My husband’s birthday is coming up and he’ll be asking for his usual. (Now don’t think dirty.) His usual is a trip to Myrtle Beach for a round of miniature golf. Since before we married he has had this infatuation with the: sport, hobby, pastime. We have played under the wings of giant planes, around the rumbling of a volcano, and even through man-made waterfalls.
I have asked him several times what it is that he loves about playing. He believes it’s all connected to a Putt-Putt course that opened not far from his home. The family would go there a number of times in the spring and summer for a round of golf.
Now for the enthusiast of miniature golf, it’s important to note that Putt-Putt is the purist form of the game. No windmills, caves, or other obstacles inhabit the Putt-Putt venue. Putt-Putt is the professional course for the man or woman who plays with the angles in mind. Although right before closing down, our local Putt-Putt course added huge dinosaurs to the landscape to give it more of a party atmosphere. The owner did everything he could to attract the younger crowd that was steering more toward Chuckie Cheese.
In preparing this entry, I was amazed at how many articles there are out there about the birth of miniature golf. Who Made Mini-Golf? by Hilary Greenbaum and Dana Rubinstein was featured in The New York Times Magazine in 2012. The authors give credit to Garnet Carter, who in the 1920s installed the first miniature obstacle golf course on his Fairyland Hotel and Inn property just outside of Chattanooga, Tenn. It was a huge hit, and by the 1930s miniature golf swept the country.
Like so many other things, it would be the Great Depression that would bring an end to the mini-golf craze. Following that, World War II placed a damper on the country and leisure pastimes like Tom Thumb golf just could not survive. Although the Parkside Whispering Pines Course near Rochester, New York, managed to keep going, and thrives today as one of the only courses on the National Register of Historic Places.
With the dawning of Happy Days (1950s), Richie, Potsie, Ralph Malph and the Fonz discovered the fun of mini-golf all over again. This decade also saw the birth of Putt-Putt in Fayetteville, North Carolina. As mentioned earlier, the company would distinguish itself by approaching the game of first daters, as a sport, with courses that required the skill of pool players, rather than the luck of gamblers. However, as Libby McMillan wrote in her 2014 USA Today piece celebrating Putt-Putt’s 60th birthday, courses have “obstacles including hills, rails, ramps and angled blocks, which increase the degree of difficulty on its course. This is in contrast to a miniature golf course, where a ball might suddenly be knocked off course by a moving object like a windmill or a chomping alligator.”
In college, my husband and his roommate dreamed of opening a Putt-Putt course at a nearby beach community on the site of an abandoned gas station. Naturally, the price of the land was beyond reach, but even the franchise price of $40,000 was a little steep for two college boys, living in an economy with double-digit inflation.
Today, just once a year he gets that mini-golf fever. He is not a purist and in fact loves the theme park courses and all their goofy challenges. In the weeks ahead he’ll start researching (I used that word) the various courses in Myrtle Beach, SC. Why? Well the Grand Strand of South Carolina is the Miniature Golf Capital of the World. With more than 50, let me repeat that, 50, such courses spread from its northern to southern tip. It is also home to the US Pro Mini Golf Association Master’s National Championship.
I confess I’ll have fun. We usually play on a fall day when the tourist have gone home and the strand is quiet. The courses are always clean and everyone is friendly. Many times, we’ll meet people our age who are also “outside” enjoying the day away from technology type games or work. The only thing I’m not looking forward to, is the time he spends deciding on which color ball he wants to use. Does it matter?