Summertime in America means embarking on a road-trip; whether you’re headed to the mountains, to the beach, or just meandering around the National Highway System. Once in a while, you’ll stop to fuel up, pull off the road, and sample some local barbeque or fruit from a farmer’s market, or maybe check out a quirky point of interest such as a museum or, say, the local miniature golf course. After all, nothing says fun like kicking your travelmates’ butts in a game of putt-putt.
Although miniature golf (also known as mini-golf) may have had its origins in Europe, the sport exploded in popularity in the early 1920s in the United States after the invention of the artificial green. This inexpensive and easy-to-maintain playing surface helped mini-golf flourish, with thousands of courses across the United States.
If you happen to be driving near any of the following towns this summer, take some time to play on any of these classic courses. And remember – if you nail a hole-in-one on that bonus 19th hole (where offered,) ask for a free play!
Par-King – Lincolnshire, IL
Arguably among the top mini-golf spots in the nation, Par-King just outside Chicago has been featured in Golf Digest, USA Today, Sports Illustrated Kids, and on the Travel Channel. It bills itself as having the “World’s Most Unusual” mini-golf, even though most courses these days have a variety of uniquely designed obstacles. Par-King was certainly among the first to combine elements of an amusement park into a course.
Almost every hole has a mechanized obstacle and comes with an unusual name such as “Orbiter” or “Pinball Golf” or “Super Looper.” They do have a policy that all players must be taller than 48 inches in height, a mere 4 feet, which precludes anyone younger than a physically average 9 year-old from playing on the course.
Par-King is located north of the greater Chicagoland area just off I-94 en route to Milwaukee.
Jolly Roger – Ocean City, MD; Pirate Island – Ocean City, NJ
When Piratemania swept the nation in the mid 2000s, these two mini-golf courses on the eastern shore probably saw a dramatic increase in their profit margins. Both of these buccaneer-themed parks offer a jolly experience to kids and adults alike and are among the most visible in both of the Ocean Cities.
Jolly Roger is actually a large amusement park with go-karts, bumper cars, roller coasters, as well as two 18-hole courses; one set within the theme of a remote island jungle, and the newer one amongst a band of pirates seeking buried treasure. Pirate Island sticks to 18-holes of pure, swashbuckling golf and has been consistently rated as one of the top attractions on the southern Jersey shore since it’s founding in 1994. If you can’t make it to these two places, don’t worry; you can find all sorts of pirate-themed golfing spots up and down the coast.
Jolly Roger and the rest of Delmarva’s coastal attractions lie along the Coastal Highway Route on the eastern edge of the Delmarva Peninsula. Head north across the Delaware Bay from Lewes, DE to Cape May, NJ and you’re en route to Ocean City, NJ, home of Pirate Island and the denizens of the Jersey Shore (yes, the ones from that MTV show.)
Ahlgrim’s – Palatine, IL
It could be the most bizarre combination of business and pleasure in America. Ahlgrim’s Family Funeral Service has proudly been arranging full service memorials for deceased loved ones since 1892. However, they are probably more famous for the mini-golf course and “Community Room” that lies within the basement of one of their funeral homes.
It just so happens that one of the Ahlgrim family members was a mini-golf enthusiast and decided to build a small course for private use. While he grew his business and raised his children, he also added a shuffle board, pool and ping-pong tables, foosball, arcade games and decided to open it to the public. It’s the 9-hole golf course, however, that truly stands out with its macabre themes such as a gulliotine and mausoleum obstacles.
According to the Ahlgrim’s website, their Community Room is strictly off-limits during funeral business (we should hope so,) but there are a decent number of travelers who take advantage of the course during off-hours. If you happen to be anywhere near I-90 in outside Chicago, Ahlgrim’s is just off the highway in Palatine, and a mere 12 miles from Par-King mini-golf.
Parkside Whispering Pines Miniature Golf – Sea Breeze, NY
One of the only surviving mini-golf courses from the early-Depression era is just off the shores of Lake Ontario near Rochester and is currently listed under the Register of Historic Places. Built in 1930, Parkside Whispering Pines Miniature Golf (with a legit sounding golf course name) is the oldest in the United States, and was designed and landscaped with rock excavated from the Erie Canal dig.
It’s currently operated by the owners of the Parkside Diner— a popular restaurant that serves the town Irondequiot. Either tee up for 18 holes after lunch, before dinner, or even late night; the course is open from 11am to 11pm during the spring and summer months. The Parkside Diner website also offers a coupon for 50¢ off a round of golf. Take advantage of the 10% coupon off any lunch of entree, and you’ve got a recession-proof night of fun.
Parkside Whispering Pines Miniature Golf is about 15 minutes from downtown Rochester and is near the Seabreeze Amusement Park and the Irondequoit Bay Marine Park.
Dolphin Mini Golf – Boothbay, ME
This next one in Maine is sort of like the Pebble Beach of mini-golf, mainly because it hosts an well-known tourney every year for professionals. Dolphin Mini Golf is regarded as one of the top courses in the United States.
Image: Putting Penguin/Flickr
The nautical-themed course is sanctioned by the United States ProMiniGolf Association (USPMGA), and held the 2008 USPMGA Tournament won by Matt McCaslin, the current number 1 ranked player in 2010. Dolphin Mini Golf also hosts the Maine State Golf Open every year after Labor Day weekend. Can’t enter into the tournament? No problem. Stick around for the award show and check out the arcade, or the shell museum inside the “Covered Bridge” on the grounds. And what mini-golf course is complete without an ice cream hut?
Image: Putting Penguin/Flickr
If you happen to be traveling on I-95 north through Maine and need a little mini-golf diversion, take US Route 1 north through Wiscasset and then hang a left after Cod Cove onto Boothbay Road. You won’t be able to miss the course, as there is a full-sized lighthouse standing right near the parking lot.
Putz and Glo – Rapid City, SD; Glowing Greens – Portland
Possibly taking a page from alleys across the country that feature midnight disco bowling, these next two courses use black lights and neon paint to create a trippy mini-golfing experience. Unlike some of the other mini-golf spots that are susceptible to the elements, these two indoor courses are open year-round and open late during the summer hours, offering a slightly more edgy atmosphere than your usual outdoor links.
Putz and Glo has a rock ‘n roll-themed, neon and black light course, as well as a maze and gemstone panning for kids. Their souvenir shop sells t-shirts, mini-golf equipment and, of course, lava lamps. Glowing Greens claims to better and bigger than any other 3D black light course in Oregon and offers fun for kids in the form of birthday party catering, and adults in the form of adult beverage catering (we’re thinking [Ed Note: hoping] beer.)
Image: Portland English Language Academy/Flickr
If you’re heading to Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Black Hills National Forest, or Deadwood for a visit, Putz and Glo may offer a brief break from all the touring, while Glowing Greens is right in the heart of downtown Portland.
TopGolf – Chicago, Dallas, and Alexandria, VA
While mini-golf is fun for all ages, it’s usually associated with being a kids sport. This certainly isn’t the case at TopGolf. These state-of-the-art venues have patented, digital-scoring driving range games and advanced mini-golf courses inside a sports entertainment complex, complete with restaurants, pro-shops, and golfing academies.
Image: TopGolf Alexandria
The driving ranges at Top Golf use tour-quality balls with embedded microchips that track the exact location of your shot. Each pin is recessed into the ground with a circular target, combining the elements of a driving range with the point scoring of darts. Each venue has an “extreme” mini-golf course that isn’t for the faint of heart, with plenty of water hazards and obstacles to challenge even the most serious putter.
Image: TopGolf Alexandria
You’ll find a modest, 18-hole course mini-golf course at TopGolf in Wood Dale, Illinois right near Chicago O’Hare International Airport; so commit the place to memory next time you have a long delay. The Alexandria location has one 18-hole Valley course and an advance 18-hole Mountain course and is located right off the Capital Beltway and I-95. TopGolf Dallas has 54 holes of mini-golf, and batting cages just in case you get tired of putting around and want to take your cuts against a mechanical pitcher.
Golfland – California
Sunny California has a dizzying amount of outdoor amusement activity in which to participate, from large theme parks like Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farms, or Six Flags to smaller, mini-golfing venues like Golfland. This chain of courses in California (as well as one in Arizona) cater to the year-round mini-golf enthusiast, with a unique theme at each park and other activities from arcade games to laser tag. Their Anaheim location even claims to have the largest mini-golf facility in the country.
Oddly enough, there is another Golfland within Los Angeles County that seems to be either a rogue franchise, or simply a clever copy. Golfland South El Monte has four courses, an arcade and banquet hall, and seems to be independently operated from the other Golfland, even though they have the similar logo concept.
If you’re looking for the real deal, albeit it slightly more expensive concept, check out the Golfland locations in Anaheim, Roseville, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, San Jose, and Castro Valley in California and in Meza, Arizona. The less expensive, possible knock-off Golfland is just off I-10 in South El Monte.
Putt-Putt Fun Center- Multiple Locations
Mini-golf, crazy golf, putt-putt, it’s all the same, right? Not so according to the people who run the Putt-Putt Fun Centers. Their version is still “miniature” in scope, but the rules and course set-ups are completely standardized and different from most of the courses listed here that may instead have individual house rules for play.
Image: Jim, the Photographer/Flickr
Putt-Putt Fun Centers started in 1954 and developed their own kind of golf with several differences. Putt-Putt courses are typically more spartan in design, and the obstacles are slightly more modest, allowing a player to have a chance at hole-in-one on each shot. These differences may seem negligible in nature to the occasional mini-golfer. However, to the professional player they’re fairly critical, especially considering most ESPN-televised matches are on Putt-Putt course. Putt-Putt even sanctions it’s own league, the Professional Putter’s Association, which is separate from the USPGMA.
Looking for an authentic Putt-Putt venue? Check out their website for locations in 20 states across the country.
Bonus: Golgotha Bible Mini Golf – Cave City, KY
Perhaps this one belongs on a list featuring defunct amusement parks considering, sadly, it is now closed. But once upon a time, from 1992 to 2008, the Golgotha Fun Park in Kentucky featured a Bible theme, with the front and back nine covering the entire Old and New Testaments. The 18th hole represented Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. If Biblical mini-golf wasn’t your thing, you could always try their go-karts or paintball venue.
We aren’t sure if the course is merely defunct or if it’s been torn down completely as of now, but if you’re looking for the site try Kentucky State Route 70 from Cave City as you’re heading toward Mammoth Cave National Park. And if you do come across some interesting remnants, please let us know!