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Putt Putt

Grandma Roth took my brother and me goofy golfing (also called miniature golf or putt-putt golf) often. I still enjoy it. Indeed, I enjoy it much more as an adult. Thanks to slightly better coordination and much better anger management, putting no longer threatens to send me into a tantrum. It’s a shame that most courses are so seedy—crumbling concrete, rotating obstacles whose motors have broken, ragged turf, damaged tee pads, warped lanes, detritus all over the greens. So finding a really good course is a pleasure.

We visited the location before, the miniature golf course closest to home, but it too was run-down and poorly designed, and we wrote it off. It’s had a face-lift since, and what a difference! Anyone intending to run a goofy golf course should look to Willowbrook Golf Center as a model of how to do it properly. Apart from good upkeep, features to emulate include:

holes without moving parts—electric motors are both expensive and unreliable, and add more frustration than thrill
few locations prone to striking a ball out of bounds
dramatic slopes in place of these hazards, but only in select locations, pockets to trap the unwary
patches of shaggy (really shaggy) astroturf, often combined with these traps, to simulate rough or sand traps
location of all these traps well to the edges of the “fairway,” penalizing gross inaccuracy rather than trivial errors
mild slopes elsewhere—just enough to give the hole personality, not enough to ensure that a bad putt rolls right back to your feet or, worse, enough to force all the balls to collect in the same groove
“greens” that are level and sufficiently large, if approached from a slope, to allow you to putt out after reaching it; none of those scenarios where you miss a short putt and end up rolling a dozen yards away
a minimum of random elements, like those scenarios where you putt into a preliminary hole, and your ball bounces randomly into one of several pipes to be delivered to the green
doglegs and obstacles designed to reward planning and lay-up shots

In short, the course deserves the epithet “miniature golf” rather than “goofy golf”: silly, gimmicky obstacles are absent, and most of the challenge lies in the approach to the hole, finishing up with routine putting if you’ve planned the approach properly. Maintenance helps—balls end up out of bounds a lot more often on courses where a wooden railing designed to prevent it rots away and isn’t replaced—but the holes are designed from the start to feel like golf in miniature. Which is just what it should be.

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