If you’ve traveled to Singapore many times and need something new to do, a stroll along Boat Quay will lead you to the world’s first “mystery golf experience”: Kulnari Mystery Golf. Set inside a traditional Lion City shophouse, those who dare enter will be whisked away to an immersive game of mini golf that incorporates the traditions of a murder mystery game.
Behind this novel concept is mother-and-son duo Philomena and Alistair Cannon-Brookes who developed the idea during the height of the pandemic. “With everything that was going on we were thinking of ways to diversify,” says Philomena who was running a kiddie gym pre-pandemic. The mini golf idea was hers but Alistair did the market research and everything else.
“We realized there were very few people in Southeast Asia that had mini golf courses,” shares Alistair. “In the UK alone you have over 900. But in Southeast Asia there’s less than 10 pretty much. It really is something that isn’t done. As we went from one location to the next—we had some real estate deals that fell through, and it was COVID as well when we came up with this—the idea kept getting better and better with each failed iteration. Until the end, we were like, ‘Okay, this concept is still mini golf but it’s getting to a stage where it’s far enough removed from mini golf that we needed a new name for it.’”
If you’ve ever done mini golf before, you’ll know the holes come with challenges that are quite whimsical and throw in unexpected obstacles. Kulnari Mystery Golf adds a layer of storytelling through their 18 holes, revealing little by little what happened to the fictional Kulnari Trading Company back in the 1920s. The storyline is heavily influenced by the location and the shophouse it’s located in.
“When we saw the building, we saw the potential. We really wanted to bring some of the history of the area into it,” Alistair explains. “One of the big things that used to exist here was all sorts of trading companies. It was the center of commerce in Southeast Asia for a very long time. And we wanted to come up with a storyline which reflected that.”
Mother and son also wanted to use real characters from around the region existing at the time. “There is a very loose historical element to it. It is definitely a nod to the region and some of the stuff that used to happen here back in the day,” Alistair further explains.
There’s something appealing about entering into the unknown, and in the case of Kulnari Mystery Golf, into a set so meticulously crafted down to the minutest detail. There’s smoke in the air, the lighting is dim, and there are traditional instruments playing in the background. Apart from putting away, you must keep an eye out for clues. There are diaries and letters ready to be read, hanging portraits of characters, and artifacts that enhance the overall experience. It truly does feel like you’ve walked into a time machine or found yourself in a room you’re not supposed to be in.
After the 9th hole, you’re rewarded with a little speakeasy. “It is a shophouse and people are climbing upstairs and things like that. As a space, the 9th Hole Bar gives a little respite for people after they’ve done 9 holes, to have a drink. It’s not open to the public. It’s only open to the patrons of the mini golf,” states Philomena.
Alistair compares the 9th Hole Bar to a play’s intermission. “You go in, order drinks, and relax,” he adds. The 9th Hole Bar offers several types of beer, localized flavors of gin and tonic, and a variety of small plates.
Philomena and Alistair are thrilled with the response their business has received. “One of the things people always say is that in Singapore you get a lot of ideas that are copied from other places. But in our case we took an existing idea and turned it on its head,” says Alistair. “One of the things I always say is that it’s a Singaporean concept, and it’s done by Singaporeans and made in Singapore.”
Photos by Jar Concengco