Gus G. Boznos, a founder of Par-King, dubbed Taj Mahal of mini-golf, dies at 92
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It’s not every day that a miniature golf course draws comparisons to the Taj Mahal. But Par-King, which has been operating first in Morton Grove and then in Lincolnshire for a total of 63 years, is a slice of Americana that’s outlasted Riverview amusement park, most drive-in theaters and a lot of other colorful fiberglass-bedecked roadside attractions lost to urban sprawl.
Gus G. Boznos, who died last month at 92, was part of the second-generation to lead what’s now a third-generation family business.
Par-King started in Morton Grove and now operates on a 25-acre site on Milwaukee Avenue in Lincolnshire. It’s a throwback to a time when people migrated outside for recreation, instead of sinking into the air-conditioned comfort of couches, computers and video games.
“It’s one of the best miniature golf courses in the country,” said Gretchen Smith, the Lansing, Michigan, author of the upcoming book “Amazing Strokes,” which tells the history of miniature golf and its courses. “You just don’t find places like that anymore.”
Atlas Obscura — an online site devoted to “the world’s most wondrous places and foods” — calls Par-King “an impressive testament to a quickly disappearing attraction.” In 1965, the magazine Amusement Business called it “possibly the most elaborate mini-golf course in the nation” and “mini-golf’s Taj Mahal.”
Formally dressed prom-goers descend on Par-King each spring. Wedding parties drop by. It’s been the site of marriage proposals, with husbands-to-be enlisting the staff’s help at popping the question by hiding engagement rings at various holes on its two courses.
In 1995, when a group of architects and historians met in Chicago for a conference on “Preserving the Recent Past,” the Sun-Times reported they bypassed a visit to such architectural wonders as the Robie House and the Rookery to visit kitsch-y sites like Superdawg on the Northwest Side, the Leaning Tower in Niles and Par-King.
“I can’t tell you how many people come to Lincolnshire and look around and say, ‘This is where I had my first date,’ ” said Mr. Boznos’ son George, who runs the course with his brother Chris.
Par-King features 10,000 flowers, topiaries, Japanese maples and a giant pink-castle backdrop.
Other mini-golf courses have across-the-holes motifs, like a jungle flavor or maybe a Tiki feel. Par-King has a custom-made theme for each of its two 18-hole courses, many originally designed and engineered by Mr. Boznos and his brothers Nick and Sam.
Golfers hit balls at a miniature Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, a giant roulette wheel or mammoth guitar, fiberglass elephants, alligators, knights in armor, a retro rocket ship and two contraptions with golfball-bearing elevators: a roller-coaster and a Sears Tower with light-up windows. (When Par-King opened in the late 1950s, the Boznos family created a scale model of the then-new Prudential Building, Chicago’s tallest building.)
As one patron told the Travel Channel, “I can see Lady Liberty, Mount Rushmore and a weird psychedelic pumpkin all before curfew.”
A son of Greek immigrants from the Tripoli region, Mr. Boznos grew up in Morton Grove. His father George owned a large piece of land near Waukegan and Dempster where he operated a garden center and produce store, which evolved into a nursery and other businesses, including a tavern and a boat-and-marine shop. In 1951, he and his sons — Gus, Nick and Sam — opened a driving range, called Four G Fairways, which stood for George’s Gorgeous Golf Garden. They added mini-golf later on.
Mr. Boznos spotted his future wife Bonita while she was practicing her golf game at Four G. They got married in 1965.
“People tell us all the time the stories of how they met” at Par-King, she said, and how “their children and their children’s children” have returned there to play.
The family sold some of their land to developers who built a Korvettes store, and in 1964 Gus and Nick relocated a little east on Dempster to their second Morton Grove location, which they dubbed Par-King Skill Golf, according to Mr. Boznos’ son George. Brothers Gus and Nick opened Par-King in Lincolnshire in the mid-1970s, and Mr. Boznos operated Lincolnshire while his brother continued to run the Morton Grove location, which closed about 15 years ago.
Mr. Boznos believed in keeping the grounds immaculate — and that if something was working fine, don’t tweak it too much. “Don’t rock the boat,” he’d say.
He enjoyed eating lamb and taking the occasional sip of Roditis Greek wine.
He is also survived by his son Chris and was “papou” to two grandchildren. A funeral service has been held. Mr. Boznos also will be remembered on Sept. 30 at a mnimosino, a traditional memorial 40 days after a death, at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox church in Des Plaines.