By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit With Jim Korkis: Fantasia Gardens

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

Jim Korkis on Disney World's Fantasia GardensThe Walt Disney Company’s first miniature golf course opened in 1996 on eleven acres near the Walt Disney World Dolphin resort.

“Some of them (the items in the Fantasia Gardens’ course) were no-brainers,” claimed Walt Disney Imagineering (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).”

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.

For Fantasia Gardens, Joe Lanzisero was the senior concept designer along with another WDI concept designer, Robert Coltrin, who wrote the verses posted at each hole.

It was one of the first projects where WDI merged forces with the Disney Development Company (DDC). 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 project, not everything went smoothly. 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.

The 10th hole, where Bacchus is pouring wine down a hill, 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.”

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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.

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Thanks, Jim. And come back next Friday for even more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including The Vault of WaltWho’s Afraid of the Song of the South?, and The Book of Mouse, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.


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1 comment

1 Anthony { 08.14.15 at 10:15 am }

I’ve always wanted to try the mini-golf courses at WDW, but never seemed to have the time. Based on this story, I will definitely have to make some time!

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