America is big. Really big. It is a massive chunk of land that spans 50 states, several mountain ranges, and at least two oceans. It has been the setting of Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, and, presumably, many other very famous films. However, there is still one thing that is even bigger than America’s physical landmass… America’s love of mini golf.
Of all of America’s cultural pastimes, mini golf is arguably the most ubiquitous. America’s first mini golf course was built in 1916 – four years before the establishment of the NFL, five years before professional baseball’s first radio broadcast, and six years before the California grizzly bear officially went extinct. By 2000, the Miniature Golf Association of the United States (MGAUS) estimated that there were between 7,500 to 10,000 miniature golf courses within America alone. And this year, the US ProMiniGolf Association is offering a staggering $20,000 cash purse to the winners of the 2016 American Mini Golf Masters Tournament, which is roughly 1/90th of what Danny Willett received for winning the 2016 big golf Masters Tournament (and ½ the annual salary of a high school teacher).
But perhaps more importantly, every person reading this preface has had at least some exposure to mini golf. Some of us have simply driven past a run-down putt putt course on their way to someplace more important. Some of us played mini golf with friends and family when we were young; when we still had our naive, foolish pretensions of innocence. Some of us kissed Sarah Nicholsby for the first (and last) time in front of the windmill at the 12th hole of Tiny Town Miniature Golf before she left me forever. We have all had these exact same experiences, and whether we admit it or not, mini golf has had a small, but powerful presence in all of our lives.
Yet, despite its widespread ubiquitousness, there has always been a troubling lack of literature on the subject… What is the difference between a rural Montana putt putt course and a central Texas mini golf complex? How do you quantify excellence in the hypercompetitive crucible that is miniature golfing? And for that matter, what is the best mini golf course in America? For years, there has never been a means of addressing these important issues.
Over the past few weeks, I have spent countless hours researching the best mini golf courses across the nation. Using a series of Yelp reviews, Google Image searches, and arbitrary guesswork, I have created a list of the nation’s 51 best mini golf courses (one for each of the 50 states, and one for Washington D.C., the nation’s capital). Armed with this information, I will soon embark upon a two month long road-trip to these 51 locations, reviewing each of these 51 mini golf courses so that you, the reader, will learn where to find the best mini golf course in America.
Will this be an easy task? Probably not – not only will I be driving to each of the contiguous forty-eight United States (and Washington D.C., the nation’s capital), but I have also decided to drive up to Anchorage, Alaska, a city which is, in layman’s terms, “hecka distant.” Is this a task I am prepared for? Maybe – like Tiger Woods, I’m bringing along two of my own personal putters and several polo shirts that I bought at the Gap. (Unlike Tiger Woods, I do not own a Nike athletic visor; however, I do have a Chipotle hat I won at a high school pep rally, and that should probably work just as well). Is this a dumb task? Undeniably. But if I can prevent even one person from going to a subpar mini golf course; if I can create a new language that will clarify what excellence in the mini golf world actually is… well then, by God, it will all have been worth it.
Now, by this point, I am sure many of you are wondering if I have any ulterior motives in compiling this guide. More specifically: why am I bankrupting myself to create something this monumentally (for lack of a better word) stupid? Is this “travel guide” just an excuse for me to explore our monumentally big nation? Is it a way to examine both America and Americana in a cultural moment when our nation is politically and ideologically fractured? Will it ultimately devolve into a self-indulgent narrative that I’ll unsuccessfully try to reframe as an “empowering” coming-of-age story? Is this the trip where I finally find love?
In response to all of these questions, my answer is a resounding no.
It’s all about the mini golf.