Course: Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
Location: 1710 U.S. 31, Traverse City, MI 49686
Price: $8.95 for 18 holes; 14.95 for 36 holes
Review: Avast, ye horn swaggling powder monkey. Put down yer spyglass and dock yer galley at the third largest Great Lake in the nation (by surface area, not volume): it’s time to grab a putter and the saltiest wench ye can manage,* then walk the plank down to one of the most consistently critically-acclaimed mini golf franchises in the nation. That’s right. Forget all those mass-produced, ubiquitous Putt Putt Fun Centers and repress any latent sexual memories of the ever-present Monster Mini Golf chain.** With 25 locations in 14 states, Pirate’s Cove has been offering high quality mini golf at an affordable price for the past 33 years (which, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps prophetically, is the same age of Jesus). Since Pirate’s Cove locations are so consistently high-rated, and given that they really can’t have too much variation on a venue-to-venue basis, I decided to go on a quick drive to the shores of sunny Traverse City in Lake Michigan and visit the location of the first Pirate’s Cove ever. To connect with their storied past. To be a part of history.
I was more than a little bummed that there wasn’t a “Welcome to the First-Ever Pirate’s Cove. You are Part of History” plaque affixed to every flat surface in the venue, but I respected their humility. And that, perhaps, was what made me enjoy this course so much. Because, at the end of the day, it really was an enjoyable course. Featuring a playful pirate theme complete with plastic skulls, mini cannons, pirate shanties, and informational pirate-themed factoids, this course made me want to search for buried treasure at ever turn. Unfortunately, the only thing I found was some fresh bird poop on one of the course’s many authentic rope bridges. But, presumably, it came from a parrot.*** Which made it a little cooler. Plus, with many long holes/trick shots that went over its numerous rolling waterfalls and streams, this course was complex enough for any mini golf enthusiast. Not for a mini golf connoisseur. But why dabble with the details of mini golf expertise?
And sure, when you think about it, Pirate’s Cove still is “the big bad corporation.” They’re the mass-produced replacement to family-owned independent venues. Essentially, they’re the the Pfizer of mini golf, slowly but surely replacing all those humble ma-and-pa locally-sourced pharmaceutical companies (where we exchanged forged prescriptions for heavy-duty painkillers when we were younger and more addicted to painkillers. A simpler time.)
But they still provided a quality mini golf experience at an affordable price.
I suppose my biggest gripe about the course was that, like the first twenty minutes of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, I only wanted to see one thing. More pirates. Sure, there were a few meager cannons placed around the course, but with a name like Pirate’s Cove, it felt a little sparse. I wanted to be overwhelmed by pirate paraphernalia. But instead, there were just a few stationary pirate statues, some skulls, and a few gravestones. You don’t rent a DVD copy of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl just to watch Will Turner make some swords. You don’t go to a course called Pirate’s Cove just to walk over waterfalls.
Now, given that this is a mini golf chain, I’d assume that the “pirate-ness” of the course varies on a case-by-case basis depending on which venue you visit. But, after a pretty intensive Google image search,**** I still couldn’t find a course that looked markedly more piratey than the one I visited. Which was a bummer.
However, ultimately, while there was nothing wholly unique or specific about this course to make it truly exemplary, if you don’t want to spend 2 months driving across the nation to play mini golf, and you don’t mind the mass-produced feel of a high-quality establishment. Pirate’s Cove is the place for you.
* Riddled with salt. Too much salt. Her lips are salt. Salt will consume you.
** I will be reviewing their Las Vegas location later in this trip – it is themed off of the band KISS. It sounds utterly and delightfully stupid. I can’t wait.
*** Who, presumably, said all those zany pirate/parrot phrases like “Piracy’s for the birds!” or “Pirates don’t have plans. They like to wing it!” or “You want to be a pirate? Toucan play at that game! No, it’s cool. I can say that. Some of my best friends are Toucans.”
**** An hour and a half.
Course Score: 39; Par – 41
Pros: Fun theme; multiple locations; always high quality; clever and risky holes; pristine nature; informative.
Cons: Several twigs/scuffs; mass produced; could have more pirate props; crowded (but that’s more a reflection on the course’s quality than anything else).