08.06.06 Minigolf, Seriously
My recent whirlwind tour of kidgames included one stop that wasn’t mentioned in my Salon story about adult players of rock paper scissors, tag and the like. I spent the last day of the trip in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina hanging out and playing with a few top players in the U.S. ProMiniGolf Associaiton.
Of all the games in my lineup, minigolf scared me the most. Less informed souls might think it unreasonable to feel anything but scorn for a sport so lightweight that none other than George W. Bush chose it to showcase his worthiness on his first date with Laura. But I knew better. I knew top players on the pro miniature golf circuit are so good they count it as a setback if they don’t hit a hole in one – on every hole. I knew that top European competitors, players like fearsome Swede Hans Olofsson and Czech wunderkind Olivia Prokopova, travel with padded humidors packed with temperature-controlled balls of various spin, bounce and firmness. To these masters of minigolf, the sport is anything but child’s play.
And now I was facing Chris Carpenter, the course record holder on what is known as “the Augusta of Miniature Golf.” Sure, Carpenter wasn’t on the level of those formidable Europeans, who favor the more rigidly standardized “putt-putt” form of minigolf, which is played on concrete and composite with nary a windmill or garden gnome in sight. In America, home of the more fanciful “adventure golf” variation, the purses are much smaller – prizes at the big competitions rarely exceed three or four thousand dollars – and the top players squeeze tournaments in between their day jobs and family obligations, staying in cheap hotels in small resort towns. Superstar Tom Dixon is a long haul truck driver who arranges his routes around tournament dates, while champ Matt McCaslin is a bartender at the Olive Garden.
Most competitors don’t mind at all that their most fierce showdowns take place in places that look like garden-variety tourist traps. The Hawaiian Rumble sits on an extravagantly tacky strip of highway 17 and features a three-story gurgling volcano, a parrot cage at the entrance and paintball target practice out back. I’d do well, however, to look past the “eye candy,” said Bob Detwiler, owner of Hawaiian Rumble and all-around booster of professional, grown-up miniature golf. I was about to play, he said ominously, the same 18 holes that punished top players twice a year at the Masters and U.S. Open of Miniature Golf.
“This is not a silly game,” he insisted, prompting solemn nods from Chris and Dominic Munafo, a “young gun” in two-tone golf cleats recruited to round out our party of four. “People don’t take this as seriously as they should,” agreed Chris. “Totally,” said Dominic. “Make no mistake: this is an incredibly challenging game.”
As I laid down my ball on the rubber pad at the first hole, I said a silent prayer that I could somehow avoid looking like a complete retard.
And then a funny thing happened. My first shot rolled down a dip, banked off a corner and dropped, unbelievably, in the hole. Even more unbelievably, none of the pros managed the same trick.
I went on to hit two more holes-in-one and a bewildering succession of par-twos, my focus undeterred by the deafening roar of Harleys over the hibiscus on hole six and the splattering of an overflowing waterfall on hole sixteen. I only had one truly terrible hole, and that I blame on Bo the groundskeeper, who really should have fixed that dislodged brick on hole thirteen that some goodamn fool child had kicked out of place. Even with that blunder, I finished one stroke behind Bob and six behind the course-record holder Chris. And I beat Dominic.
I could hardly believe it. I’d held my own against a trio of pros, and actually finished ahead of a rising young star! All of which would have been way more exciting if Dominic hadn’t proceeded to ruin my fantasy by immediately falling into a deep mope and telling me how badly he felt about his performance, then taking me back to his family’s roadside ice cream parlor, proudly showing off an autographed photo of Vana White and talking at length about his so-far frustrated dreams of riding miniature golf all the way out of this town toward bigger and better things. When I looked down at my pink-headed putter and hit a shot, it was a goof. But when Dominic took a shot, he pictured himself as his hero, fellow leftie Phil Mickelson: “Every time I’m out here I’m thinking of Phil, lining up a putt on eighteen against Tiger Woods,” he said, eyes downcast as he shared his secret passion. “I’m not really athletic, but at least I can do well in this.” To Dominic, miniature golf is a dream of greatness. And today, I’d helped diminish those dreams. “I guess I just got nervous,” he said sheepishly.
Love the blog, im a massive fan of minigolf
to see some info on a competition we had here in Ireland which hans Olofsson won let me know what you think.
Posted by Craig mcallister on 09/25 at 06:48 AM