For decades, millions of Americans have delighted in games of miniature golf. The game, which combines elements of skill derived from "real" golf with entertainment features aimed at children, has remained popular through the years with players of all ages.
No one is exactly sure who "invented" miniature golf. More than likely, it was developed simultaneously in many different places. Most historians place its origins around the turn of the twentieth century, when wealthy golf enthusiasts began building "golf in miniature" courses on their estates. This early form of the game was called "garden golf" and featured none of the elaborate obstacles that would mark the game in later years.
Originally a pastime of the leisure classes, miniature golf was soon transformed into a profitable business. In 1928, an entrepreneur named Garnet Carter (1883–1954) began charging people ten cents a round to golf on courses he had built on the rooftops of New York City skyscrapers (see entry under 1930s— The Way We Lived in volume 2). This commercial form of mini-golf became popular with movie stars and celebrities. By the 1930s, Americans had taken to the game in droves. During that decade, more than thirty thousand mini-golf courses sprang up across the country. An estimated four million people played the game regularly.
The next boom period for miniature golf came following World War II (1939–45). Businessman Don Clayton (1926–1996) helped spread the game to even more people through his Putt-Putt Golf chain. This chain used the same franchise model as those other 1950s icons, McDonald's (see entry under 1940s—Food and Drink in volume 3) and Holiday Inn. The Putt-Putt courses featured simple geometric obstacles and hills. During this period, other course designers began to add many of the colorful obstacles and hazards that people have come to associate with miniature golf. Spinning windmills, revolving statues, and babbling brooks made the golf even more challenging for the players. Later, others would expand on these innovations even further, creating elaborate "theme" courses based on fictional characters or fantasy settings.
With the arrival of young prodigy Tiger Woods (1975–), golf became wildly popular in the 1990s. Miniature golf took part in this boom as well. A number of golf and sports celebrities, including Jack Nicklaus (1940–), Michael Jordan (1962–), and Hale Irwin (1945–), opened "alternative golf" centers, which combined miniature golf, professional-style driving ranges, and other family entertainment attractions. The popularity of these facilities proves that miniature golf, no matter how it is packaged, remains an integral part of the entertainment landscape in America.
—Robert E. Schnakenberg
For More Information
Margolies, John. Miniature Golf. New York: Abbeville Press, 1987.
The PMGA: Professional Miniature Golf Association.http://www.thepmga.com/ (accessed January 25, 2002).