Table of Contents

Author’s NoteI’ve received a few complaints about the site being a little hard to navigate, so I’ve included a Table of Contents to make things a little easier to find/read. For those confused about the seemingly arbitrary order of states, it follows my path chronologically as I road tripped across the nation. Enjoy!

Introductory Remarks

Concluding Remarks & The Best Mini Golf Course in America

 

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9/12/16 – Concluding Remarks + America’s Best Mini Golf Course

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My first hole in Colorado (left); my last hole in Hawaii (right)

Author’s note: The following post will not tell you where to find the nation’s best mini golf course. Sorry. This entry is really more of a “what did I learn from this trip” type thing. Clearly, not everyone enjoys reading stuff like that… so if you’re not interested in reading several paragraphs full of emotional catharsis, please feel free to skip to the best course in the nation right here. See y’all on the flip side!

We always knew this was going to be a bit of a cop out. Honestly, how can anyone  definitively say that something is the “best”? It’s all too darn subjective. Especially when you only spend a day or two in every state, and just a few hours at its highest-rated mini golf course (a course, mind you, which has been selected entirely based off of Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Facebook reviews). Moreover, I’m sure that, when many of you see which course I’ve chosen as the “nation’s best,” you will immediately break into convulsions of rage before sending me hundreds of anonymous emails with the subject line “who do you think you are?” To all those irate reviewers out there, I apologize. But even though, like the United States Constitution (or the lyrics to the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps”), this guide is an inherently flawed document… I still have to make a decision. It’s too late to back out now. Far too late. So, during the past few days, I have read and reread every review I wrote over the course of my 78-day-adventure (right now, this guide is fast approaching 40,000 words, which is probably more than anything I have ever written in my entire life).

And I think I made a pretty good selection.

Besides, all things considered, my choice could have been a lot worse. Throughout this trip, I traveled 20,681 miles across America. And for about a third of those driving-hours, I was dead set on doing one of those godawful “the best mini golf course was inside of us the whole time” things. In my severely sleep-deprived mind, I could think of nothing better than to say something grating like “mini golf is all about coming together. It’s about friendship. It’s about watching Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Connor at three in the morning, it’s about playing piano with Maddy and her family, eating Chicago deep dish pizza with Adam, going to an American Ninja Warrior gym with Sam, swimming in the Yukon with Luke, drinking Seattle coffee with Byron, exploring a rose garden with Carey, playing Super Smash Bros. with Evan. It’s about best friends coming together and sharing their time. It’s about love.”

But, right as I was about to write that unbearably schmaltzy paragraph, I remembered what I wrote at the very beginning of this trip, nearly three months ago:

Why am I doing 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.

Despite my best efforts, the answer to many of those rhetorical questions ultimately turned out to be “yes.” I did see America. I did experience things I couldn’t dream of in a million years. I did grow as a person. I did find (or at least reaffirm) the love of my friends.

But that does not mean that I didn’t find the best mini golf course in the nation.

Because I did.

Before I go, I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for indulging me; it’s been a wild and crazy ride and I’m glad you chose to go on it with me. But enough chit-chat. It’s time to stop stalling. You’re not hear to read the nostalgic ramblings of a wannabe Rick Steves. You’re all here for one thing and one thing alone. America’s best mini golf course. The king of kings. The shrine of purity to which every other inferior mini golf course aspires to be.

Here it is.

9/8/16 – Hawaii

Course: Kauai Mini Golf and Botanical Gardens
Location: 5-2723 Kuhio Hwy #101, Kilauea, HI 96754
Price: $18.50 for 18 holes

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Kauai Mini Golf and Botanical Gardens

Review: You jerks. You’ve been holding out on me for the last two and a half months – no one ever told me how convenient airplanes were! I’ve been driving to every state in America like a schmuck when I could have been zipping by 36,000 feet in the air as a “valued member of the Delta airlines family.”* I mean, it took me and Luke two weeks to drive to Alaska and back. But my plane made it to Hawaii in, like, six hours. Why did no one tell me about airplanes??  I would have made it to Hawaii months ago!!! And who wouldn’t want that? The place is, quite literally, an unrealistically beautiful island paradise where palm trees sway frenetically while wild chickens waddle through the streets like tiny, feathered, slightly-more-sexually-appealing Danny DeVito impersonators. Immediately, right from the moment I got off the plane, there was nothing I wanted to do more than spend my entire four day vacation flopping helplessly swimming in the Pacific and drinking my weight in “Key Lime Martinis” (which are about as toxic as you’d imagine).

But before I could do any of those things, I still had one final piece of unfinished business I needed to take care of…

Located on the north side of sunny Kauai, Hawaii (the chain’s fourth largest island) the truly passionate mini golf enthusiast will find Hawaii’s premier mini golf establishment: Kauai Mini Golf and Botanical Gardens. A course which has been described as “the most beautiful mini golf course in the world.” My last hurrah. And, while I’m not entirely sure that this was the most beautiful course I’d ever seen, it was still pretty pretty. I mean, it’s Hawaii. There isn’t a square inch that isn’t green, lush, and/or leafy (it looked like the place parents describe when their child’s dog doesn’t come back from the vet). Set in the middle of a beautiful, fantastically well-maintained botanical garden, Kauai Mini Golf was split into several different floral sections, each depicting/celebrating different elements of Hawaii’s culture and history. Featuring informational signage, rock gardens, koi ponds, and a wide variety of verdant local plants, this venue was more well-designed and educational than many of the museums I’ve visited on this trip.** In addition, its pristine water features/hazards and its fantastically friendly staff made this course an exceptional way to end the longest road trip of my life.

Now, I would love to end this review on that happy, sappy note… but, unfortunately, at the end of the day I’m a mini golf reviewer. Meaning I’ve got to take in the good and the bad. And despite this venue’s surrounding beauty, the actual mini golf really wasn’t that spectacular. The course itself was pretty scuffed up, worn down, covered in leaves, and mostly simplistic straightaways. I wasn’t blown away – golfing there was just like eating a traditional Hawaiian bento box without a finding huge piece of spam in the center. It was missing something inherently crucial. But more pressingly, (and this is also a problem of Hawaii in general) the course was super expensive. Eighteen bucks and fifty cents! That’s more expensive than Disney! And sure, you’re trapped on a small hunk of volcanic rock an ocean away from another quality mini golf course, why wouldn’t they raise the premium? But, as I was reviewing this, my final course, thousands of miles and hours away from where I started… it still left an unexpectedly bitter taste in my mouth.

In summation: decent course. Fantastic location.

But afterwards, as I was getting belligerently drunk by the side of the ocean, I couldn’t help but ask myself the same, damning question which prompted this entire ill-advised trip in the first place:

Was it the mini golf best course in America?

Finally, for the first time in two and a half months, I think I have enough information to answer that question once and for all.

Next time – The best mini golf course in America.

* Which is kind of like being a valued member of the Manson family (but without the corrupt, dehumanizing, murder-happy, cult-mentality that is Delta airline’s apparent lifeblood. They charged me ten bucks for a burrito! That’s nonsense!)
** In Idaho, I saw the “Potato Museum;” in Kentucky I visited the first KFC ever; in Vermont I passed the birthplace of Joseph Smith. America has a lot of history, but do we really need to remember all of it?

Course Score: 47; par – 47
Pros: Hawaii is beautiful – this is in the middle of an expansive, pristine botanical garden on Hawaii, I don’t think I can say anything to make it sound more appealing; informative signage; celebrated Hawaiian culture/history; fun water features; several complex holes; friendly staff.
Cons: Pretty expensive; isolated even by Hawaiian standards; the course itself wasn’t in the best of condition – scuffed, dirty, worn down, unoriginal, water damaged, and mostly simplistic; graffiti/scuffs on signs.

9/6/16 – Arizona

Course: Castles ~n~ Coasters
Location: 9445 N Metro Pkwy E, Phoenix, AZ 85051
Price: $7.99 for 18 holes

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Castles ~n~ Coasters

Review: Oh man, this is it! Arizona! After two and a half months I finally made it! Ari-friggin’-zona: the last continental United State left on my itinerary! And, considering the three traffic accidents I nearly got into on my way to Phoenix, in a more realistic sense, it also could have been (quite literally) the last continental United State I ever visited. I mean, it’s crazy I didn’t get into a single car accident on this trip, right? Like, playing-a-violin-while-Rome-burns crazy! I never even got into a fender bender. Or “accidentally” crashed my car through the wall of my ex-girlfriend’s house and then been all like “whoa, Beth? Kooky coincidence seeing you here, amiright? Oh, this is your home? I had no idea!! Haha. So… what are you doing this Friday? Did you know they came out with another Thor movie???” I don’t know quite where I’m going with this train of thought. Just, it’s sobering. I’ll never truly know how lucky I was to survive this journey in one piece… like a bomb disposal technician with acute short term memory loss, during this trip I never quite realized just how much I was playing with fire.

And speaking of fire, wow is Arizona hot. So. Darn. Hot. I bet the flames of hell have a wall poster of Arizona hanging in their dorm room, emblazoned with the motivational phrase “Don’t just dream of being as hot as Arizona. Be as hot as Arizona.” But if you have the superior will power to kick down your front door, raise your middle finger directly at the sun’s stupid face, and then make your way down to “Arizona’s Finest Family Fun and Thrill Park operating since 1976”… you’re in for a treat. Not only does the Phoenix-based Castles ~n~ Coasters offer a wide variety of roller coasters, thrill rides, and arcade games, more importantly, it has a lot of mini golf. 72 holes. With four 18-hole courses* that increase progressively in difficulty, this is one of the largest mini golf venues I’ve encountered yet.** Set in the midst of Arizona’s distinctive environment of palm trees/succulent cactus plants, Castles ~n~ Coasters didn’t necessarily have a very clear theme (it featured, among other things, Buddhist pagodas, gingerbread houses, western mining communities, eerily haunted mansions, statues of Poseidon, and Native American settlements to name a few), but, strangely, that didn’t really bother me. This course was just so impossibly massive that limiting it to one theme would have been far too overwhelming (sure, we all love small doses of Josh Gad, but can you imagine a world chock-full of Gad? I can… but it sure has a whole lot of Arizona posters hanging on the walls of its dorm rooms).

In addition, the course’s impressive variety of long, complex holes, its pristine water features, and its close proximity to two of Arizona’s most extreme roller coasters (the “Patriot” and the “Desert Storm”) were greatly appreciated. But still, it was by no means a perfect course. Who knows, maybe Castles ~n~ Coasters was simply too big to properly maintain, but I found myself noting that this course had more than its fair share of scuffs, worn down surfaces, and holes that were practically covered with stray twigs and leaves. Moreover, many of the venue’s holes were sloped in, which (as we all know) is something that makes me irrationally angry. But most importantly, as I’ve already mentioned, Arizona is really, really hot. And this course didn’t really have that many shaded areas or mist machines to cool off customers. It was like trying to scale a glacier without a winter jacket. Or being sober in the DMV. With just a few small adjustments, this course could easily have made a tough environment a little more bearable. In the end though, these are all pretty small quibbles. And I should wrap things up because, like the course it’s trying to evaluate, this review is getting far too big for its own good. And when all’s said and done, for the most part Castles ~n~ Coasters was a very impressive, polished, and enjoyable venue.

But I’m ready to go home.

I’m tired. Obviously not, like, “Rip Van Winkle with a debilitating NyQuil addiction” tired. I’m just a little punch-drunk. Honestly, who’d have thunk driving to every state in America would tucker a fellow out so darn much? I feel like every muscle in my body has been gnawed on by that one girl in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who chewed gum all the time until she turned into a giant blueberry because of her hubris or something (I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention). But even though, right now there’s nothing more I’d like to do than go home, take a twelve-hour-long shower, and then curl up under the covers of my bed for years until a virulent strain of lichen begins to engulf with the same intensity as Ms. Pac-Man at a cherry convention… I can’t. Not yet. Because I’m not done yet. I still have one more course to review. Just one more course. Then (and only then) can I finally kick back, relax, and find what my parents have long described to me as a, quote-unquote, “job that actually pays money.”

However, fortunately for me, this last course… it’s a pretty good course to end on.

* Because, you know, that’s how math works.
** Except, of course, for the 5-course Pirates Cove in Wisconsin Dells which is a damning shrine to the inherent excesses of humanity.

Course Score: Dan – 49, Jeff – 55, Greg – 59; par – 52.
Pros: Incredibly huge venue; the courses have differentiated difficulty levels; several very long/decently complex holes; very high production values; many fun props/decorations.
Cons: Unbearably hot; a decent amount of scuffs/worn down “grass”/twigs and leaves on the course; mass-produced feel; many holes sloped in to make scoring easier.

9/4/16 – Nevada

KISS by Monster Mini Golf

Location: 3700 W Flamingo Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89103
Phone: (702) 588-6256
Hours: 10am – Midnight (Monday-Sunday)
Price: 18 holes – $11.95 or $9.95 (with Nevada/student ID)

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KISS by Monster Mini Golf

Review: Tongues out, you krazy KISS-torians: you kooky kurators of KISS-torical lore! I hope you’re ready to exhale a ball of fire and smash your putter on the ground like it was an electric guitar made out of rattlesnakes. Cause it’s KISS time. That’s right, whether you’ve got a life-size replica of Gene Simmons’ hairdo tattooed to the nape of your tramp stamp, or just an avid passion for the greatest hard rock band of the year 1975, if you’re a true KISS fan (and not a true poser) have I got the mini golf course for you! So pawn your vintage KISS PEZ-dispensers for gas money, and liberally apply a clown-worthy level of face makeup to your hardcore lips and eyeballs, because we’re going on a road trip to the City of Sin: an oasis of depravity in the middle of the Mojave. A corrupt metropolis where both Guy Fieri and Mark Wahlberg are allowed to own equally odious “food” establishments.* Where the Bellagio casino is able to sustain a massive, man-made lake in the middle of a desert because why the heck not? Where a performing group made entirely out of blue men is considered normal and not, as is generally the case, an affront to the laws of nature.

But ignore these distractions. Because, as I’ve already mentioned, we’re after something much more important.

Conveniently located on the casino floor of the world-famous Rio hotel (only a mile away from the Vegas strip), the discerning KISS enthusiast will finally find the answer to their deepest, dankest prayers. The crown jewel of the multinational Monster Mini Golf franchise. With thirty locations in two countries, Monster Mini Golf has been providing quality (albeit mass-produced) blacklight, indoor mini golf since 2012. But, by far and away, Monster’s most impressive venue is its first, flagship location in Las Vegas, Nevada. Themed off of the massively popular rock band KISS, this venue isn’t just an incredibly well-maintained 18-hole adventure through the band’s storied history. It’s an experience. Wanna putt through giant replicas of KISS’ iconic knee-high boots, drum sets, and ax-shaped electric guitars**? You got it. Wanna watch videos of KISS rocking out while their most extreme tunes blare over the course’s sound speakers like the screams of a rock god devil in heat***? You friggin got it! Wanna learn about the storied history of the greatest rock band in recorded history by looking at wall murals chronicling their impressive journey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Heck. Friggin. Yeah.

They even had a gift shop.

Honestly, I really only had two complaints about this venue. First off, as is the case with every other indoor mini golf course I’ve visited on this trip, Monster Mini Golf was more flat and less complicated that almost all of its outdoor counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, it still had many clever and complex elements. But, in the words of that esteemed songster and KISS-frontman Paul Stanley: “[rock and roll] will not make the blind man see! It will not make the cripple walk!” – similarly, indoor mini golf courses have the ability to kick some serious keister, but they’ll never replace the complexity of actual hills and rivers. My second complaint is more of a jab at Vegas itself… but no one ever told me how maze-like and labyrinthine casinos really are. It’s insane, right? It took me over twenty minutes to find this course hidden within the Rio’s impenetrable sea of slot machines and high stakes pai gow tables. I felt like mouse trapped in a corn maze chock-full of people who have obviously never heard the “if you or a loved one have a gambling addiction” disclaimers at the end of casino commercials because, in the two hours I spent at the Rio, they didn’t move an inch.

But, back to my earlier train of thought… even though Las Vegas itself stressed me out a bit, as a venue, KISS by Monster Mini golf was awesome. Awesome. I’m gonna write “awesome” one more time because I liked it so much. Awesome.

This course comes with my highest recommendation.

* I’m pretty sure I got a minor case of food poisoning from Wahlburgers. But I don’t want to publish anything truly libelous so all I’ll say is that, before I ate their 1/3 pound burger (Paul Wahlberg’s “fave”) I was feeling pretty good. And after… not so much.
** On the last hole, you got to putt up a giant replica of Gene Simmons’ extended tongue. Wow.
*** Tunes, it should be added, that were chosen by a real DJ who gave personalized shout-outs to golfers while, simultaneously, marketing the Rio’s convenient nearby wedding chapel****
**** Everything I just said is 100% true. It was awesome.

Course Score: 44; corresponding KISS skill level – between pro and semi-pro.
Pros: This place was awesome; fantastic KISS theme/obstacles; high production value; amazing overall experience; air conditioned escape from the desert; amazing upkeep/maintenance; great employees; long holes; historically informative; it had a real DJ and its own personalized radio station.
Cons: Like all indoor blacklight courses, it’s inherently simpler and flatter than the average outdoor course; hard to find.

9/3/16 – California

Course: Urban Putt
Location: 1096 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110
Price: $12 for 14 holes

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Evan and I visited Urban Putt

Review: A few weeks ago I asked if mini golf was art. And I never really came to a solid conclusion. Probably because it really isn’t that important of a question. As far as big questions go, “is mini golf art?” doesn’t even crack the top eight.* More importantly, to truly answer that question, first you have to figure out “what is art?” Which is really tough to do. Is “art” just some vague, incomprehensible phrase like “ska connoisseur” or “the understudy for Nicely Nicely Johnson” which sounds important on paper, but no one actually knows what the heck it is? Is “art” a searing introspection into the human condition which tries to find meaning in a world where McDonald’s can sell twenty chicken McNuggets for only five bucks: a world of inherent meaninglessness?

Or is “art” something that changes the game? Something that you’d never imagine in a million years. Something inspired.

Conveniently located in downtown San Francisco, Urban Putt has received constant praise (both commercial and critical) since its opening in 2014. But, man oh man, is this praise merited. Although this indoor bar/restaurant/mini golf venue only has 14 holes, they are, without a doubt, some of the most clever and creative holes I’ve ever encountered. Consider the course’s first hole (aptly named “Quake!”) which celebrates San Fran’s history as the earthquake epicenter of America with a row of miniaturized houses that mechanically rattle and shake more vigorously and ominously than a locked door in a slasher film. Consider the course’s Skeeball and Duck hunting-holes (the latter hole, aptly named “Quack!”) that were so authentically old-timey I couldn’t help but imagine my friend Evan as a stereotypically loudmouthed carnival barker and not, more accurately, as a grown man playing mini golf on a Monday afternoon.

How about its interactive video game hole (hole 4) that almost-magically transported your golf ball into a digital Matrix (without, however, the gaping plot holes and Jesus-imagery that defined The Matrix trilogy)? How about its underwater-inspired holes that plunged golfers 20,000 leagues under the sea in “Jules Verne’s Nautilus” (hole 8)? How about the many smoke machines, and spinning devices, and mechanical innovations that made this course more enjoyably ingenious than the nearby San Francisco Exploratorium? How about the fact that this course had more interactive Rube Goldberg machines than visible fire exits?**

This course was phenomenal.

And sure, I could whine about how Urban Putt was a little small/cramped/crowded. I could rail on and on about how, by cramming so much innovation into such a small space, the resulting experience was as cluttered and convoluted as California’s hellish highway system (my GPS was useless!). I could complain that, with lines out the door on a Monday afternoon, this venue was almost too popular, too crowded . But I don’t want to make too much of a fuss. Because this course was one of the rare venues that struck me as truly, monumentally, artistically exceptional.

It comes with my highest recommendation.

* For future reference, the top eight big questions are: “Does free will exist?” “Is there a God?” “Are you 100% certain that there’s a God?” “Wait, what?” “Y-you saw God?” “…with your eyes?” “Are you sure that wasn’t just three smaller gods stacked on top of one another, with the bottom two hidden beneath a giant trench coat… because I’ve been tricked before too. You’re sure that that was God?” and “Who the heck is this Ben Gazi guy and why does Hillary Clinton hate him so darn much???”
** Which doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t have that many fire exits…. They just had a literal butt-load of Rube Goldberg machines.

Course Score: Evan – 33, Dan – 38; par – 33.
Pros: Unimaginably innovative; insanely unique/inspired; great use of mechanical props/smoke machines/Rube Goldberg devices; giddily enjoyable; fantastic upkeep/maintenance; many flat places to place your beverages; all around the most clever and impressive indoor course I have ever visited.
Cons: Only 14 holes; cramped; felt a little cluttered; crowded (which isn’t so much a critique, as a reflection on its popularity, but get there early because lines can get pretty long).

 

9/2/16 – Oregon

Course: Glowing Greens
Location: 509 SW Taylor St, Portland, OR 97204
Price: $11.50 for 18 holes

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Glowing Greens

Review: Boo.

Did I scare you? No? Lemme try again. Close your eyes and imagine the following scenario:

You’re walking down an abandoned street late at night with no one else around you. Why? It doesn’t matter why. Maybe your car broke down. Maybe you’re drunkenly stumbling home after spending the evening with your two best friends: Jack and Daniels. Maybe you’re a crooked cop working the graveyard shift in a broken city that’s taken everything from you. Even your name. The why isn’t important. All that matters is the here and now. A thin mist coats the ground like Teflon on a hot tin frying pan.

And that’s when you hear it.

Eerie. Haunting. Lilting. The clang of a bell. Louder. Louder! LOUDER! THERE’S NO ESCAPE! You scream, but the deafening ding dong is louder than a low-cut dress in a 17th century Puritan church. And no one can hear you over the deafening roar. Until finally, as the clock tower dutifully chimes its twelfth, damning “DONG,” your screaming becomes a muted whimper and the stark, inexorable truth washes over you like a champagne shower on a European party boat. It’s midnight. Today has become tomorrow. But yesterday was your wife’s birthday. And you forgot to call her and tell her how much you loved her. You idiot! You feckless idiot! Your marriage is hanging on by a thread and you don’t have the decency to tell the mother of your unborn child how she makes you feel like the luckiest crooked cop in this whole broken city!

We all die alone. But some people, people who forget their wife’s birthday, people like you… they’re the ones who deserve it.

Pretty spooky right? But know what’s even spookier? Glowing Greens mini golf – conveniently located in downtown Portland, just a few minutes away from Powell’s Books (the largest independent bookstore in the world). And, by far in a way, this was the most spooktacular mini golf course I’ve visited yet! Like Alaska’s course, Glowing Greens was a very well-maintained indoor blacklight mini golf course. But at Glowing Greens, the venue’s darkness was used to create an appreciated spooky/pirate/undersea/tiki/haunted house* theme. Which was as fun as it was thematically confusing. Guiding golfers through glowing pirate ships, sunken temples, thick jungles and eerie graveyards, all surrounded by numerous, high-value props and paintings, this course was more impressively detailed and decorative than a wallpaper pattern made out of “Where’s Waldo” pages. In addition, the course’s long, winding holes, its air-conditioned atmosphere, and its particularly terrifying 15th hole (the “Bone Yard”**), made this venue a very enjoyable way to spend an hour in the Beaver State.

Unfortunately, Glowing Greens had many of the same issues that “haunted”*** Alaska’s course. Many of the venue’s holes were flat and arguably overly simplistic. But, more importantly, as opposed to Putters Wild, Glowing Greens charged you $1.50 for 3d glasses! Which I suppose isn’t that much of a critique, but it was still a bummer playing golf in regular old 2d (because I’m a dirty cheapskate). In addition, there were a few scuffs/areas with loose carpeting. But again, those are pretty minimal complaints. Ultimately, this was yet another entertaining blacklight course in a nation full of ’em. Was it the best indoor blacklight course in America? Maybe. Who knows?

I guess I’ll have to wait until I get to Las Vegas before I make my final decision.

* If you’ll remember however, this was not the first time a “haunted” course had an unclear theme.
** What’s so terrifying about the 15th hole? You’ll just have to find out for yourself! If I told you what happened, it would be like spoiling the end of your favorite movie. And sure, I could just tell you that “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time,” but that would totally spoil the ending of Die Hard with a Vengeance, wouldn’t it?
*** Kill me.

Course Score: Dan – 66, Carey – 67; par – 58.
Pros: Very well maintained; fun theme; great attention to detail; several “spooky” moments; very long holes; high production value props; air conditioned and cool.
Cons: Many flat/simplistic holes; have to pay money for 3d glasses (as opposed to Alaska which gave them to you for free); a few scuffs; arguably unclear theme beyond “things that are scary”; somewhat expensive.

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).