6/20/16 – Louisiana

Course: City Putt Miniature Golf Course
Location: 8 Victory Ave, New Orleans, LA 70119
Price: $8 for 18 holes.

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My visit to City Putt Miniature Golf

Review: I’ve been here before! While making my itinerary, I forgot that I had visited this course about three years ago. And let me tell you, just like the horrifying portrait of my father that I keep hidden in my attic, this place hasn’t aged a day! City Putt Mini Golf is a blissful slice out of the Louisiana Cajun Dixieland bayou. And while most of that last sentence was just a string of words I found on the New Orleans Wikipedia page, my point is still valid. The course was filled with leafy bayou ferns and fronds; raucous jazz music blared from every speaker; and statues of New Orleans cultural figures filled the entire course. In terms of overall Louisiana aesthetic, this place was spot on. So much so, that I was astonished to discover that Bourbon Street was three miles away. I thought I was there the whole time!

Moreover, just like the horrifying portrait of my father (who whispers harsh truths into my ear as I desperately try to sleep), this place was also really informative. Throughout the whole course (underneath blissfully refreshing mist-machines) were factoids about different New Orleans streets and Louisiana cities. Recently, many people have praised the musical Hamilton for teaching American history in a uniquely accessible manner, but I’ve gotta say, City Golf beat them to the punch. If college microeconomics was taught using fact placards on a mini golf course, I may have actually passed the class my first time around.

Were there downsides to this course? Of course. Several holes were flooded by a torrential downpour that I had, earlier that afternoon, spent an hour blindly driving through (deathly terrified at every moment that I would drive into the the Gulf of Mexico; it was, in layman’s terms, “so scary”). Should a mini golf course located in the middle of swamp country have a better drainage system? Yeah, probably. The fact I had to get my Asics sneakers wet during a round on the links is (almost) unforgivable. But, in the end, City Putt was yet another tremendous venue that undeniably merits consideration for the nation’s best mini golf course.

A side note: On my drive over to City Putt, in the middle of the cataclysmic storm, I am ashamed to admit that there were brief, fleeting moments where I wondered whether this was all worth it. Is it worth sleeping in a different cheap, fleabag motel every night? Is it worth spending more, daily, on mini golf than I do on food? Is this a good idea? Seriously, is this a good idea? What am I trying to prove? Really, who needs a comprehensive guide of the nation’s best mini golf courses? What the hell am I trying to prove?

But, as I ate beignets and watched the sun set over the French Quarter, I realized these fears were short lived. Of course it’s all worth it.

People need to know where to find America’s best mini golf course.

Course Score: 50; Par – 41.
Pros: Great Dixieland aesthetic, informative and fun, mist machines blocked the heat, very close to downtown New Orleans.
Cons: The course was flooded at times, the holes were not as complex as previous courses.

6/19/16 – Texas

Course: Topgolf Dallas
Location: 8787 Park Ln, Dallas, TX 75231
Price: $8.75 for 18 holes.

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TopGolf Dallas

You would  imagine a place named “Topgolf” to take its golf game seriously. But oh boy, does Topgolf Dallas, the headquarters for the multinational sports conglomerate, go above and beyond. With an 18-hole golf course, a 2-story driving range, and microchips implanted into the golf balls themselves (to track how far they travel), Topgolf is the athletic equivalent of that company that created RoboCop*; Topgolf is the spaceship from Wall·E**; if Topgolf built the Terminator, all people would be saying would be “wow, that robot that just killed Sarah Connor was super efficient. She didn’t stand a chance.”

And, in this context, Topgolf’s mini golf range was equally absurd. Their three 18-hole courses spanned the surface of a small mountain – I’ve seen East Coast ski resorts with smaller slopes (and with less snow, East Coast ski resorts are terrible). Moreover, like Oklahoma’s HeyDay Entertainment, Topgolf merged a party aesthetic with the course’s calming, pure simplicity. Patrons could purchase “buckets of beer” for their “tight 54” on the mini-links. However, the central focus of the course, of course, was the golf – the purity, the sublime beauty of an unyielding game that turns boys into men (and vice versa). Forget Iggy Azalea, the course was simply underscored by a chorus of waterfalls and polite streams. And if you were worried about the harsh Texas heat, well you can suck an egg because Topgolf’s got you covered – the course’s many trees and caves provided a natural shelter from the harsh elements. Plus they had a statue of a shark in their lake, which was pretty cool. I was all like, “woah, is that a real shark?” and then I was like, “nope, it’s just a statue. They tricked me.” In short, if you’re looking for a location that highlights the splendor of the sport, while still providing the giddy joy of miniaturization, Topgolf Dallas comes with my highest recommendation. This place is the golfer’s equivalent of Thoreau’s Walden (but without all the boring poetry).

*Omni Consumer Products
** The Buy ‘n’ Large Axiom.

Course Score: 46; Par – 54.
Pros: Beautiful, expansive course. Complicated holes. Provided shade from the sun.
Cons: Some water damage to the course, but given the sheer size of the location and the absurd amount of water the course had in the middle of the Texas desert, that’s probably to be expected.

6/18/16 – Oklahoma

Course: HeyDay Entertainment
Location: 3201 Market Pl, Norman, OK 73072
Price: $6.50 for 18 holes.

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HeyDay Entertainment

Review: After driving for a grueling 8 hours, I finally arrived in Norman, Oklahoma at 9pm on Friday night. Date night. And what better place for romance than HeyDay Entertainment? Conveniently located a few miles south of Oklahoma City, HeyDay Entertainment is definitely worth the visit (note: only if you live in the Oklahoma City area, don’t drive from some super distant place like, say, Colorado – that amount of driving might make you massively depressed and this is only the third day of your trip). Right off the bat, I have no idea how to classify this place. On the one hand, it was a beautiful venue that was filled with a jungle of trees, perfectly manicured (polypropylene) lawns, and flowing rivers. In this sense, HeyDay commendably tried to play up the “golf” element of “mini golf.” It had no windmills, pirate ships, medieval castles, or interactive statues of Abe Lincoln (The Great Emancipator!) – in their place were majestic fountains and unobtrusive (but devilishly complicated) rock formations. The holes even had flags in them, just like a real golf course!

However, perhaps in conflict (perhaps in tandem) with this slick professionalism, HeyDay also had an inconsistent, raucous party vibe going on. At the front of the course was a bar that sold a wide variety of the nation’s finest lite beers; I decided on a cool, invigorating Coors Light (the freshmaker!). And all around the course, bright lights flashed, and Katy Perry and Iggy Azalea blared loudly as people (grown adults) danced right there on links. It was like high school prom all over again. Only this time, Mrs. Stebbins (my AP English teacher) didn’t bat her eyes at me the whole night like a damn tease. But, despite its somewhat confusing vibe, in the end this was a very polished course – is it the best course in America? Again, I won’t know that for another two months at least.

Next stop: Dallas.

 

Course Score: 58; Par – 45
Pros: Beautiful environment, complex holes, great upkeep, fun party atmosphere, cheap beer.
Cons: Conflicting golf/party vibes, pretty minimal props, right next to the highway. Not a lot of complaints however, this place was great.

6/17/16 – New Mexico

Course: The Hinkle Family Fun Center
Location: 12931 Indian School Road NE, Albuquerque NM 87112
Price: $7.99 for 18 holes; $11.29 for 36 holes.

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Hinkle Family Fun Center

Review: Pacino. Gore. Jazeera. Roker. Obama. Capone. Dente. What do all of these things have in common?? With the exception of Obama, they’re all surnames of famous people/objects named Al! (Obama was just a red herring). But, while these Als are all, undeniably, pretty amazing, with such a wide variety of great men/news organizations/pastas named Al out there, one can’t help but wonder: “what is the best Al in the world?” Fortunately (as opposed to my whole “mini golf” dilemma), the answer to this specific question is deceptively simple. Sure, there are many great “Als” all around us, but there has only ever been one “Big Al.” And you know what Al I’m talking about I’m talking about Duke City! I’m talking about the largest city in the entire state of New Mexico! I’m talking about the city that single-handedly put a giant “Q” smack-dab in the geological center of the Land of Enchantment!*

Mother friggin’ Albuquerque!!!

After a fun (not at all soul-crushingly boring) seven hours of driving, I finally arrived at Al “Big Al” Buquerque in the heart of New Mexico. And while it is perhaps best known as the site of the world’s largest hot air balloon festival, Albuquerque is also, more importantly, the site of the second mini golf course on my 50-state road trip. The Hinkle Family Fun Center**. Surrounded by New Mexico’s beautifully scenic brushland (and directly adjacent to an equally scenic CVS), The Hinkle Family Fun Center has been continuously owned and operated by Gene, Betty, Doug, and Bryan Hinkle (the eponymous Hinkle family) since 1994. And let me tell you right now, this place had everything for the discerning mini golf enthusiast: waterfalls, lakes, a practice putting green, waterfalls, at least eight different American flags on display, ninety-five degree New Mexico heat, and even waterfalls! But seriously, featuring two incredibly well-maintained courses (and at least 15 different water features), this venue was more relaxed and peaceful than a yoga studio on Quaaludes. There were two-story tree houses to putt through, caves to explore, and a great view of the nearby Sandia Mountain Range. Honestly, if it weren’t for the scorching desert heat, I could have stayed at Hinkle’s almost as long as the Anasazi civilization stayed in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. Which is approximately 1,400 years!!***

But, although this venue was, for the most part, an extremely peaceful getaway, it still had its fair share of flaws: the two courses were pretty low production-value, all the holes were par-2’s, and the venue’s red-and-blue colored obstacles weren’t terribly unique.  Obviously, this wasn’t a “bad” venue by any means. Just, like the face of an employee at a frozen yogurt store… Hinkle’s was unmemorable. In addition, the fact they used colored turf to mimic water (rather than just use the real thing) was kind of disappointing. Ultimately though, although Hinkle’s was not particularly noteworthy, it was still a very relaxing way to spend a few hours in NM. Plus, after I finished putting, I won a Nerf gun from their arcade for only two bucks. Which was sweet!

* Land of EnchQantment.
** Seeing as this is already the second Family Entertainment Center I’ve visited on my trip, I thought it would be neat to give y’all a little more info on them. According to IBISWorld, family fun centers (arcade/go kart/bumper car/mini golf venues) are a ten billion dollar industry with approximately 50,000 locations worldwide. To put that number in perspective, there are only about 850 Olive Garden restaurant locations in the whole world… Really makes you think, doesn’t it?
*** The great thing about using historical specificity as a punchline is that, even if the joke is bad/lazily written, the reader still learns something in the process.

Course Score: 43; Par – 38.
Pros: Great upkeep; decently challenging; turf/props in good condition; multi-level holes; peaceful environment; many well-maintained/peaceful waterfalls and caves; fun tree house vibe.
Cons: 
Lower production value; very hot; all holes were par 2; mostly simplistic holes; nothing that made it truly memorable.

6/16/16 – Colorado

Course: Adventure Golf & Raceway: The Ultimate Adventure
Location: 9650 N. Sheridan Blvd. Westminster, CO 80031
Price: $8.25 for 18 holes; $12.75 for unlimited golf.

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Kyle and I went to Adventure Golf

Review: This is it!!! Adventure Golf! The first mini golf course on my three-month-long, 50-state road-trip! After today’s game, I’ll be spending the next three consecutive months of my life sleeping in the back of a car and (presumably) eating nothing but Big Macs for days on end. All for the sake of mini golf. And, if we’re being completely honest, the thought of doing something like this terrifies me… Seriously, I cannot stress how easy it would be to just give up and go home right now: it would be easier than breathing. Easier than the first level of Tetris. Easier than a prom queen in a coming-of-age sex-comedy from the misogynistic 1960’s. But, as easy as it would be, I simply cannot afford to give up! The world deserves to know where America’s best mini golf course is. No. The world needs to know where America’s best mini golf course is!* And (even though it’s still probably too early in the trip for me to make any sweepingly inaccurate historical over-generalizations) I’m pretty sure this is exactly how Neil Armstrong must have felt when he got onto the Apollo 11 for the first time. Sure, he was probably a bit apprehensive. But he was more excited that he had been given an opportunity to change the world!!

But enough of this boring personal narrative junk…  If you wanted to read the barely-literate ramblings of some random white guy, you would have purchased Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, not a book titled America’s Best Mini Golf. So let’s learn about some dang mini golf already!

Located in the heart of Colorado (the state that single-handedly turned the “marijuana cookbook” industry into a billion dollar empire**), you’ll find Adventure Golf & Raceway – the state’s highest rated/most popular mini golf course. And, all things considered, this place was a pretty great first course to review. Featuring three top-notch mini golf courses (“Adventure Cove,” Buccaneer Bay,” and “Lost Continent”), Adventure Golf was virtually indistinguishable from a Penn & Teller Vegas stage show: it was impressive, high-budget, and unexpectedly entertaining. In particular, the venue’s “Lost Continent” course was especially well done. Guiding golfers through a jungle adventure gone awry, this course was filled to the brim with animatronic Tiki heads, quicksand pits, alligators, hidden temples, and at least six different flame displays. It was cool. Hell, it was almost as exciting and terrifying Colorado’s very own Blucifer statue (the horrifyingly massive mustang sculpture kept eternally on display directly outside of Denver International Airport***).

However, while this venue was, overall, pretty great, Adventure Golf was not with out its share of flaws. Most pressingly, although (as previously mentioned) the “Lost Continent” course was quite good, the other two courses weren’t as impressive. Or intelligible. Consider, for example, its “Buccaneer Bay” course: sure, this course’s first few holes had a somewhat piratey Tex-Mex feel, with speakers that blared the theme song to Rawhide louder (and more enthusiastically) than Jim Belushi at a Blues Brothers revival concert. But, by around the 8th hole, the course immediately transformed itself into an ancient Dutch realm, filled with medieval castles, quaint windmills, and (presumably) the music from the film adaptation of Ivanhoe. What the heck happened? Did Adventure Golf just buy a bunch of mass-produced, unrelated props and assume that no one would be crazy enough to write a review guide dedicated entirely to the “sport” of mini golf?

Why would they do that?

But ultimately, even though Adventure Golf felt a little mass-produced/incoherent, I still really enjoyed this location. It was decently challenging, incredibly well-maintained, and impressively high-budget… But was it the best mini golf course in America?

I guess I’ll have to go to New Mexico to find out.

* …hopefully. Otherwise I just wasted three months of my life writing a coffee table book. But, now that I think about it, how sweet would this book look on your coffee table? Really sweet. Everyone would be all like “wow! Look at this book on your coffee table! You’re such an interesting person! And look at your arms, have you been working out lately? Oh, they just naturally look like that? Awesome! Your life has value!”
** Seriously, look around. If you’re reading this book in an Urban Outfitters, I bet there are at least fifteen weed-themed cookbooks nearby…
*** When you have some free time, definitely do a little more research on “Blucifer.” He is a 32-foot-tall, bright blue horse statue with realistic veins and glowing red eyes. Fun fact: Blucifer fell on his sculptor and crushed him mid-construction! Blucifer has killed, and he will kill again.

Course score: Dan – 55, Kyle – 56; Par – 43.
Pros: Incredible “Lost Continent” course; great overall upkeep; moderately challenging holes;  high production value; exciting fire displays/animatronics.
Cons: Unclear theme; several minor scuffs/leaves strewn over the course; mass-produced; not terribly unique.

6/15/16 – Introductory Remarks

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.

Until now.

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.