Miniature golf turns 100 this year, and the puttable pastime is still going strong. A new generation of pop-up and artist-designed courses are bringing a modern sensibility to the game, while lovingly maintained vintage courses still attract families as they have for decades. “I’m seeing a resurgence in mini golf,” says Amanda Kulkoski producer and director of Through the Windmill, a documentary scheduled for release this fall. The film professor, whose first job was at a course in Green Bay, Wis., shares some of her favorite miniature golf links with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Mini-golf isn’t just limited to vacation towns and suburbia. This indoor Mission District course delights visitors with a steampunk sensibility, using mechanical lifts and elaborate theming. “It’s just really full of surprises,” Kulkoski says. “There’s one hole that simulates a submarine. It vibrates the floor and you look out a porthole and see fish going by.” It also has a bar and restaurant. urbanputt.com
Par-King Skill Golf
This 1950s-era course in suburban Chicago has been called the Taj Mahal of miniature golf. “Every few years, they create new amazing holes,” Kulkoski says, citing a rocket with an elevator that lifts the ball in the air, and a roller coaster that moves the ball in a little car. “It’s truly a mechanical vintage course in immaculate condition.” par-king.com
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Myrtle Beach claims to have more miniature golf courses than any other city, with imaginative links like Hawaiian Rumble, which hosts the annual Masters of Miniature Golf tournament. It’s built around a giant volcano that belches smoke and appears to erupt every 20 minutes. Nearby is astonishing Mount Atlanticus, which was built in and around a former department store and parking deck. hawaiianrumbleminigolf.com; myrtlebeachminigolf.com
Named for professional player George Vitense, this indoor-outdoor course combines playground equipment with miniature golf. “They have an obstacle, where you putt on one level and you have to slide down to another,” says Kulkoski, who played the course when she was a college student. “It was good when I was in school, but now it’s fantastic.” vitense.com
Around the World
Lake George, N.Y.
The two 18-hole courses are based on the builder’s global travels, complete with a huge German beer stein, a Mexican sombrero and a giant Paul Bunyan thrown in for good measure. “One hole I got a kick out of was the Napoleon hole with a guillotine and you have to time the putt just right,” Kulkoski says. aroundtheworldgolf.com
Walker Art Center
Across the country, museums have embraced mini golf for its cultural (and kitschy) possibilities. One of the best examples is the Walker, which opens a course every summer with holes designed by artists. This year it takes putters to the museum’s rooftop, and remains open until Sept. 4. Nearby is Kulkoski’s favorite course, Big Stone in Mound, Minn., which is built in and around a sculpture garden. walkerart.org; bigstoneminigolf.com
Magic Carpet Golf
When Kulkoski thinks of mini golf, she first pictures vintage courses, like this family-run operation where she found four generations at work. “It has tons of dinosaurs, and a big monster birthday cake hole,” she says. “It also has one of my favorite holes with a giant spider web and a mechanical spider going up and down.” magiccarpetgolfreno.com
Country Club at The Band Box
This new course appeals to fans of both mini golf and minor league baseball. It’s the latest addition to a dining and entertainment area called The Band Box at First Tennessee Park, home to the Nashville Sounds. The course features holes designed by area artists, but is only open during baseball season. thebandboxnashville.com
Matterhorn Mini Golf
Kulkoski ‘s movie follows a woman building this new course, which emerges as a puttable Swiss wonderland. “The Heidi hole has you golfing around little goat poop. My favorite hole is the bobsled track or ski moguls. It’s just really fun. You hear a lot of yodeling on the course.” matterhornminigolf.com
While people often use the phrase “Putt-Putt” to describe all mini-golf, the term is actually trademarked, referring to courses franchised through a Fayetteville, N.C., company. Kulkoski likes this location because it’s more elaborate than the standard courses which are flat and often short on decoration. “It has multiple levels and giant animals.” It also stands out for the two 20-foot putters in a pond surrounded by bumper boats. puttputt.com/augusta
Larry Bleiberg, Special for USA TODAY