Mini Golf history
Extracted from Nutters with Putters by kind permission of Tim 'Ace Man' Davies and John 'Big Top Ted' McIver. (Edited & updated July 13 2010.)
Chapter 2 History
"A shot in the dark the big question mark of history" T Wilcox
Being an Honest and Reputable History of Minigolf
From Neolithic Man to Pearl Harbour
"A sport that is interesting, pleasant, healthful and not expensive."
It is a universally held truth that, to boast at any social gathering that you are the foremost miniature golf historian in the country, means no one is likely to press you for proof, continue the conversation or invite you to their next party. And if ever they do ask you further questions, then you can concoct some fantastical piece of flimsy whimsy, blissfully certain that there will be no contradictions.
This country's leading crazy golf chronicler can categorically claim neither Frobisher or Rayleigh introduced the sport from the Americas. The potato was not an early model for the golf ball. At the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror was not known as William the crazy golfer - the arrow that pierced poor King Harold's retina/skull/brain shouldn't be termed mineye golf! Cruel warlords from Tartary never used impaled prisoners as obstacles on courses constructed of silver and ivory.
Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Idi Amin all have in common that they never played a game of miniature golf, nor was the second Balkans War sparked off by ethnic tensions following a game of crazy golf.
So let us relate the true history of this noble pastime.
The Crazy Golf timeline
The Chinese claim (937-975)
Professor Ling Hongling, of Lanzhou University, is said to have uncovered evidence of crazy golf (it can’t have been golf because the Scots invented that) being played in China in AD945 in the Dongxuan Records written during the Song Dynasty (AD960-1279). A prominent Chinese magistrate of the Nantang Dynasty (AD937-975) instructed his daughter "to dig holes in the ground so that he might knock a ball into them with a purposely crafted stick". The game described in the book is called chuiwan - chui meaning "to hit" and wan meaning "ball." 4
Ming Emperor Xuande playing Crazy Golf
The Dutch claim 13th Century
Colf was played from at least 1297. There were city ordinances granting land for colf courses and fines, including seizure of their clothes, for those who caused a breach of the peace by playing colf within the town walls. Let us remind ourselves that once more they must be referring to crazy golf as golf was invented in Scotland.
The French claim (1450-1460)
A Book of Hours which art historians believe was created for a member of the French nobility between 1450 and 1460, shows a number of people playing pallemail (walloping a ball with a mallet.)
There is also a castle and windmill illustrated in the manuscript, though they aren't obstacles, they really are a castle and a windmill. The manuscript ended up in the library of the Dukes of Burgundy. 5
The Scottish Claim (1552)
The first surviving written reference to goff in St Andrews is contained in Archbishop Hamilton's Charter of 1552. This reserves the right of the people of the Fife town to use the links land "for golff, futball, schuteing and all gamis." As early as 1691, the town had become known as the "metropolis of golfing". 4
In the late Middle Ages, there were strong trade links between Flanders and Scotland, and the notion of playing golf was carried on board the ships that passed between the two nations. As precious a cargo as cloth, fish or metal.
1867 marked the 30th year of Queen Victoria's lengthy reign and the year Luxembourg gained full independence as a sovereign state. More noteworthy was the opening of an 18-hole putting green at St Andrews, Scotland. A golf course already existed but the sight of Nineteenth Century women swinging a golf club past their "shoulders" and "necks" was seen as an unspeakable perversion of the natural order, an affront to Christian values and a slur upon the feminine values of the gentle sex.
Chicks were allowed to putt though in Victorian society, as long as they did it quietly, gracefully and not above shoulder height. So the Ladies Putting Club was set up at the "Himalayas", St Andrews. Hopefully when bending gracefully to retrieve their ball they did so in a demure and non-provocative manner.
Willie Park Jnr, who won the British Open Championships of 1887 and 1889, wrote a putting guide and even had a catchphrase "the man who can putt is a match for anyone." He called his putter-"old pawky" (which survives at Woking golf club.) Many subsequent golfers have given their putter an endearing name, normally ****ing piece of ****.
Other miniature courses that subsequently sprang up in Britain were really pitch-and- putt courses, with landscaped hillocks, bunkers, ponds and streams. The Times golf correspondent of the time became aware of "this annoyance on Hove seafront."
Golf made its first appearance in the 1900 Paris Olympics, and in the 1904 St Louis Olympics golf made its last appearance. 7
Woodrow Wilson, (when he was President of Princeton University rather than President of The United States), was recuperating in Bermuda due to the temporary loss of sight in his left eye. Whilst there he befriended Mark Twain (the man who said "golf is a long walk ruined" whereas minigolf is a few strides embellished with windmills, lighthouses, perilous waterfalls and eight foot high Godzillas.)
Wilson and Twain started playing British style minigolf, which they both "enjoyed immensely." However the arrival of the first motor cars on the island prompted them to abandon minigolf and instead petition the Bermuda legislature to ban motorised vehicles as "they are intolerable to people of taste and cultivation." Their campaign proved successful and it would be over 30 years before cars were allowed back in Bermuda.
In 1912, a game called Gofstacle was advertised in The Illustrated London News. This was in fact the game of 'Golfstacle' as patented by William Senhouse Clarke in 1907, a British army Colonel. Who'd have thought it?
The Illustrated London News June 8 1912 - 889
BRIDGE, STICK, TUNNEL AND BOX: A GOLF GAME FOR PUTTERS
DRAWN BY OUR SPECIAL ARTIST A.C.MICHAEL
AT THE GARDEN PARTY: AN EXCITING MOMENT OF GOFSTACLE
Gofstacle is played with golf balls and putters. Four balls go to the set and these are coloured like croquet balls. The obstacles to be negotiated include hoops, rings, a tunnel, a bridge and a box which has to be entered up an incline. It is played like golf croquet, and may also be played as is golf, the obstacles taking the place of holes. It is claimed for it that it is calculated to improve putting. Its popularity is undoubted. We are able to make this illustration by courtesy of Messrs. Gamage
An earlier advert for gofstacle is to be found in the The Straits Times, 1 April 1912.
William Senhouse Clarke patented 'Golfstacle' in 1907. The game was sold by the likes of F A Davis Ltd (London) as the Gofstacle golf game, patent no. 19851. The Game of Gofstacle, came in a pine box with hinged rectangular top, enclosing various brown-painted metal obstacles; including tunnel, bridge, hoops and plates.
In 1916, a wealthy American, James Barber decided he would like a Scottish style microscopic course. This diminutive course was built on his estate at Pinehurst. On seeing the course, Barber told the designer "This'll Do", which became "Thistle Dhu", the name of the course. The folklore of American minigolf would be decidedly different if he had instead exclaimed ”its kinda neat” or something more rude! Flower beds decorated the borders of the holes, a fountain and summer house were incorporated in the course, and one of the holes had a striking resemblance to the modern day “hammer cage” found on a European Beton course. At this time Miniature golf still involved using irons as well as a putter.
Three years later, Wentague County Club held an obstacle golf course tournament - the obstacles were an iron pipe, hurdles and a sheet with a hole in the centre. How many husbands provoked their wives ire by practising with the best sheets on the eve of a tournament?
A similar 9-hole competition took place in Pasadena which involved chipping the ball off a brick, hitting it through a barrel and lofting it through a hoop. Prohibition began in 1922 and the liquid conviviality of the golf course's nineteenth hole instantly disappeared. No longer could you sit in a comfortable armchair sipping a bourbon and dwelling over which hole wrecked your round. Under prohibition there would be no more sipping, guzzling, quaffing or gulping. Hours could not be wasted swigging alcohol and swaying on a bar stool. An entirely new way of frittering away your leisure time needed to be found.
A number of short-lived crazes had sprung up in America before. In 1893 after an economic downturn, bicycle fever gripped the nation. Following the 1921 economic crash, Mah Jong and Ouija boards became hugely popular followed by the King of the Crazes - Crazy golf.
Herodotus noted that the Lydians invented dice and & knuckleball whilst suffering famine. In the straightened times of the American Depression, "Bread and Circuses" became "hotdogs and midget golf."
The golfer Walter Hagen wrote in 1927 that the finest miniature golf course in America was Thistle Dhu. In the same article he mentions a similar course being constructed in Detroit called Le Bateaux Chateau (these courses were only for the use of family, friends and invited guests.) The article finishes with Hagen musing on the potential commercial possibilities of these small courses if opened to the great American public.
Puttin' Pie in the Sky?
The great American public got their chance high in the sky playing atop the towers of New York. The columns of glass and steel that loomed over Manhattan foretold the architectural future of the world’s cities. Drake Delaney & John N Ledbetter sited a course on top of one of the office blocks in the financial quarter. Their popularity amongst office workers meant that they opened up another 150 courses atop the cloud-smothered skyscrapers that soared heavenwards.
Rinky Dink Golf
Down at sidewalk level street kids used vacant lots to build their own courses using cans, washtubs and wooden boards, charging 1 cent a game - this became known as vest pocket golf. Miniature golf returned to Manhattan in 1989 when Donald Trump was involved in one of his smaller construction projects, building a course in Central Park. Appropriately the obstacles were tower blocks.
Meanwhile the virgin forests that covered Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, were for the chop on the instructions of Mrs Garnet Carter. The primordial woods were in the way of a planned 700-acre resort comprising "Fairyland Inn & Fairyland Golf Club". The buildings featured Mother Goose's house, the Three Bear's house, and next to Hansel and Gretel's Gingerbread House stood the "Tom Thumb" miniature golf course, complete with garden gnomes and a statue of Snow White. The Dome on the rock, the Weeping Wall, the Big Brother House - to a practising minigolfer, this place is as sacred as all these combined. Every hole was themed on a fairy tale - Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Little Miss Muffet and her obligatory tuffet. Another unusual feature of Carter’s original course were the animal heads. If you putted the ball up a slope into their mouths, they would moo, baa or quack (obviously depending upon what manner of animal, fish or fowl they were. Actually I doubt the fish head made any noise. Where can one do this in the modern world?)
Lookout Mountain was also the site of the Battle above the Clouds during the American Civil War, when Union forces defeated the Confederates.
Equally important it was the location in October 1930 of the first National Tom Thumb Championship. First prize of $2000 for both the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ tournaments. Some players from Florida turned up two weeks before the tournament and spent a fortnight practising the course. Two of them went on to win first place in the male and female events. A 14 year-old Massachusetts Tom Thumb champion blew his chances with 2 sixes on the last two holes.
Before starting her round, Grace Moy from Brooklyn told everyone she'd jump in the goldfish pool if she didn't break par-she did neither. And a real midget played the course, Herbert Barnett. He didn't have his own club so had to borrow a 36 inch-long putter. Herbert was 30 inches tall. He didn't play well. "What do you expect?" said the 32 year-old cigar salesman afterwards. "The only full size article I use is a Meditation cigar." The course’s success led to Frida 's husband (who at the time was given all the credit for designing the course) patenting the idea. Carter later sold his franchise to a pickle manufacturer for $200,000.
As a Tom Thumb booklet explains, "passer bys see the course, they see people putting, they stop, they lean on the fence surrounding the course, they watch the ball as it travels towards the cup, they scream, they laugh, they are fascinated, they want to play, they do play, they laugh, they scream, they groan, at last they are playing golf."
A rival company to the Carters - Miniature Golf courses of America Inc. - started to build indoor courses.
Tom Thumb courses were negotiated between Carter and the Townshends (pioneer manufacturers of the visible petrol pump). The Townshends held the franchise for courses in the northern states of the U.S, Carter operated in the Southern states.
For just under twenty bucks, you could buy a Tom Thumb jacket with matching beret. At the time it got the Tom Thumbs up for style.
Massive Minigolf Mania swept America like an airborne pandemic (bird flu, or rather nurd flu), 50,000 courses were built in 1930. The average construction cost was $2000 to $3000 depending on extras. Often the courses would arrive packaged up with a blueprint ready to put it together. It took a week to assemble. The putting surfaces were made up of clay, sand, fibres, asbestos, ground seaweed and cork. In the 40s and 50s, goat hair felt became popular. Courses with clay surfaces favoured "Grassit" a green dye they could put on the putting surface.
A miniature golf course manufacturer in Rochester, New York State employed 200 staff. New York State ran out of hollow logs which were used for obstacles, so the company had to import hollow logs from the South (eight car loads at a time). A dozen artists hand-painted the logs. Soon solid logs were imported and bored hollow (a feeling my previous girlfriends can empathise with.) An average player would take 45 minutes to play a round, and generally would play the course twice.
The Nation speculated on the popularity of the game. "The search for superiority is one reason. Golf is a gentleman's game - and who does not crave at least the accoutrements of gentlemanliness?"
In 1969, humanity landing upon the lunar surface captured the spirit of the nation, so in 1930, mankind hitting a small ball into a small hole proved equally inspirational.
The 1930 "minigolf gold rush" had begun, and the attempts to get rich quick were made all the more poignant in view of the worsening economic situation in the States. Many of the new courses had slogans to catch the public’s attention such as "a snappy course on a snappy site", "don't think it's simple, it's not." And "fun exercise in the sunshine, which means health and happiness!"
Taylorville (Illinois) intriguingly had "women free on Wednesday night" - the course was lit by twenty 200-watt lamps with 14-inch reflectors - though some of the courses still required the player to use a niblick (wedge). Maple Shade miniature golf course had "Ladies’ day every Monday, Wednesday and Friday" offering them "beautiful flowers " and "shady trees". Many courses hired orchestras. The LA Times reported that putting seemed to come naturally to women on account of their hereditary gift of being able to wield a broom every day.
The Oakland Tribune newspaper sponsored a competition with a men’s first prize of an Austin car and, for the leading lady, a radio. Second prize was a watch for both sexes.
Outdoor courses were landscaped and equipped with snack bars and cafés, indoor cafés were painted and modelled as if they were outdoor courses -some of them even provided caddies (admittedly club choice and yardage would not have posed a great problem whilst caddying.)
Many courses reflected different concepts from the Wild West to the wonders of China. The Great Wall was a favourite obstacle. These courses became early forerunners of American theme parks.
Miniature Golf Courses of America Inc made replicas of Yellowstone Park, Puget Sound and the Grand Canyon using the slogan "see the US with a putter." At a time in American society when the polarisation between rich and poor was growing ever greater, these courses proved to be socially inclusive and egalitarian - more so than any "real" golf course. Millions of Americans who wanted to play a round of golf found it either too expensive or exclusive. They could easily play a round of minigolf and talk afterwards about being three under at the turn, or how they beat the course record. Not at some swanky elitist country club with strict rules and dress code but at a friendly neighbourhood minigolf course. Maybe you weren't playing Augusta, Georgia but you were playing with gusto at George’s.
As the world depression deepened, a socio-economic climate was being created where world events, unemployment, poverty and bankruptcy made a single individual look helpless, small, powerless and insignificant. The Miniature golf course reversed these feelings. You became Gulliver in Lilliput, a Titan towering over the teeny tiny fairways. 25 cents gave you egress to a wee wonderland, a fantastical world far removed from the sad tawdriness of real life. Germany turned to fascism, Canada voted the government out of office, Britons became annoyed, had a few punch-ups with the Blackshirts and wrote cross letters to newspapers, and Americans picked up putters and golf balls.
After a night out at the opera or theatre, some players would then turn up wearing full evening dress to whack balls around. Some courses didn't close until 4am, opening again at 6am for the early birdies. Entry to a movie cost on average 25c, the average cost of a round of minigolf was 25-50c. To avoid price wars, operators were urged never to charge less than two nickels and a dime. Many courses had day/night rates of 35c/50c. "Few games could be played outdoors at night. City dwellers had a chance to play in the open without leaving the city." The glare of floodlights in the suburban night would mesmerise drivers and pedestrians.
Ballroom courses allowed dancing and minigolf - an unforgettable mix, nightclubbing with real clubs. Could this ever catch on at Britain’s Drum and Bass/Grime all-nighters? Foam parties would obviously affect the putting surface and the windmill's electrics.
In 6 months, 250 courses were opened in LA County alone. Many were built alongside service stations. The average space required was 100 foot X 120 foot. Along with “gasoline, oil, chassis lubrication and tyres", miniature golf was added for every motorists needs. As one advertisement went, “play Tom Thumb Golf while your car is washed.”
It was here that the ‘loop di loop’ hole appeared, a stylised minimalist design now found on the European Eternit course.
The Daily Gleaner (Sept 13th 1930) reads, "visit one of them at night and you will find it occupied by about 100 people, boys and girls, golfers and non-golfers ...when a poker game breaks up in the early hours, the losers lure the winners to a new course and strike to get their money back. The women scream if they make a good shot and scream if they don't."
In the summer of 1930, four million Americans played every night. Incredibly the cinema box office suffered as people forsook the movie house for minigolf. Motion picture theatres were converted to courses, and dance halls and pool halls also suffered a loss of custom. To counter a near 25% drop in attendance, film studios ordered their stars to lay down their putters. Mary Pickford had her own surrealist inspired course. The most expensive one in the world, Pickford would autograph balls and even offer kisses to attract people to her course. In November 1930 bandits plundered $75 from Miss Pickford's booth.
Swashbuckling Hollywood hell raiser Douglas Fairbanks also had a minigolf addiction (as well as his other more widely known addictions) and publicity shots of Fay Wray show her attempting a difficult nine-foot putt (and no sixty-foot ape in sight, unless he was having problems finding a putter in his size.)
Fred Astaire was another avid player, “putting on the style indeed.” If only there had been a celluloid dance extravaganza involving minigolfers (oh and flappers, don’t forget the flappers.)
Jazz musician Guy Lombardo had a course on which every hole incorporated discarded musical instruments.
The clamour for glamour
Crazy golf, for the first time and possibly the only time, was glamorous, chic and sexy. Tycoons such as the Vanderbildts had their own elaborate courses.
Mabel Dodge, New York socialite and author of "Belle of Bohemia" built a three-storey town house dubbed "The Mecca of Merriment" comprising a dance hall, stage, bar, ping-pong table and Tom Thumb golf course. The murals on the walls were of fauns and topless women.
The most imaginative hole though was in Los Angeles where the player had to putt through a bear cage. The owners had trained the bear to dab its paw at balls rolling past him (if anyone wishes to recreate this hole, the owners used balls smeared with honey and fish to train the bear.) It is unclear how you played your next shot inside the bear cage. A course in London copied the idea but used monkeys in the cage.
Caliente links, which cost $150,000 to build, had steam rising out of some of the course features, most notably a Germanic-looking castle. There were skyscrapers that you putted into, the ball sometimes flying out of a window into another course hazard.
South Pasadena had a wagon trail theme where one hole was designed as an arid desert where you had to putt through the scattered bones of beasts and men. On another hole, you had to putt through the hub of a giant wagon wheel, no not the biscuit. Pasadena had a dog-leg hole where you played through a full size Zulu hut, and once through the hut it was still 28 feet to the hole.
The "Singer midgets" made popular live appearances at many a US course, pretending to be touring professional golfers with songs and music. When did watching singing midgets who play crazy golf go out of fashion?
It wasn't just Movie theatres that were suffering. Church congregations were also diminishing, due to the magical lure of minigolf, this triggered the many accusations of immorality that began to besmirch the game. East Orange City Council ignored a 10,000 strong petition and banned Sunday golf. Many residents complained to the police and civic authorities about "shouts, curses, giggling, heehawing and raucousness" coming from the nearby courses. In response, crazy golf curfews were introduced on many sites.
No course could be built near a school for fear of distracting children.
Rumours began that linked gangsters to New York minigolf and that some course owners were having to pay out protection money. True or not, this added to its reputation for seediness and loose morals. Newspaper columnists even attacked the President for allowing minigolf to grow unchecked. Celebrity cowboy Will Rogers spoke out against minigolf and its effect of diverting people's attention from the difficult years ahead - “there’s millions with a putter in their hand when they ought to have a shovel.” How putting with a shovel would improve ones game is hard to see.
Sadly minigolf had the lifespan of a mayfly. Minigolf was a sporting pimple that grew and grew over a short period of time before spectacularly rupturing. In the winter of 1930, undone by ever more rigid putting exclusion laws and judged a sink of sleaze and sordidness, people started to get sick of playing. The market was oversaturated with Lilliput golf, peewee golf, vest pocket golf, tom thumb golf and pygmy golf. Just like Spot-the-ball competitions, Gonks, those four mutant turtles with martial arts skills and Irish girl band B*witched, minigolf rolled under the windmill sails of history and disappeared into the hole of nothingness - or did it?
Minigolf was going to come back, like Star Trek and Dr Who.
Mike Biltz, a former baseball player started up 3 courses in Oakland in 1939 but it was in the 1950s that minigolf rose again along the freeways and highways of a world now cowering from Nuclear destruction. The concrete courses of the 1950s resembled atomic bunkers and missile silos.
The Royals and Europe
Edward the Prince of Wales, whilst in America, took up the latest fashion of minigolf and planned to build a course in the courtyard of St James’ Palace, London. This was before he started slipping it to Mrs Simpson. When the Prince was in Brussels, he spent most of his time at the Belgian Queen's course. British history would have been so different if Edward had put minigolf above the questionable pleasures of sexual and emotional congress.
By August 1930, Midget Golf Limited operated 16 courses all over the UK and was involved in building the first course in London at Imperial House, Regent Street in September 1930. Courses started to pop up everywhere with one appearing at the Hammersmith Icedrome shortly afterwards. Possibly the first crazy golf course in the UK was a fifteen-hole course established in Skegness in 1927 2.
The first free miniature golf course opened atop Selfridges in the Hanging Gardens of London. It featured such holes as the “Two-Peg Gate” and “Brooklands”. (1/9/30 3). The All England Golf Championship was held there in September 1930. (15/9/30 3)
One course in London had a sea serpent hazard, made from metal. The beast swallowed the ball then disgorged it from the tail. Another course had a "howitzer hole" which had toy cannons and trenches full of tin soldiers. Were there simulated mustard gas attacks on the players as well?
By October 1930, there were 60 courses, the most famous at the Kit Cat Restaurant. Lord Connaught opened a midget golf course at Beaulieu in 1931, but, as in America, the game started to fizzle out, and by 1932, the course on the shore end of Southend pier had made way for a “dignified entrance.” 3
August 20 1930 Councillor Hooper of Herne Bay watches the first player on the midget golf course which he has opened privately at Herne Bay, following the Council's ban on the course on the front. (Fox Photos). Action takes place on hole 4 “The Innanout.”
Elsewhere in Europe the first course in Finland was built in 1931 at the Munkkiniemi Casino in Helsinki (the place was destroyed ten years later in a fire.)8
For the more affluent enthusiast, it was possible to cruise down to the Mediterranean on the Ile de France. The ship had a 40-foot by 50-foot nine-hole course on the sun deck. It took 15 men six days to install it. They could then sample French Riviera crazy golf at the Saint-Raphael Club or putter around the Palais de la Méditerranée Casino in Nice. For those who suffered on the seas, on your way by land you could stop and win 1,000 francs at the Hotel Scribe in Paris, if you managed to play the course in less than 35 strokes.
After they had opened a new golf course at Clavieres, Italy, Crown Prince Umberto and Princess Marie Jose inaugurated a midget golf course on the club premises in 1931. He swung his putter both ways and owned a cottage in the country for entertaining special friends. He was soon booted out of the country by Mussolini. Whether Il Duce took exception to his minigolfing or being a blackshirt lifter is unclear. The days of cream and ream teas in the cottage were over, Umberto had to play with his balls in exile.
George W Bush had his first date with Laura Bush on a Putt Putt course in Midland Texas – somehow one can’t imagine Hilary Clinton doing this.
Clayton even managed to get TV interested. ”The Putt Putt parade of champions” was shown every Sunday. And in terms of viewing figures it is still one of the all-time favourite U.S. family sports shows.
In the 1960s, miniature golfers could win the same amount of prize money as Jack Nicklaus. Since Clayton’s death in 1996, Putt Putt has declined.
After 42 years “Putt Putt world magazine “has stopped being published, less than 170 courses are left in America and Putt Putt is no longer shown on Sunday television or indeed any day of the week (it hasn’t gone to pay-per-view either, maybe if the audience was paid to view.) It isn’t on the radio either. Possibly a combination of the internet, PlayStations, TV and the price of land contributed to its demise. Conversely as Putt Putt’s habitat has shrunk miniature golf has grown, rather like Grey and Red squirrels in England.
Myrtle Beach is the world capital of miniature golf tomfoolery, where volcanoes erupt and plastic dinosaurs rampage. Putt Putt, rather like “world series” baseball has an insularity and petty smugness that has contributed to its demise. The puritanical iconoclastic attitude eschews frivolity, silliness or exploding volcanoes.
Putt Putt members can only play officially sanctioned Putt Putt courses and only use officially sanctioned Putt Putt balls, as constrictively conservative as the middle American communities that Putt Putt players come from. Augusta, Georgia, the epicentre of golfing America’s racism, sexism and small mindedness is the venue for Putt Putt’s national championships. Putt Putt even has a dress code - long pants must be worn no matter how humid the weather.
John Barton in Golf Digest 2003 described Greg Ward as “the greatest putter who ever lived” - for John Barton and Putt Putt, the United States is the world.
The winner of the 2003 Putt Putt Open Cliff Matthews practised 10 hours a day for 10 days before the two-day tournament. Cliff won $2500.
During the 1950s Americans lived in an increasingly consumerist society, new household appliances, new cars, an expanding labour market and the ever present threat of nuclear obliteration. In 1938 Joe and Bob Taylor from Binghamton, New York started building and operating their own miniature golf courses. By the late 50s, most if not all crazy golf supply catalogues carried Taylor Brothers' obstacles. They started mass-producing castles, water wheels, and glory of glories the iconic windmill, its stately sails endlessly swishing.
Other 1950s courses had moving statues that were intended to distract your putting.
Obstacles were made from chicken wire and concrete, including "the three-holed pink princess tuna and the boxing reptile known as “Ali Gator"(Stern), both of which are at Putters Paradise West Yarmouth.
Highways and freeways became the salvation for the moribund sport of miniature golf. Goofy golf, crazy golf and wacky golf breathed new life into the game.
Fantastic monuments were built to attract attention, giant windmills, sphinxes, pyramids and dinosaurs. The courses became popular for suburban families and dating teenagers. "Dating, interacting, competing and viewing cultural icons all at once."
The sport had a more wholesome image compared to its rootin’ tootin’ ripsnorkling 1930s image. Myrtle Beach and South California became part urban sprawl, part tourist trap. The courses at Myrtle Beach stretch for fifty miles, there are 45 courses within a 20 mile radius of Myrtle Beach. Nowadays there are very few stand-alone courses in the States, miniature golf is part of the Family Entertainment Centre (FEC). These centres also have fast food, go-karts, ice skating, bowling and the like. So when you're in the States, please make the effort and look around for a good FEC.
Modern European Miniature golf time line
Swedish isn't for the weedish
The building of frames to enclose and limit the playing surfaces and areas was introduced in Sweden in 1930. This led to the formation of the Swedish Association in 1936 with 10 Mini Golf clubs as founder members. Harald Sjölund built a temporary course on the roof of a hotel in Örnsköldvik, Sweden, in 1943 and introduced the world to the infamous Swedish Felt Run.
Swedish felt runs are treated pine covered in felt, some holes are over twenty metres long, some have the hole positioned at the highest point of a steep slope. These courses are fiendishly difficult, if you miss the hole your ball rolls right back to the start. Swedish is not for the weedish. Felt was the forerunner of other famous four letter words ABBA, SVEN, IKEA and SAAB.
An annual Swedish Championship inspired Germany, Austria and Switzerland to follow suite and build their own Mini Golf courses. At first competitions were played with the rules being made up as the matches progressed - rather like football matches involving Dermot Gallagher as referee.
More luck than skill was needed to pass some of the obstacles and achieve a good score.
Towards the end of 1930 the increasing interest in the sport meant that exact rules had to be introduced. This applied to each course and applicable competitions. City Golf AB started to standardise obstacles and courses and full manufacturing started in 1938. Courses had to be fair, attractive and challenging so as to encourage public participation, especially newcomers without prior knowledge of the game.
City Golf AB and the Swedish Association have made Mini Golf a very popular sport in Sweden. There are very few municipal regions of Sweden without Mini Golf courses. Mini Golf is now an integral part of contemporary leisure activities in most Swedish townships and cities. It is a sport for the whole family.
Today there are about 10,000 professional competition players in Sweden, 200 mini golf courses owned by clubs and another 500 owned by municipal or private companies. For some reason, somebody has calculated that approximately 660 million minigolf strokes are made every season in Sweden. In addition to the individual and team championships in Sweden, the National Association arranges a series of competitions in 22 different districts with local championships for both team and individual minigolfers.
Astrid of Sweden, Queen of the Belgians
Mittel European Modernity
In 1953, Paul von Bongni standardised the sport and patented the name "Minigolf". He specified 18 holes and the order in which they were to be played. The first Beton course opened in Locarno near Lake Maggiore, Switzerland. This course still exists and is used by the 'Bosco Isolino' Club. Beton is a Swiss design made from concrete, it is visually uninspiring and has a really odd 8th hole involving a chip shot, harking back to the days of obstacle golf.
Dr Walter Spier introduced minigolf to Traben-Trarbach Germany in 1955. 10 A year later, the first German national championships were held, and in 1958, the country's first minigolf club was founded.
Also in 1958 the first Eternit course opened at the 'Planten un Bloomen' Leisure Park, Hamburg, Germany. You are not allowed to stand on Eternit courses. There are strange looking obstacles - a pipe you must putt through, a volcano to putt up, a z- shaped hole. Top players look to ace every hole. There are twenty four differently designed holes that appear in different 18-hole variations all around mainland Europe. This particular Mittel European variant was invented by a German businessman named Albert-Rolf Pless. The obstacles were supposedly designed by the Hamburg University of Arts. Sanitised, dork sprung his technics here. The most boring of the standards. At a distance the plastic and metal holes look like a children’s play area. Soon 70,000 people were playing during a German minigolf season. 10
By 1960, 15,000 were playing just on Hamburg's five miniature golf courses and the sport was becoming phenomenally popular. Five years later, over 100 miniature golf courses existed in Germany on the Hamburg model, and transportable Eternit prevailed. 10
Players used different types of ball on different holes. Dead balls, bouncy balls, heavy and light – nowadays there are as many types of minigolf ball as there are stars in the sky or fish in the sea.
A National Association was founded on 1st October 1966.
Today there are 320 minigolf clubs in Germany and 11,000 club members. 20 million Germans play the sport for fun. According to the 2002 World Minigolfsport Federation information booklet, it is "the ninth most popular leisure time sport activity of the Germans." There are about 4,000 courses in the country. It is even possible to study and play minigolf as part of your National Service if you are talented enough, which is better than patrolling the Afghan/Pakistan border. German, Austrian, Swedish and Finnish Governments subsidise top players to take one day off a week to practice.
There is a German national coaching structure with a head coach for the national teams of juniors, adults and seniors, who is supported by assistant coaches as experts in special fields; technique, psychology and materials. The national team even take their own chef and physiotherapist with them to international tournaments. In total there are about 120 licensed coaches in Germany. Those still dubious about the sport of miniature golf may think that a mental health specialist is also required.
1954 Don Clayton builds his first Putt-Putt course.
1956 The Lommas, Ralph and Al build their first course in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
1959 Establishment of the AEMS (Association Européen du Minigolf Sport) 9
1959 First European Beton championships held in Gardone, Italy. 11
1960 Birth of Tim 'Ace Man' Davies. What a wonderful day for British crazy golf!
1961 Austria were late starters finally coming out of the Von Trapp with the establishment of the ÖMSV (Österreichischer Minigolf-Sportverband.) 9
1962 120 Beton courses in Europe 10
1963 Austria. Establishment of the ÖSVM (Österreichischer Miniaturgolf-Sportverband) 9
1963 Establishment FIM (Europäischer Miniaturgolf-Sportverband) 9
1963 First European Eternit championships held in Dortmund, Germany. 11
Tim ‘Ace Man’ Davies remembers walking around this course in 1997, his first sight of Eternit, thinking ‘what the hell is this?!’
1964 Establishment of FIMS (Europäischer Minigolf-Sportverband) in Vienna 9
1965 Birth of John ‘Big Top Ted’ McIver. A dark day for British crazy golf.
1965 (UK) First British Arnold Palmer course opens in Coventry of all places as part of an Arnold Palmer Driving range. (2 p321).
Arnold Palmer Enterprises was set up in 1961 and had a myriad of different business ventures. 110 Arnold Palmer Dry cleaning centres opened across America, the staff dressed in grass green jackets. There was also Arnold Palmer foot detergent, Arnold Palmer clothing (alpaca cardigan sweaters were very popular) and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children. His dispensing chemists would surely have been called the ‘Arnold Palmacy’!.
Arnold Palmer courses spread across Britain, the holes had elements taken from Arnie’s favourite golf courses. Playing these courses became a part of nearly every British childhood. Miniature versions of the 16th at Augusta and the 11th at Royal Troon were part of the courses.
Nowadays, however, there is no mention on the Arnold Palmer website about Arnold Palmer Crazy Golf. The Arnold Palmer Company refused to comment. It is as if they are ashamed of some dark stain from their past - like Keith Harris, Cuddles and Orville or red leather bound Dennis Wheatley books - how can something that brought so much enjoyment be shameful?
1966 (Liechtenstein) First Europa Cup (Club championships) held in Vaduz. I don’t know of any unfounded offensive national stereotype, which may be offensive in itself, so this space has been left to fill in your own ( ). 11
1967 Austria. Establishment of the ÖBGSV (Amalgamation of Mini and Miniaturgolfverband.) 9
1973 The first known Finnish championships were played in Pori, which had 54 participants (five of the participants were still playing the sport in 2006.) A yearly championship has been played ever since.
1974 Turku Minigolf Club was founded, but the oldest minigolf club in Finland is in Vaasa.
1976 Austria. Establishment of the ÖBGV 9
1980 Union of FIM and FIMS 9
1980 The current Finnish Minigolf Association was founded, and became a member of the WMF in the same year.
1980 Establishment of IBGV (Internationaler Bahnengolfverband) 9
1988 Finland's first concrete course was built in Pori.
1989 Mini golf (Eternit) is a demonstration sport in the World Games in Karlsruhe, Germany 11.
1993 Transformation of IBGV into WMF (World Minigolfsport Federation) 9
1996 Hungary and Latvia join the World Mini Golf Sport Federation.
An astounding German minigolf ball fact is the Wagner n* ball was made by melting a consignment of puppet heads, which is why a copy has never been produced.
* Where n is a number, sadly forgotten to history!
1998 British Minigolf Association founded.
2004 European Minigolf Sport Federation formed in Romania.
In 2006-7, Sweden is the Minigolf Super power, closely followed by Germany, Switzerland and Austria . These countries are members of the International Association which also includes Norway, Finland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Liechtenstein, Malta, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United States the United Kingdom and Poland.
2011 September 12, Ralph Lomma passes on to the great crazy golf course in the sky aged 87. [Obit]
The ambition of the World Minigolf Federation is to have minigolf included as an Olympic sport. The first step towards this is getting minigolf included in the World Games. Forget running jumping and all that nonsense, imagine getting a gold medal for crazy golf.
The 2012 Olympics in the End East of London don’t sound quite so glamorous as Beijing or Mexico City.
So which came first miniature golf or golf?
Simple, why walk five hundred yards when you can walk five. Therefore miniature golf should be called ‘golf’ and what is mistakenly called ‘golf’ today should be called something like ‘grand golf’. Any history of early golf is really a history of miniature golf. This may sound illogical but you only have to read the farcical twaddle around on the subject, which I hope to have added to, to know that no one knows what the origins are, and in any case how can they?. So miniature or 'real' golf was invented before grand golf. But either way, one thing is for sure - miniature golf wasn't invented in 1926 by Garnet Carter. Patenting is not inventing, but since America writes much of modern history, it is recorded that they invented miniature golf.
In the 1930s, British miniature golf was chaotic and open to all, regardless of purse or social standing. The wrong sort were trifling with the fine game and unashamedly enjoying themselves. Silently watching was the Times golf correspondent, quietly paying heed and awaiting his chance to trash these ingrates. When the craze fizzled out he did not let it R.I.P., in less than six months this “pleasant” and “alluring” pastime had become “a futile and asinine pursuit.” Much like golf then. This was the man who saw no future in driving ranges and felt there was more profit in producing hay in his modest field. He staunchly held that putting was a different game and this continued in popularity, but he bemoaned people not taking the step up to the big game - nothing new there then. Oh, how times have changed. Ah, alas, they haven’t.
The snobbery and social suffocation of some in the golf world still remains like clinging ivy. The sport of crazy golf is sneered at and belittled by fools in stupid trousers. In America, the PGA was founded in 1916 with a ‘Caucasians only’ rule. This remained until 1961. Around the globe many courses still have rigid membership requirements, often in place to bar the poor, the disadvantaged, ethnic groups or women. In crazy golf, if you are breathing you're a member.
"Like Cinema, miniature golf is a variant of art for the masses. It is the greatest unknown art of the American landscape and its artists are the capitalist craftsmen that satiated the lower -and middle-class of their appetite for
So there we have it, no one knows who invented it except that miniature golf came first, and so I suggest that if anyone raises the topic, you look sternly at them and lift your eyebrows to the skies. Not necessarily the socially acceptable response, but that's what we are trying to encourage in this book - the wholesale destruction of a persons understanding of themselves, hopefully only temporarily, for the duration of a crazy golf match.
Let's just say some shepherds whacking a stone round the hills invented golf and then we won’t have to address the God awful truth that actually old chum, crazy golf came first.
1 MARGOLIES, John, GARFINKEL, Nina, REIDELBACH, Maria. Miniature Golf (October 1987) Abbeville Press, Inc
2 MILLER, Andy. Tilting at Windmills Penguin Viking (June 2002)
3 The Times
5 Anyone For Tee
6 St Andrews Links
7 Olympic Organisation
8 Suomen Kuvalehti 1931, number 31
10 SEIZ, Michael. Minigolf Vom Freizeitspaß zum Leistungssport
11 WMF Handbook
© Tim Davies and John McIver 2008-2013
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