During mini-golf's first big boom 85 years ago, there was nothing little about the industry. According to the New York Times, by August 1930 there were over 25,000 mini-golf courses in the country. At the same time, there were only about 6,000 regular golf courses in America.
By some accounts, the sport of mini-golf, or “midget golf” as it used to be called, first appeared as an alternative for women due to the belief that regular golf was somehow unladylike. In fact, the first putting-only course in the world was built in 1867 at the famed Scottish course of St. Andrews solely for the St. Andrews' Ladies Putting Club.
From 1867 until the mid-1920s, mini-golf courses were mostly miniaturized, putting-only versions of regular golf courses. That changed in the late 1920s, when Garnet Carter built and patented his Tom Thumb course in the resort town of Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Taking the “putting-only” course a step further, he added rock tunnels and hollowed-out logs as obstacles and “soon found that his miniature golf course was far more profitable than his standard one.”
Mini-golf has come far from the days of hollowed-out logs—today's courses feature obstacles such as replicas of national landmarks, subway stations and laughing clowns. While there are only about 5,000 mini-golf courses still in America, there is a real art to the elaborate design of many of them. Here are six of the most eye-catching around the the country:
Par-King Skill Golf: Lincolnshire, Illinois
Fifty years ago, Amusement Business magazine called this mini-golf course in the suburbs of Chicago “Mini-Golf’s Taj Mahal,” saying it was the most elaborate and highest-grossing course in the country. Today, this multi-generational family-owned business is still thriving.
The family refers to Par-King as the "World's Most Unusual Miniature Golf Course" due to its many elaborate obstacles, which include a scale model of Mount Rushmore, a hand-crafted carousel and a replica Statue of Liberty. In 1975, the owners added a miniature wooden golf coaster (like a roller coaster, but designed to carry a golf ball) and, in the early 2000s, a steel “Super Looper” coaster that carries the ball upside-down. They are the only two like them in the world.