Miniaturized version of the game of golf, in which courses offer challenging obstacles (and whimsical ornamentation) on artificial turf to make for a family-friendly exercise in competitive putting. Also known as mini golf, pee wee golf, or Putt-Putt® golf.

In the early twentieth century, private rooftop and garden putting greens gave way to courses with rails and bumpers. The game was popular with golf widows, as well as the new generation of single women with leisure time on their hands. Movie stars and celebrities got the mini-golf bug, too, further spreading its popularity. Aficionados point to Garnet and Frieda Carter's Tom Thumb franchise that he started at his resort at Lookout Mountain, Georgia, as establishing the "tradition" of whimsical landscaping and unusual concrete and metal barriers that made the courses so challenging. By the 1930's, a miniature golf craze swept across the country, with some 50,000 links being built, and competition furthering the designs:

As the courses multiplied all over the country, competition grew fierce and owners tried various gimmicks to stand out from the crowd. Music was played over loudspeakers via radio or even live band; courses stayed open till 4:00 a.m. and then reopened at 6:00 a.m.; ladies' lounges, tea rooms, and bridge tables were installed; beautiful women were hired to play at night to entice male customers; smart-looking male greeters were employed to act as masters of ceremony and to move players along so that more could play; amateur vaudeville acts and singing midgets were put on display; contests in marathon dancing, pole-stting, pie eating, and of course, mini-golf playing were held (Edward Sullivan of Olean, NY won for playing a non-stop 146-hour game). There were themed courses ranging from a Wild West mini-golf in Pasadena to a Chinese goofy golf in L.A. to an Arctic pee-wee golf in Hollywood. Frieda's element of whimsy was multiplied a thousandfold - there were the usual windmills and fairytale characters, plus giant dominoes, dice, checkers, Mousetrap-style Rube Goldberg contraptions - even a trained monkey who snatched the ball from unsuspecting players! The Caliente course in Los Angeles presented customers with a pool, sunken gardens, and a castle constructed over a natural geyser that shot steam 100 feet into the air; the spectacle was illuminated with colored spotlights. In Kansas City, the Coconut Grove mini-golf (an indoor course) imported colorful slabs of mineral stone and set up glittering cliffs and terraces surrounded by palm trees. Guy Lombardo built a course in New York creating a musical theme with hazards made from musical instruments. Many courses offered a glimpse of the wonders of the world in miniature - from the Taj Mahal to the Petrified Forest to the White House to the Great Wall of China. (Hatcher, 2000)
Part of the games popularity, no doubt, is its accessibilty. Children can play as easily as adults because the putting game requires finesse, not driving power, and the proto-Disneyland atmosphere is designed for the young-at-heart.
General Rules: Players receive one point for every shot where the club touches the ball. Once a player gets the golf ball into a hole, the score is recorded. Lowest score wins.

Family- or Tournament- Specific Rules:
  1. "A player may move his/her ball one club head (in any direction) from an obstruction at no penalty. (For this purpose, an obstruction is defined as being a raised border, rock, or incline alongside a raised border that prevents the player making a proper backswing.) Under no circumstances may a player move the ball more than one club-head length nearer the hole." (British Minigolf Association Competition Rules)
  2. "Only when Player 1 has holed out and been handed the score-card (with his/her score already entered) is Player 2 allowed to take his/her first stroke. Two balls may not be in play at a given hole at the same time. " (British Minigolf Association Competition Rules), OR,
    Each player takes one stroke (or as many as it takes to get on the "final" green). Then, play continues with the player whose ball is closest to the hole allowed to finish the hole (until he or she sinks the ball in the cup).
  3. If the ball leaves the course, the player may place it one club head away from the point where it left the green.

Care to make it interesting?

You're hip, you're up for a night on the town, and you're waaaaaay too old to be hanging out with your buddies at this Goofy Golf course-- especially as they don't serve alcohol. But here's a way to amp up the testosterone, the competition, yet maintain a coolness factor that won't get you kicked out of the place: Play for money.

  1. Each player gets one shot per hole. Only one.
  2. Closest ball to the hole wins the hole. On the scorecard, note only the player (no need to count strokes).
  3. Winner collects $1 US from every other player.
  4. Hole-in-ones collect $3 from every other player. In the event of multiple hole-in-ones, both or all winners collect.
  5. Winnings must be paid before advancing to next hole.
  6. Gloating is encouraged.
  7. At the end of the night, everyone counts their wad of cash to determine the winner. If necessary, the scorecard can be used to check for accuracy.
  8. (Optional) Winner buys drinks.
As one shot per hole moves the game along quickly, you may wish to agree to play 36 or 52 holes before beginning. Be sure to ask the cashier for a lot of single dollar bills when sign in to play.
An extremely pleasant evening spent in 1995 in the San Fernando Valley playing 36 holes at Sherman Oaks Castle (<>) with Mssrs. Brad Sherwood and J.P. Manoux taking scads of cash off of their compatriot and Web site designer, Dave.
"Miniature Golf History," U.S. ProMiniGolf Assocation, 22 August 2001, <> (8 April 2002)
"British Minigolf Association Competition Rules," Miniaturegolfer .com, 2 February 2002, < > (8 April 2002)
Lint Hatcher, "A Wonder History of Miniature Golf, Part 1," WONDER magazine , 11 October 2000, <> (8 April 2002)