Course: Putt Putt Fun Center
Location: 1515 Putt Putt Pl, Charlottesville, VA 22901
Price: $6 for 18 holes.
Review: Who the hell do I think I am? Playing all these hoity toity twelve dollar mini golf courses like I was Andrew friggin’ Carnegie. Mini golf is supposed to be the sport of the common man: the kind of man who buys the chicken entree, not the seafood entree, whenever he visits the Olive Garden. And sure, it may not be the highest reviewed course in the state,* but dammit I’m trying to find the best mini golf course in the nation. So why would I discount Putt Putt Fun Center: a 62-old-chain with over forty locations in 14 states? That’s like refusing to discuss Walmart in a book about places where you’ll probably get murdered. Sure, Walmart isn’t as glamorous as, say, the soundproof back room of Don Stefano’s exclusive sex-casino. But it still merits discussion.
Continuing yesterday’s history lesson, Putt Putt Fun Center picks up right where we left off. Approximately two decades after the Great Depression, miniature golf underwent a drastic revitalization with the adoption of mass marketed suburban sprawl high way road-stops (thanks Eisenhower!). And one of the first and foremost of these mass marketed courses was “Putt Putt Golf,” originally built only 44 miles away from the Thistle Dhu. The franchise’s creator, Don Clayton, was sick and tired off all the “hit and giggle” mini golf courses around the country – courses that had been turning our good, strong, Christian men into effete, intellectual sissy-boys. In Clayton’s eyes, mini golf was a man’s sport (like billiards or bear wrestling**). So, doing away with the sport’s conventional emasculating props, Clayton’s new hyper-macho mini golf venues sprouted up across the nation. And, after a few short years, just like Kleenex, Frisbee, or Walmart-Murder-Juice-Remover, “Putt Putt” courses were so popular that the phrase “putt putt” became a synonymous replacement for the product it was selling.
And, visiting one of these courses for the first time, one can still see Clayton’s dedication to the incorruptible purity of the sport. Despite the inexplicable “zoo” of plastic animals that surrounded the (equally inexplicably) bright orange course, the “Fun Center” was an austere, desolate, mass produced, Puritanical cathedral. In my review of Tennessee’s mini golf course, I complained that the holes sloped inward to make scoring easier. Well the Putt Putt Fun Center decided to go the opposite direction, removing many props and decorations, and actually placing one of the holes on a steep incline, making it fairly impossible to sink. It was as if Don Clayton himself was right there with you, spitting in your face for trying to have fun at his incorruptible shrine of masculinity. That being said, there were some interesting elements to the franchise as a whole. In all honesty, it was much more of an adult’s game; my friend Maddy and I compared it to a game of pool – with enough practice, golfers could perfect their scores, eventually lining up each shot perfectly (like a skilled marksman on a grassy knoll).
Is this course the best in America? Perhaps not. Definitely not. But it views mini golf with a (perhaps unwarranted) strictness that gives the sport a much more competitive atmosphere. It is definitely not worth driving all the way from Colorado to Virginia, but if a Putt Putt Fun Center is in your neighborhood, you probably won’t get murdered there. And at the end of the day, that’s the best that any of us can hope for.
*That honor goes to yet another cookie cutter pirate putting course, followed by yet another Pirate’s Cove (the ubiquitous E. coli virus of the mini golf world). I will be reviewing the flagship Pirate’s Cove in Michigan; for other pirate courses, check out my reviews from Mississippi and Alabama. In short, I really didn’t want to go to yet another pirate-themed course. They’re brutal.
**A sport that has gained a different connotation in recent years.
Course Score: Dan – 43, Maddy – 56; pro par – 36; amateur par – 45.
Pros: Unique spin on the game; historically important; ubiquitous; cheap.
Cons: Barren and cruel; lower production value than other courses I’ve visited; the venue we went to was in a bit of disrepair, but that varies on a state-by-state basis.