8/30/16 – Washington

Course: Flatstick Pub
Location: 240 2nd Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104
Price: $7 for 9 holes

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Me, Byron, Andrew, Steven, and Luke went to the Flatstick Pub

Review: Sports. America’s favorite pastime. The thing CBS broadcasts when The Big Bang Theory is done banging out all those big, bangin’ theories. It’s what Michael Phelps does when he isn’t busy eating the same amount of food that a Kenyan family of three eats in a week (I actually did the math on this one, if the average Kenyan spends $5 USD on food per week, and Michael Phelps, in his prime, ate 12,000 calories a day in a nation where the average daily food budget is approximately $21.50 USD, it’s more like eight and a half days – but, come on, if you’re reading a mini golf review guide for the accuracy of its math, that’s on you…) However, despite the popularity of sports in America, I’ve never really considered myself to be a very athletic person (unless memorizing the soundtrack to the musical Damn Yankees is considered “athletic”). And even though I’ve dedicated the past two months of my life to the undeniably fast-paced, heart-pounding, calorie-burning world of professional mini golf reviewing, I was still a little worried I wouldn’t fit in at this next course.

But, luckily, I was able to overcome these fears. Which is good because it’s been a while since I last had a really good drink.

Located in the very heart of Seattle, Washington, the Flatstick Pub is a dog-friendly mini-golf themed sports bar that has received an almost universal level of critical praise. With two locations in Washington state, Flatstick has a rotating tap featuring dozens of “Washington-only beers and ciders.” In fact, the only way this venue could be more Washington-specific is if they had a mural depicting native Seattleites complaining that Microsoft and Amazon were gentrifying their city while simultaneously, unironically drinking Starbucks coffee. (You can’t have it both ways, Seattle!!!) And, in addition  to its local brews, Flatstick’s 9-hole mini golf course was equally representative of its home state – seven of its holes were letter-shaped, spelling out the word “SEATTLE,”* and more importantly, the last hole was a miniaturized mechanical version of the Space Needle (or, is the Space Needle just a really friggin’ huge version of Flatstick’s last hole?).

But most importantly of all, Flatstick was a very high-quality course. Of all the mini golf bars I’ve visited so far, this venue had the most consistent and high-quality turf yet (the “grass” was as smooth and unblemished as the mahogany desk of a businessman who never had time for his children). In addition, the course was challenging, filled with many pipes, water hazards, and beer keg/barrel obstacles which, working together, gave me a score that was, in many respects, higher than a marijuana enthusiast who had, against his will, been superglued to the top of the Goodyear blimp (double pun!). Fortunately, the course’s many cupholders were so convenient that I almost forgot my abysmal score (and the fact that Luke and I had just returned from 42 hours of driving earlier that afternoon…)

Of course, as a course, the Flatstick Pub was by no means perfect. The hard, sharp angles in the “SEATTLE” holes made them, at times, maddeningly complicated. And the fact that these holes were elevated some six inches above the ground made my golfing feel more gawky and ungainly than a giraffe wearing high heels and a low cut evening dress (despite my best efforts, “Zoo Prom” never really caught on… in America). But, as I already learned in Washington D.C., when you’re surrounded by friends that you haven’t seen for years, drinking local brews and reconnecting over a tight 9 on the mini links, these flaws are pretty negligible.

I had a good night.

Or, instead, if they ever get tired of the whole “brewpub game” and become a regular restaurant, they could use those letters to spell out “let’s eat.” Conversely, if they built a golf-themed desalination plant, they could totally spell out “Salt tee.” How about a marine-biology-inspired tattoo parlor? “Eel tats.” A French-themed strip club? “Le teats.” The possibilities are endless!

Course Score: Byron – 36, Luke – 44, Dan – 47; par – 31.
Pros: Fantastic upkeep; everything was in a pristine condition; challenging, original holes; great barroom/Seattle theme; many other fun games to play in the bar besides mini golf; convenient cup holders on every hole.
Cons: A little cramped; only 9 holes; the “SEATTLE” holes had many sharp angles which made putting more difficult; the holes were elevated which made putting harder.

8/27/16 – Alaska

Putters Wild

Location: 1230 E 68th Ave #109, Anchorage, AK 99518
Phone: (907) 764 -7888
Hours: Varies seasonally; visit http://putterswild.com for more accurate information.
Price: 9 holes – $9 (adult); $8 (4-12 years/Military/65+)
18 holes – $12 (adult); $10 (4-12 years/Military/65+)
Replay – $5 (all ages)

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Putters Wild

Review: Wow.

I finally understand why so many truck drivers become serial killers. I mean, what else are you supposed to do during the 42 hours of driving it takes to go one-way from Seattle to Anchorage? Not murder hitchhikers??? Don’t be silly! You see, when I say “42 hours of driving,” I mean actual driving. The time where the vehicle is physically moving. Not the time spent sleeping in the back of a Subaru, thousands of miles away from society in an abandoned (but unimaginably beautiful) wilderness where the sun apparently has better things to do than set. Or heat things up. It’s a good thing my friend Luke was crazy enough to go on this leg of the trip with me, otherwise I would have snapped before I even reached Prince George.* As it is, it still feels like my brain has repressed most of the actual road trip, because all I can remember are snapshots that feel like they’ve been forcefully pulled out of someone else’s life…

I remember driving past thirty black bears in one day and swimming in increasingly frozen lakes as Luke and I made our way across the Yukon. I remember the massive glacier that we explored, jumping over 20-foot-deep icy crevices, wearing only tennis shoes and light windbreakers (because we were woefully unprepared for this trip). I remember hesitantly asking “…is Canada a better country than America?” as we drove past the Alaskan border only to find that America’s roads were in an infinitely worse condition (and, more importantly, how the road signs were riddled with bullet holes). I remember how we laughed for a solid five minutes after I asked that question (because of how misguided it was). But most importantly of all, I also remember the state’s best mini golf course. Which is good because that’s the reason we drove all the way out to Anchorage in the first place.

Located in the heart of sunny Anchorage, AK (although “heart” is a generous term since Anchorage, as a city, is as lazily sprawled out as a corpse in a community theater production of And Then There Were None) you’ll find Putter’s Wild – Anchorage’s premier indoor black light miniature golf course. And, given that Alaska’s winter is, in layman’s terms, “an unforgiving, frozen, dystopian hellscape that puts Dante’s Inferno to shame”** it makes sense that this course was located indoors. But even though it was kind of small, it was a pretty neat venue. Featuring two blacklit 9-hole courses (“Pacific” and “Polar”), Putters Wild was the first 3d mini golf course I’d ever (3d) seen. And, I’ve got to admit, playing mini golf with a complimentary pair of 3d glasses attached to your face made the whole experience way cooler. It was like watching James Cameron’s Avatar, but without all the blatant references to oil unobtainium that made Cameron’s film the overnight sensation that we all watched once in 2009 and then never talked about again.

As for the venue’s actual specifics, its Alaska-themed paintings/props were as detailed and impressive in 2d as they were in 3d; it had several holes with unique obstacles/complex machinery; and its pristine upkeep was almost as amazing as the international strength of the American dollar (WE WERE MILLIONAIRES IN CANADA!!!). But, overall, Putters Wild was still pretty simplistic; it was small and mostly flat. And the fact you were playing in darkness made it difficult to gauge the thickness/speed of the carpet (which varied for different holes). I mean, come on. This is pro mini golf, not the carpet swatch section at the Home Depot. However, at the end of the day, although it was not a truly incredible course, Putters Wild was a pretty great way to spend an hour in the most-populous city of the Last Frontier. But still, after driving all the way from Washington to Alaska, I really needed a drink. Fortunately, I knew this great little mini-golf-themed bar only 42 driving-hours south of Anchorage.

Thanks for the memories, AK.

A city that, as we all know, is the self-proclaimed “Capital of Northern British Columbia.” Which is a stupid nickname, because it’s located only halfway up B.C. Prince George is still a full 15 driving-hours  away from even the Yukon border. Let alone Alaska. I now know what old-timey sailors meant when they talked about “a hard day’s journey.” Man was not meant to travel that far of a distance in one day. It changes a person. Irrevocably.
** Conversely, the only thing that puts Dan Brown’s Inferno to shame is Dan Brown’s Inferno.

Course Score: Pacific Course: Luke – 24, Dan – 27; par – 25. Polar Course: Luke – 26, Dan – 31; par 25.
Pros: Fantastic upkeep; clearly loved by owners; great theme/design; 3d glasses were awesome; several unique props/complex ball-transporting machines;
Cons: Small; the holes were mostly simplistic; in the dark, it was hard to gauge the thickness of the carpet/speed of the ball; located in Alaska.

8/26/16 – Montana

Course: Valley View Garden Golf
Location: 1405 9th Street Northwest Great Falls, MT 59404
Price: $6 for 18 holes (cash only)

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Valley View Garden Golf

Review: Sorry, Montanans. I know this may come as a big surprise to all of you “real Montana folk,”* but there really aren’t all that many mini golf courses in your state. Which surprised me, because your state is very, very big. So big that, even though its population is over a million people, its population density is approximately only 6 people per square mile.** So big that, while driving, I was able to listen to the soundtrack to National Treasure four times on repeat before I even reached Helena.*** However, despite its massive size, Montana didn’t really have that many “big name” courses (to the extent that Mt. Atlanticus is a big name). But, after researching Montana’s various courses for several hours, I was able to find one course that definitively stood out from the rest.

Family owned and operated since 1967, the award winning Valley View Garden Golf has been a staple of the Great Falls community for nearly five decades. It even got a write-up in the Great Falls Tribune. And while this venue lacked the motion-activated animatronics or regional authenticity that I have come to expect from America’s best mini golf courses, it was still quite charming. The love and care behind every inch of this course was visible from the moment I began playing: not only was Valley View’s carpet in a near-flawless condition, but its spotless, pristine atmosphere and its unimaginably kind and helpful staff made this course more welcoming than a factory that makes “home is where the heart is” door mats (I bet those factory workers love their jobs!) In addition, the course was surrounded by many cooling mist machines, fun props and a massive garden of flowers that are still grown, to this day, by the course’s 91-year-old creator Robert Petrini. It was all very charming.

And admittedly, the course was pretty simplistic. Its many flat, concrete-enclosed straightaway holes were as repetitive and unending as a review guide dedicated entirely to reviewing the nation’s finest miniature golf courses (zing). Additionally, this course did not have a very clear theme (for several holes, it had a strange, unaccountable “Japanese” vibe which wasn’t culturally insensitive so much as it was just really, bafflingly inexplicable). And, while the course was only six bucks, it was cash only, which I’m not even necessarily sure is a negative aspect, but it was still inconvenient. Not as inconvenient as truth in the Al Gore household. But still, a bit of a nuisance – like a tsetse fly to a wildebeest in heat. The course’s last hole, however, more than made up for these minor flaws, taking the ball over an (again, extremely inexplicable) Japanese bridge, underneath a babbling brook, and through several concrete obstacles. Ultimately, at the end of the day, while it was not necessarily a spectacle of a course, as a course Valley View Garden Golf was decently spectacular.

* As opposed all those “fake Montana folk” who think the bitterroot is just something you eat during the Jewish holiday Pesach, and not Montana’s state flower. Those fakers are probably too busy celebrating the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt to appreciate that Montana has the largest grizzly bear population of the lower 48 states. Damn those “fake Montana folk!” We should force them to go back to Brooklyn where they belong! Build the wall! Make America Montana Again!
** Which must create some pretty dismal 4th of July parades…
*** The first three times weren’t that enjoyable. But the fourth time I listened to the National Treasure soundtrack, strangely it was the most beautiful, transcendent music I had ever heard. Most people would call that Stockholm syndrome. But what do they know?

Course Score: 55; par – 44
Pros: Very well cared for; very good upkeep; only six dollars; kind staff; beautiful flowers/foliage; cooling mist machines; fantastic final hole; overall quite enjoyable.
Cons: Mostly simplistic/flat holes; lower production value than other courses I’ve visited; cash only; no obvious theme; one or two scuffs/water stains (but not many).

8/25/16 – Idaho

Course: Newby’s 7N Ranch Resort Mini Golf
Location: 45 N Newby Lane, Ririe, ID 83443
Price: $6 for 18 holes

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Newby’s 7N Ranch Resort Mini Golf

Review: Life is all about making difficult choices. Paper or plastic? Miley Cyrus or Hannah Montana? The Wall Street Journal or Buzzfeed’s “15 Hotties Incriminated by Benghazi” listicle? And, like life, professional mini golf reviewing is also rife with hard choices. In particular, I found it very difficult to choose which Idaho course to review. The smart man* would go with the state’s clearly most popular venue: Wahooz Family Fun Zone located in scenic, sunny Meridian. But, after a brief Google Image Search (read: three hours) I soon realized that, just like a photoshopped and non-photoshopped image of Dwayne Johnson’s flawless jawline, Wahooz was virtually indistinguishable from the courses I’ve already reviewed within both Colorado and Utah. It even had the same mass-produced fire-shooting tiki statue that I have come to know and resent. And honestly, if I’m trying to find the best mini golf course in America, I shouldn’t be reviewing the same course three times. That wouldn’t be fair to you. And more importantly, that wouldn’t be fair to me.

So instead, I opted to review the state’s second-highest-rated course, Newby’s 7N Ranch Resort in Ririe, Idaho. Not only is Newby’s 7N an acclaimed 3-star ranch resort which, like that one hill behind the high school where the cool kids would smoke clove cigarettes and talk about underage drinking and proper condom application, is a wildly popular outdoor getaway destination. But more importantly, Newby’s  is the only course in the nation that lies within spitting distance of Yellowstone National Park. And I was excited to visit a venue where, at any moment, the ground might erupt with all the water that Old Faithful is simply too small and weak to properly expunge.

Now, all things considered, Newby’s was a pretty low budget course. But it still had its fair share of fun, unique strengths. As one would expect from a mini golf course adjacent to America’s first national park, Newby’s was very one-with-nature. Separated from the rest of society by several miles of winding dirt roads, this venue was more isolated than the unholy hybrid of a desert island and America’s foreign policy at the beginning of World War II. In addition, the course’s expansive/relaxing natural atmosphere, its untamed forest of local foliage, its authentic rustic props**, fun water features, and extremely affordable entry fee made Newby’s 7N much more unique and enjoyable than Wahooz could ever hope to be.

That being said, however, Newby’s was by no means a perfect course. It was, overall, a very flat and simplistic 18 holes with a carpet that was more worn down/faded than it probably should have been. But, even more pressingly, several of its unique rustic props were practically nonfunctional – its homemade loop-de-loop (made out of a truck tire!) was as impractical as a geyser that only erupts for thirty seconds once every two hours.*** And the functionality of its several pipe systems/bridges was, like the narrator in a Nobokov novel, unreliable. But despite all of these flaws, at the end of the day if you’re driving to Yellowstone, or if you’re inexplicably in the Ririe neighborhood, there are few better ways to kill an hour than by playing mini golf at Newby’s 7N.

* The smart man would also never drive all the way to Alaska. Or forget to bring a winter jacket and a working cell phone. But that’s a story for a later day…
** Like horseshoes and a repurposed playground slide that transported your ball down multiple levels. Look out, butts – slides aren’t just for sitting anymore!
*** Old Faithful did not blow me away.

Course Score: 48; par – 37
Pros: Rustic; scenic location; “outdoorsy” props; cheap; expansive; surrounded by beautiful nature/flowers; multi-leveled; several fun water features; relaxing; well worth the entry fee.
Cons: Simplistic; several nonfunctional props; worn down/scuffed; some areas with loose carpeting; primarily flat.

 

8/24/16 – Utah

Course: Boondocks Food & Fun
Location: 525 Deseret Dr, Kaysville, UT 84037
Price: $7.50 for 18 holes.

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Boondocks Food & Fun at Kaysville

Review: Deja vu. Obviously, this is the first time I’ve visited scenic, sunny Kaysville, Utah. But it still feels like I’ve been here before. Maybe that’s because Utah is directly adjacent to my home state of Colorado. Maybe that’s because Utah’s high Mormon population reminded me of the many, eerily homogeneously white slopes of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Or maybe that’s because, all things considered, Utah’s highest-rated mini golf course looked virtually identical to one of the courses I’ve already visited on this trip: just like zebras and horses or Mary-Kate and Ashley and Zelga Olsen*, Boondocks Food & Fun was practically indistinguishable from Colorado’s Adventure Golf, the first venue I visited on this summer-long adventure.

And, unfortunately, I suppose that’s one of the flaws of reviewing what is, in essence, a mass produced roadside distraction. There’s bound to be some overlap. But the direct parallels between the two courses were still staggering. Both courses had incredibly inexplicable themes (Boondocks’ “Inferno Island” course had, among other things, a lighthouse obstacle and a fisherman’s wharf… as if either of those would ever exist on an island made almost entirely out of fire. They’d burn down… duh!). Both courses had a polished, yet mass-produced feel (like a can of Coca-cola or the mechanical, dead-eyed smile of an actor on the Disney channel who is blissfully unaware of his own inevitable obsolescence). Both of them even used similar fire-shooting statues on their 18th hole (which is, all things considered, the second-most-important thing fire has done for mankind***).

And while, like a man who won one of Oscar Pistorious’ prosthetic limbs in a poker game, Adventure Golf had a leg up**** on Boondocks Food & Fun (Boondocks was smaller, it had fewer actual props, it had water stains from its sprinklers, and its location was a little less scenic). But that doesn’t mean that Boondocks was a bad course. It still had a vibrant garden of local flowers, moderately challenging holes, and a mostly impressive upkeep (sure, there were a few scuffs, but even Charlize Theron has a pimple now and then – nobody’s perfect). More importantly, it was right by an open stable full of horses, which I know isn’t directly related to mini golf in the slightest, but it was still appreciated. I like horses. But ultimately, at the end  of the day, while Boondocks at Kaysville was nothing to write home about, it was still an enjoyable venue. Just, when compared to the many, excitingly unique courses the rest of the nation has to offer, it was (like Oscar Pistorious after that aforementioned fictional poker game) staggeringly unremarkable.*****

* The third of the Olsen triplets, Zelga never quite reached the same popularity as her sisters. However, she still achieved relative international fame after her starring role in “Dieses Haus ist Voll” (Germany’s reboot of the beloved TV series “Full House”). Man, she had the cutest catchphrases on that show.**
** Zelga’s most popular catchphrases on the show: “Vater, das ist mein Milka Bar!” (Dad, that’s my Milka bar!); “Uh oh! Dieses Haus ist zu voll!” (Uh oh! This house is too full!);  and “Traurigkeit ist die Milch trinken wir , wenn wir die Milch unserer Mutter erschöpfen” (Sadness is the milk we drink when we deplete the milk of our mother).
*** Not enough people remember that it was fire, not Quasimodo, that killed Judge Claude Frollo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

**** That joke was worth it.
***** I kind of feel like it’s ok to make fun of Pistorious because he’s a really, really terrible person.

Course Score: 45; no par.
Pros: Relatively good upkeep; several challenging holes; beautiful flowers; adjacent to horses; good water features/props/caves; exciting pyrotechnics.
Cons: Unclear theme; several scuffs; water damage from sprinklers; very cookie cutter; close to the highway; not always terribly difficult; not as many holes as comparable courses; mostly unremarkable.

8/7/16 – Wyoming

Course: Old Town Family Fun & Amusements
Location: 123 W E St, Casper, WY
Price: $6 for 18 holes.

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Old Town Family Fun & Amusements

Review: Yes. Finally. I made it to Wyoming. The nation’s 10th largest state (by area) and its smallest state (by population). And while it is super easy just to google “facts about Wyoming” and quickly paraphrase them in lieu of writing an introductory paragraph, the question still remains: how small is Wyoming’s population?* Now, I could flat-out just say that Wyoming’s population is approximately 585,000 people… but I’d rather describe its low population density in the style of a 1990’s def jam comic.

Let’s go.

“Listen up, everybody. Listen up. Damn. Wyoming’s population is so small that, true fact, 60,000 more people actually live in Washington D.C. than in Wyoming! True fact.  True. Fact. Damn. Listen up. Wyoming’s population is sooo small that the most effective pickup line on Tinder in Wyoming is just the phrase ‘I’m less than 50 miles away from you and I have a pulse.’ Damn. No. Shut up. Stop laughing. Stop laughing and listen up. Listen. The hell. Up. Wyoming’s population is sooooooo smaaallll that when all the people in Wyoming got together to watch the movie 12 Angry Men, they didn’t compliment Ed Begley’s masterful performance as the bigoted Juror #10, instead they just said ‘woah, how’d they find that many people to serve on a jury?’ DAAAMMNN!

As the introduction of this review has probably already demonstrated, I did not come to Wyoming with a very high opinion of its mini golf capabilities. But, of the state’s three major courses I researched online, Old Town Family Fun seemed like the most promising. Located in sunny Casper, WY, the self-proclaimed “destination city of Wyoming,”** Old Town’s mini golf course was a cattle-rustlin’ lasso-swingin’ sawed-off shotgun blast from the past. And sure, initially I came into the state with my own flawed set of preconceived prejudices. But I was pleasantly surprised by Old Town. As the world’s only Casper-Wyoming-themed mini golf course (I mean, it’s gotta be… right?), I really appreciated the course’s authentic, historically-inspired layout. Full of 1800’s-era Casper-themed props (including rustic foliage, a replica facade of an old mining town, authentic mining equipment, and a mock graveyard where the hole’s obstacles were the graves of Casper’s most iconic historical figures***), this course was so Casper-specific that I almost said “darn tootin!” instead of “I guess” when the course’s cashier asked if I was golfing by myself.

Moreover, beyond the overall Casper aesthetic, I was impressed by the actual quality of the course itself. Most of Old Town’s holes were of a pretty decent difficulty (although, many of them were sloped in, which is something I despise). And the turf was in a pretty good condition. Better than many of the courses I’ve previously visited. I did shake my head in disappointment when I saw Old Town’s murky water hazards, its left-out equipment, and its several broken-down (although still Casper-specific) props. But it wasn’t a bad course by any means. If I were a professor at Notre Dame University, I’d give it a B. If I were a professor at Purdue University, I’d give it a B+. And if I were a “professor” at DeVry “University,” I’d give it a brandy-stained smiley face sticker and an expired coupon to Dave & Busters then call it a day.

All in all, I had a pretty good time in Wyoming.

* He asked, using a contrived leading question so he could write cheap jokes with minimal effort.
** Which is kind of like being in home school and voting yourself the prom king. Ok. I’m done making fun of Wyoming. I actually really liked it there; my rambling insult comedy is more counterproductive than an all-male symposium about unfair gender representation in media (which I’m sure has happened at least once).
*** Like Mathew Campfield, the first black coroner of Natrona Country! #swoon amiright?

Course Score: 45; no par.
Pros: Nice environment; authentic; celebrates local history; clever holes; good theme-specific props; cheap; good turf condition; simple but fun.
Cons: Sloped in holes; occasionally simplistic; murky water; several broken props; some left out equipment.

8/6/16 – South Dakota

Course: Holy Terror Mini Golf
Location: 609 Hwy 16A, Keystone, South Dakota 57751
Price: $9 for 18 holes

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Holy Terror Mini Golf

Review: I recognize that this may be a somewhat divisive statement, but I like Mount Rushmore. Sure, it’s a small, gaudy, artificial mountain, originally built in the middle of nowhere as a money-making tourist trap. But, like the Statue of Liberty or that abandoned field where we hide Thomas Jefferson’s  bones for all the local schoolchildren to find on Easter Sunday, it has become an iconic “American” landmark. You can’t discuss the United States without mentioning Mount Rushmore.* It is a monumentally important monument.

And speaking of Mount Rushmore, located only five minutes away in sunny Keystone, SD (an inexplicably bustling resort town) is Holy Terror Mini Golf, lovingly nestled between South Dakota’s beautiful evergreens and its 7000 competing zipline companies. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, this course wasn’t very outstanding. Sure, it had a pretty fun rustic water tower/waterwheel vibe, but as opposed to the two other waterwheel courses I’ve been to on this trip, it didn’t offer anything else to the discerning mini golf enthusiast. It wasn’t even holy! Or terrifying! Honestly, I haven’t seen something this poorly labeled since I purchased “chicken of the sea” (I just wanted to eat some really salty, waterlogged chicken in a can. Not the poorly named swill they tricked me into buying).

Now, I suppose I could compliment how this course guided golfers up a steep, scenic hill so that they could get a good glimpse of the surrounding Keystone environment. But, in building their course with such a steep incline, many of their holes were frustratingly, ungolfably sloped. Some holes had a 45 degree slope. That’s way too much slope! The only thing that should be 45 degrees on a mini golf course is a cool, refreshing Miller High Life (the champagne of beers ©). Not the venue itself. Moreover, many of the holes were both simple and strangely slanted (so that the hole itself was almost impossible to sink). In short, just like a late night text from your ex or a puzzle box filled with live bees, on the surface Holy Terror looked really cool, but in reality it was a stressful mass of unforeseen, unpredictable dangers.

Concluding this review on a broader and (foolishly misguided) more serious note, it would be all too easy to suggest that, like Mount Rushmore, the only reason we know (or care) about mini golf is because it is exceptionally culturally significant. We’re really only aware of the sport because it reminds us, collectively, of something greater than the sum of its miniaturized parts; not because it’s a great game. So, just as Mount Rushmore celebrates our shared national identity by reminding us of the sacrifices and the triumphs of America’s greatest leaders** (even though it is, at its core, a lackluster tourist trap), mini golf celebrates our own humanity by reminding us collectively of childhood, family, and first love.

Obviously, that is a dumb argument. Mini golf is sweet and so is Mount Rushmore. That’s why we care about them so much: we destroyed a mountain to put the faces of our presidents on it; we took a very boring sport and miniaturized into the perfect skill-based competition of will and valour. And while, lamentably, America only has one Mount Rushmore*** it has an almost impossibly large amount of mini golf. Sure, Holy Terror didn’t blow me away. But I still have 11 states left to find the best course in the nation.

I wonder if it’s in Wyoming.

* Or the fact that Uncle Sam has both grey hair and a smokin’ summer ready beach bod. How old is he?????
** Real question, why is Teddy on there? He’s waaay less important than those other three. George and TJ built the nation. And Abe emancipated 13% of its population. The only thing Teddy did was prevent us from turning Yellowstone into the world’s largest Burger King.

*** For now…

Course Score: 46; no par.
Pros: Scenic views; fine rustic aesthetic; carpet was in good condition; convenient to Mount Rushmore.
Cons: Holes were not level; very steep slopes; mostly simple holes; lower budget than many other courses on this trip; minimal props; unremarkable.

 

8/5/16 – North Dakota

Course: Thunder Road Family Fun Park
Location: 2902 Thunder Rd S, Fargo, ND 58104
Price: $6.50 for 18 holes

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Thunder Road Family Fun Park

Review: Ah, North Dakota. The land of sunflowers and strong farm folk who work the land with their firm and calloused hands.* Although North Dakota’s state slogan is just the word “legendary,” the only legend I knew about the state was the film Fargo… so I came in with a very skewed perception of what North Dakota was all about. But it’s a neat place: an expansive flatland where it’s (almost) impossible to sleep in your car because the stars shine so dang brightly. A vast prairie where you have to accelerate your car to +100 MPH just to keep up with the surrounding traffic (only to pull over at a rest stop in Rapid City, SD and find that a dead bird has been comically sandwiched in the grill of your car for the past 250 miles**).

With four state-wide locations and a 15 year history, Thunder Road is one of North Dakota’s most iconic institutions (right behind the Teddy Roosevelt National Park and that one strip of highway where, annually, millions of drivers undoubtedly also commit vehicular birdicide). Employing an adventurous volcano/tiki theme, their Fargo course was a fun, above-average escape from the daily North Dakota grind (a grind involving… cartography? I never really got a good grasp of the state’s employment opportunities). Unfortunately, this course was just like a see-saw placed between a fence separating fat camp from a Gandhi lookalike convention: unbalanced.*** The venue’s two 18-hole courses were overall quite nice, but ultimately had a fluctuating level of quality. Both featured a strange combination of interesting, unique holes that conformed to the contours of the land and incorporated surrounding water hazards; but both had many boring, uninspired straightaway holes. Both had holes that were clean and freshly carpeted; but both had holes that were worn down, water damaged, and slick (in fact, several holes were so worn down that a light breeze ended up pushing my ball several feet in the wrong direction. That’s madness! The only thing a light breeze should do is muss the hair of a young boy in a 1960’s sitcom. Not play God with my mini golf short game.)

Even the environment itself was a confusing bundle of contradictions. The course featured a delightful hike up a massive volcano, skirting over flowing rivers and classic North Dakota brushland (in this respect, it kicked the pants off the only other volcano course I’ve reviewed on this trip). But the lake that all of these rivers flowed into was murky and sinister. I don’t know. It was, overall, a quite enjoyable course. Especially given that it was conveniently located in North Dakota’s most populous city. But, at the end of the day, it unfortunately reminded me of the state of North Dakota itself: pleasant, inviting, and full of nice, hardworking salt-of-the-land farm folk; but so contradictorily rugged and harsh that it could make you accidentally murder a bird with your Subaru and you wouldn’t even know it.

I realize that that last metaphor didn’t necessarily make sense, but it was a very traumatic experience. Just let me have this small victory.

* If one of these “real men” ever heard what I was doing with my summer, they’d slap me all the way from Dickinson to Bismark.
**  😦
*** I don’t care what anyone says. That joke was totally worth it.

Course Score: 53; no par.
Pros: Several very unique, fun holes that used water features creatively; scenic hike around a man-made volcano in the middle of North Dakota brushland; overall quite enjoyable.
Cons: Uneven level of quality; some holes were very slick, sun-damaged, and scuffed; murky water; lower production value than other courses; directly adjacent to highway.

 

8/4/16 – Minnesota

Course: Big Stone Mini Golf and Sculpture Garden
Location: 7110 County Rd 110 W, Minnetrista, MN 55364
Price: $9 for 18 holes (cash only)

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My visit to Big Stone Mini Golf

Review: Is mini golf art?

Ever since the creation of mass-production, people have wondered whether pop culture had any “value”: Andy Warhol found beauty in Campbell’s soup cans; Alan Moore turned uninspired comic books into acclaimed graphic novels; and Jimmy Fallon revolutionized cliched talk shows by ironically appropriating manic canned laughter, subverting its implicit joy and, instead, transforming it into a desperate cry for help. But, despite the work of these pioneers, the question still remains: is mini golf art? So, after a quick dip in one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes* I made my way down to sunny Minnetrista to answer that question for myself.

Big Stone Mini Golf definitely makes a good argument towards mini golf’s artistic potential. Set in the middle of a massive sculpture garden (created in 2004 by local sculptor Bruce Stillman), this 14 hole course has consistently been the highest ranked in Minnesota. It even got a write-up in the New York Times in 2012.** And, art-wise, boy oh boy did this course have it going on. There were giant metallic sunflowers and sculpted stone pumpkins (which, incidentally, are still more edible than anything served in the many Waffle Houses I’ve visited on this trip); there was a giant spiraling par-5 hole in the middle of an active garden that grew organic cabbage (although, all things considered, there are probably better places to grow cabbage… like, I don’t know, a farm. Doy.); there was an interactive Pachinko board; a water maze your ball rolled through on the last hole; sand traps made out of real sand; a nearby goat enclosure where you could actually feed the goats; and a massive sculpture garden adjacent to the course that you could walk through free of charge. It was overwhelming. Honestly, this short synopsis can’t do a venue of this caliber any justice – it was all too original, unique, and complex to condense into a quick blurb (that’s like condensing the Louvre into a single tweet. Or summarizing the plot of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch in anything less than a 10-volume dissertation).

Of course, as with Pennsylvania’s course, there were several inherent problems with Big Stone’s whole “rustic nature” aesthetic. There were some divots. Some scuffs. Some twigs/pebbles on the course. But most importantly, since I was golfing on a warm summer evening in a state that (if its lake count is accurate) is made almost entirely out of water… there were a lot of skeeters. After spending an hour and a half at Big Stone, my exposed arms and legs felt more rough and ragged than Jimmy Fallon’s throat after he laughs away his pain in front of an empty studio audience hours after the show is over and everyone has already gone home to their wife and kids. In short, I was eaten up real good.*** But the sheer length, complexity, uniqueness, and pure visual spectacle of the course far surpassed any of these minor foibles (he typed, while itching his skeeter-bitten arms frantically).

Perhaps, in the end, this course did not definitively prove that mini golf was art in itself. It really just crammed enough art and innovation into a 14 hole mini golf course to make it artistic by association. But if you’re looking for a course that is a jawdroppingly beautiful art gallery in the middle of Minnesota’s stunning (albeit skeeter-filled) lakeland. This course comes with a very strong recommendation.

* Only 9,999 to go!
** Print media wasn’t even dying back then! Back then, the only time you heard the word “Buzzfeed” was when mosquitoes got super hungry.
*** It really was a “buzzfeed” amiright? (only kids born before 2012 will get this sick reference).

Course Score: 49; par – 56.
Pros: Look, it’s a mini golf course that’s in the middle of a beautiful, expansive sculpture garden, it’s pretty incredible; fantastic scenery; long/inventive/highly original holes; goats; right next to a large outdoor sculpture gallery; uses nature well.
Cons: Skeeters (and lots of ’em); several divots and scuffs; only 14 holes; cash only; pebbles/leaves on the course; a little overworn, but not dangerously so.

8/3/16 – Wisconsin

Vitense Golfland


Location:
5501 Schroeder Rd, Madison, WI 53711
Phone: (608) 271-1411
Hours: 8 am-10:30 pm (Sunday-Thursday); 8 am-11pm (Friday & Saturday)
Price: 18 holes – $8.50 (Adult); $7.00 (Over 60/Under 12); $3 (4 & under)
36 holes – $10.50 (Adult); $9.00 (Over 60/Under 12); $5 (4 & under)
54 holes – $12.50 (Adult); $11.00 (Over 60/Under 12); $6 (4 & under)

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Adam and I visit Vitense Golfland

Review: Oof. Choosing which Wisconsin course to review was very difficult. From the get-go, I really, really wanted to visit Vitense Golfland. But, whenever I discussed this project with someone who was actually from Wisconsin,* they always gave me the same four pieces of advice:

  1. You gotta go to Wisconsin Dells!
  2. You gotta go to Wisconsin Dells!
  3. Wisconsin tops the nation in dairy production. It takes approximately ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese. And it takes approximately 340-350 udder squirts to produce a gallon of milk.
  4. You gotta go to Wisconsin Dells!

Apparently, according to all of these real Wisconsinites, Wisconsin Dells has some of the best mini golf courses in the nation. By a large margin. And why would I ignore the advice of true Wisconsin natives? I’m just an uninformed outsider who has only done a meager several hundred hours of extensive research on regional mini golf and the more general history that contextualizes it in a broader cultural perspective. What do I know?

So I went to the Dells.

Meh. Their Pirate’s Cove was pretty impressive,** but other than that, unlike that vacuum cleaner I kissed once for a dare (and many times later for fun), Wisconsin Dells didn’t take my breath away. So, after driving four hours out of my way to play a sub-par par 43 in the Dells, my friend Adam and I made our way to Vitense Golfland to play some real mini golf.

And it was totally worth it. Vitense brought out my inner child faster than the doctors who pumped my stomach when I ate that American Girl Doll on a dare. Not only was the mini golf here devilishly complicated (the holes were lengthy, multi-obstacle adventures through a complex plastic zoo of brightly colored animals and foliage), but the course was wildly interactive. On many of the two-story-high holes, you didn’t have to walk down the stairs – you could use a slide! That’s one of the coolest things you can do with your butt! As a venue, Vitense Golfland truly was the unholy hybrid of an elementary school playground and a mini golf course. There were tunnels to crawl through, climbing walls to scale, mini monorails to ride, and all sorts of other playground essentials crammed into this 3-course venue. Plus, the river that flowed through the center of the venue was one of the riskiest water hazards I’ve ever seen (right behind that piece of wood Rose pushed Jack off of so that she could keep the Heart of the Ocean all to herself***)

And yes, the course was a little scuffed. And yes, one of the mist machines was broken. And yes, there was some water damage. And yes, at times the course layout felt more cramped and crowded than the classrooms of an underfunded public school. But it was one of the most unique, interactive, and joyfully giddy courses I’ve ever visited. If mini golf is supposed to make you feel like a child, Vitense Golfland went one step further and just, literally, turned you into a child. It was great. The best course in Wisconsin.

So, to all the irate Wisconsinites who will, all too soon, see that I’ve ignored three of their four pieces of advice****: you can keep your hoity toity Wisconsin Dells.

I’m going to Golfland.

Not those jerks who only pretend to be from Wisconsin so that they have an excuse not to go boating with you and your dad’s best friend, Malcolm.
** It had an unprecedented FIVE 18-hole courses. I’ve harped on Pirate’s Cove for being mass-produced, but if you’re in the Dells, it’s definitely the place to be. (For more info on Pirate’s Cove, please refer to Michigan’s entry where I review the nation’s first-ever Pirate’s Cove location in Traverse City).
*** Or something like that. Titanic was over three hours long… a lot happened and I have a very short attention span.
**** You can never know too much about dairy.

Course Score: Adam – 58, Dan – 69; Par – 66.
Pros: Inventive; childlike; interactive props; fun/bright colored plastic animals; multi-obstacle holes; unique; complex water hazards; better than the Dells.
Cons: 
A few scuffs; cramped; some water damage; some graffiti; some of the paint was a bit chipped; broken mist machine/malfunctioning water wheel.