowed the Zip World team to fully immerse themselves in the design and make any changes required before construction began.”
“It is also a great way of ensuring the whole team – client, contractor and any third parties – are all on the same page.”
Telling an engaging story
The area’s rich history had a big impact on the way that the Zip World and Greenspan Projects teams approached the project. From the outset, it was important to have a strong storytelling element to the attraction.
“The fact that it tells a story is really important, firstly for the community here,” says Taylor. “Generations of people from this area have worked underground, and people have lost their lives here too. It’s also important for me as a local lad; I was born and bred seven miles away from Blaenau Ffestiniog. There’s a huge community buy-in for it.
“Also, there’s already an existing Deep Mine tour, which goes into the history of the quarry. We’ve kept that, it was important that that wasn’t changing. In fact, we’ve enhanced that experience with this new addition.”
For Greenspan, this brief was a chance to bring the drama:
“We used this unique setting and looked at the parts that we could really draw out, to make the experience even more exciting,” explains Paget. “It’s about knowing which bits to bring attention to for the visitor. For instance, creating spatial experiences, where you have tight tunnels and chambers which suddenly open out into a huge lofty cave.
“Here, you’re conscious of the rock overhead, you know that there’s a mountain above you, and you’re climbing up through these gantry ways and these steel structures as you play Adventure Golf. It’s very much about drama and using lighting to exaggerate or highlight the setting. We use darkness, shadow, and sudden directional lighting, as well as sound and echo. It’s about creating that thrill experience and using the atmosphere to its full extent.”
Rising to the challenge
It was never going to be a straightforward project, installing an 18-hole adventure golf course 500 feet below ground. Yet the project teams rose to the challenge, in order to create something truly memorable.
Many of the challenges were physical:
“Firstly, the site is in a cavern below the ground,” says Morton. “It’s continuously 8 degrees Celsius in the cavern so ensuring the safety and health of our workforce was extremely important. Moving materials was also a big undertaking as the access was via a small train. However, we are used to working in varied and challenging environments, so nothing was impossible. It’s just down to the planning!”
Expanding on this, Paget says: “To make sure that we could fit the detailed design into space, we had a three-dimensional survey which we used with our three-dimensional design software, to insert a structural frame within the constraints of that rock chamber.
“We were able to take the sketch concept and develop a design package, using the 3D computer software tools that we have at our fingertips to coordinate and develop the design and overcome the challenges of it, and really reimagine that rock chamber.”
The second challenge was the timeframe, with the Zip World team wanting to be open in time for the UK summer holidays. To make this goal a reality, everyone involved worked together as a cohesive team.
“We enjoyed working with the client team,” says Paget. “They were great. Together, we were able to overcome challenges with a sense of humour.”
Finding the right partner for Zip World
For such a complex project, Zip World needed to choose the right partners. Speaking about how Greenspan Projects was selected to work on the underground adventure golf course, Taylor says:
“We have known Greenspan for a while, and we knew they would be the right partner for us. Projects like this are not straightforward, so you need to have that flexibility; you need to be able to think outside the box to be able to change things along the way. Greenspan can do all that. They are also nice guys to work with. Our guys got on very well with them, and they worked well as part of the team.”
“We were approached by them because they had seen some of our quite complex and larger projects,” says Paget. “In particular, they saw one which encompassed some complex rides, zip coasters, slides, climbing experiences, as well as the adventure golf, and that project also had a structural, building element to it.
“They wanted something unique, and they could see that we’ve got the tools to rise to the challenge.”
“I would definitely recommend them,” adds Taylor. “And we feel we’ve got a partnership now where we can tweak things in the future. Together we can be innovative; they are a similar company to us in that they do think outside the box.”
A rewarding project
The result of this collaboration is a one-of-a-kind space, says Taylor, with a special atmosphere.
“We’ve got an amazing light show, we’ve got music, and we can theme it too. So, we can theme it for Christmas, for Halloween, we can theme it for birthday parties and special events. We can even do evening entertainment – we’re looking at doing events in September where people can come down and have a beer. I can see us having weddings down there, you name it.”
This gives Zip World the freedom to keep reframing the attraction, keeping it up-to-date and encouraging people to come back again and again.
“I’m sure that in the future, we’ll change the holes, too,” he adds. “We’ll put in other things to freshen it up.”
Reflecting on the project’s success, Morton says: “It’s simply the first ever underground golf course in a cave in the world. That in itself feels like an immense achievement. Then, there’s so much to like about the scheme – the lighting, sound effects, theming, the mesh floor panels that allow you to see people playing below and above you… Oh and there’s a huge slide from the upper level!
“It’s completely bespoke which is what we are all about. We’ve produced something that has never been done before, we did it safely, on time, and hopefully, it will be a roaring success for Zip World.”
What’s next for Greenspan
Fresh from this success, Greenspan Projects is already looking ahead to some more one-of-a-kind projects. For instance, the firm is currently working with Drive Shack in the US on its Puttery venues.
“This is a mini golf venue with a difference, each course is heavily themed and unique,” says Morton. “They are one of the fastest growing competitive socialising brands in the states. It’s a privilege to be working with them.”
“We also have a new golf-based product we will be launching in the next couple of months. There seems to be a lot of call for golf at the moment. However, we’ve also got a big outdoor adventure park finishing later this year on a resort in the Mediterranean. We’ve not been able to talk about this yet but when it opens it will be a real celebration of what Greenspan can do. There’s climbing, golf, bouncing, adrenaline, and lots of theming. So, watch this space.”
Bringing the wow factor to Zip World
Taylor says that, ultimately, Zip World venues want to offer attractions with the wow factor.
“It’s got to be a wow, and when I see attractions all over the world, whether it’s golf, whether it’s ziplining, you name it, and they make people say wow, that’s what makes it for me. And that’s what we have achieved here. Now, when you see people come in, they come down and see the light show and the scale of the course, being on four levels, that wow factor is there, and that was essential.”
The whole team has a lot of pride in the new attraction, adds Taylor, viewing it as a new way of celebrating the area’s heritage. “We’ve got locals from the community working on the Deep Mine tour, and I was expecting perhaps a bit of a push back, but they’ve embraced this.
“Visitors come in and they learn about the men who did this, who created these huge caverns. They learn about the hardship, but they also learn about the innovation in the Victorian age. I feel like we are walking in their footsteps in a way, we’re innovative as well. I’d like to think, if we could go back a couple of hundred years and speak to them, they’d approve of what we’ve done.”
Looking ahead at what’s next for the company, Taylor says there are some ambitious plans in motion.
“We’re a proud Welsh company and Wales will always be in our DNA. But we’ve also got some amazing projects and opportunities in beautiful parts of the UK, including Ireland, Scotland, and England. We’ve got some innovative things planned, we’re looking at going into an urban environment and looking to create world-class accommodation. It’s exciting; I want to take Zip World to the next level and to create that wow all over the country.”