Travelogue Part I: the Unexpected Art of Mini Golf

Although my posts have been few lately, I promise it has not been due to idleness on our part. This past weekend, my husband and I traveled to Clemson, South Carolina to attend the wedding of a good friend who Bradley has known since elementary school. The beautiful affair went off without a hitch and the happy couple was well-wished off to their honeymoon cruise. My favorite non-wedding aspect of the big event was finally meeting another of my husband’s long time friends, a submariner who has been often referenced in the Belfry Crew’s legendary tales. One a personal note, I am so lucky my husband has such great taste in friends who are loyal and form such a wonderful support system for us both. He is obviously a great judge of character but his choice in marriage is beyond me 😉

It's like he knows the end is nigh

The (Not So) Lost World -- Bradley Given

We took advantage of the geographic location of the wedding to plan a short escape to North Myrtle Beach. The weather was beautiful even if the sun was scorching in its intensity. After getting in the requisite beach time, we moved on to other touristy activities. As mini golf is a non-negotiable component of any vacation itinerary we plan, we naturally ended up at Dino Adventure Golf. This putt-putt course was set in the lost Jurassic world discovered by the intrepid Professor Hacker when his hot air balloon is blown off course.

First, I would like to note that this archetypal pulp story has fascinated me since the first Halloween my family ruled me too old at 10 to go Trick-or-Treating around the ridge. (Honestly, I would probably still be going if they had not intervened). That evening, I planned my own private celebration eating candy and listening to the local public radio Halloween programming. I remember listening to a radio adaptation of HG Wells’s The Invisible Man and being entertained. However, I was much more interested in the airing of radio-adapted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. I remember being intrigued by the characters of intrepid adventurer, scholarly academic, youthful journalist, and the leading lady and their adventures in the hidden land of prehistoric dinosaurs. This radio show sparked my lifelong interest in pulp adventure novels and later Victorian sci-fi and steampunk that lead me on enjoy the works of classic authors Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and contemporary authors Ken Scholes, Tim Akers, Gail Carriger and Cherrie Priest.

Grumpy Dimetrodon is Grumpy

Get Off of My Lawn -- Bradley Given

The second great appeal of this course for both my husband and I was the dinosaur theme. While I entered and exited the common childhood phase of dreaming of being a paleontologist in favor of astronomy in the second grade, I’m not quite sure my husband ever did. He was the child who loved all things dinosaur, knew the scientific names, and collected books and toys representing them all. To this day, when choosing toys for my toddler nephews, he leans toward introducing them to different Jurassic creatures over planes, trains, and automobiles.

Finally, as we were putting around the course enjoying the Jurassic scenery, it occurred to me that someone had to build this set. It’s definitely not everyone who takes these things for granted, but it was somewhat of a revelation for me to realize that parts of the course were likely one-of-a-kind works of art. I suddenly saw the grumpy looking dimetrodon and the downcast gaze of the apatosaurus in a new light. Someone had to build, sculpt, paint, and arrange these dinosaurs. Art was not what I was expecting to find while putt-putting but it was really interesting to think about in terms of exposing the general public to mixed media, sculpture, and all the other techniques required to build an interesting course.

Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler. Welcome to Jurassic Park

Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler. Welcome to Jurassic Park -- Bradley Given

With a little help from Google, it soon became apparent that mini golf as art was old news to professionals. An article by Jonathan Haeber detailing the history of mini golf explains that the design approach to courses has evolved through a number of stylistic eras from Romantic Era Emergence to Post Romantic Classicism to Sterile Minimalism to Cultural Renaissance, to Corporate Minigolf. There have even been a number of museum exhibits commissioned across the country over the past few years to create public art in the form of putt-putt courses including the Golden Door Mini Golf Course associated with the Jersey City Museum, the 9-hole Putting Lot in Bushwick and Figment’s City of Dreams Mini Golf 18-hole course on Governors Island, Contemporary Masters: Artist-Designed Miniature Golf at the Salt Lake Arts Center, and Smash Putt Golf in Denver just to name a very few. Many of these exhibits are temporary but it is likely that their impact on the thousands of enthusiastic, often young, and potentially museum-shy patrons they attract is more than just memorable.

I have really enjoyed learning about this unique form of public art and hope you will click a few of the links above. I think mini golf is a really fun way to bring art, fantasy, and imagination to wider audiences than museums and art shows alone can attract. The accessibility and the enjoyment of these “exhibits”are evident when you see people from ages two to eighty-two smiling and pointing at a giant octopus or raptor. I know I will be examining my future mini golf courses with a keener eye in the future and hope you will, too.

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