8/2/16 – Illinois

Course: Par-King Skill Golf
Location: 21711 N Milwaukee Ave, Lincolnshire, IL 60069
Price: $8.50 for 18 holes; $17 for 36 holes

Par King Group.JPG

Jake, me, and Adam visit Par-King

Review: What’s more “American” than mini-golf? Apple pie? Baseball? A bald eagle sabotaging a Russian submarine during the height of the cold war while “American Idiot” by Green Day plays loudly on the jukebox of the local five and dime? I suppose those are all pretty American, however, you still can’t spell U.S.A. without “mini golf.”*

But what about roller coasters? Like mini golf, roller coasters are iconic American roadside distractions with centuries of storied American history. And when you ride a roller coaster, you can’t help but raise your hands (in celebration of America) and scream loudly (to repent for any impure, unAmerican thoughts you may have had in the past**). But even roller coasters are pure deer urine when compared with the ubiquitously kitschy Americana that is mini golf.

But what about miniature roller coasters that are integrated seamlessly into the circus-like environment of a challenging, clever, and incredibly fun 36-hole mini golf course that has consistently been described as one of the world’s “most unusual golf courses?”

Bingo.

Located only an hour outside of Chicago, Par-King Skill Golf is a veritable miniaturized technicolor explosion. Filled with vibrantly colored statues, impressively interactive machinery, complex water hazards, and a massive bright pink castle, this course just needed 30 suffocating clowns trapped in a too-small car and I would have sworn it was a full-fledged circus. There were rotating platforms. There were miniature replicas of national treasures.*** There were working elevators that carried your ball through complex pipe systems. And most impressively, there were real roller coasters. Real tiny roller coasters. If you’ve ever ridden on Splash Mountain but felt sad because your mini golf ball couldn’t experience that same hair-raising, spine-tingling, butt-clenching, thigh-caressing joy… Par-King’s got you covered. Additionally, the course’s final hole (a giant roulette board that arbitrarily gave you 0-7 points depending on what you scored) was an exhilarating way to end the entire afternoon.

However: a word of warning. Just like all those totally real, definitely not made-up, high-class Hollywood hot tub orgies that Martin Freeman only got invited to after starring in The Hobbit, this place was pretty exclusive. Not only was it cash-only, but (as is the case with a real roller coaster) you had to be over 48 inches tall to play. So if you’re less than 4 feet tall, or if you want to enter the course wearing shoes on your knees, then you’re out of luck. Also, several of the trick-shots were cool, but kind of arbitrary. I know this is a small, nitpicky complaint, but when I skillfully, expertly launched my ball into the “Lasso an Ace” portion of a hole, my ball wasn’t placed any closer to the hole than if I had played the hole normally. The hole lied to me. I didn’t “Lasso an Ace.” I felt like a Hollywood celebrity seeing Martin Freeman at their exclusive hot tub orgy: disappointed.

But, despite these exclusive/deceptive flaws, this course put a unique spin on a potentially stilted roadside distraction. And its ability to pull off such a radical transformation so successfully was deeply impressive. Plus, its music selection was pretty jamming, which was another big plus.

Unmited Stnaties of Agmericoalf
** Thoughts like “Our flag should have more stars on it” or “George Washington owned slaves. We should recognize that our founding fathers were ultimately flawed relics of their own contemporaneous era” or “I wish the Statue of Liberty was a dude. Why do chicks get all the fun?”
*** Like Mt. Rushmore. Not Jessica Lange. (Even though she is, without a doubt, a national treasure. Have you seen Tootsie? She won an academy award. And she earned it too.)

Course Score: Black course: Adam – 42, Dan – 42, Jake – 52; par – 41. Red course: Adam – 42, Jake – 46, Dan – 46; par 41.
Pros: Unique holes; fun music playlist; complex machinery; fun aesthetic; clever and complicated; extraordinarily, commendably original.
Cons: 
Cash only; must be over 48 inches tall to play; the “trick shots” were arbitrary; the last roulette hole perhaps made scoring arbitrary; no discount for multiple games; slight water damage/scuffs.

8/1/16 – Michigan

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

Michigan Selfie

My visit to Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf

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).