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

Idaho 3

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.

Boondocks 1

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.

Old Town 2

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

SD 1

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)

Big Stone selfie.JPG

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)

Vitense pic

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.

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).

7/28/16 – Ohio

Course: Westerville Mini Golf
Location: 450 W. Schrock Road Westerville, Ohio 43081
Price: $6 for 18 holes

Ohio 1.JPG

Westerville Mini Golf

Review: How much mini golf is too much mini golf? Obviously a two-month-long road trip is far too much a time for any sane person to play mini golf. But what’s the cutoff point? Is it an hour? Six hours? How about a full day?

I ask these questions because, just like the Lincoln Memorial or that bike shop where Orville and Wilbur practiced kissing on one another until they invented the airplane, Ohio’s Westerville Mini Golf is a deeply, historically significant site. All the way back in the year 2008,* local mini golf enthusiast David Pfefferle set the world record for most mini golf played in a 24-hour period. Putting 4,729 holes throughout the day, Pfefferle walked approximately 55 (repetitive) miles at the Westerville Golf Center, raising over 6,000 dollars for charity. Now, for those keeping score at home, 55 miles is a very large distance to play mini golf, but hopefully I can make that number a little less abstract: quick, close your eyes and think of the longest physical distance you can realistically imagine. Now double it. Now double it again. Now forget that distance and, instead, imagine an island 18 times as large as Three Mile Island.

It’s a pretty long distance to play mini golf.

That being said, this place needs some new carpet. Immediately. I’m sure, at one point in time, Westerville was filled with bright, pristine green putting surfaces. But when I visited, the carpeting had worn down irreparably. It was black and scuffed. It was slick and uneven. It was impossible to predict where your ball would end up whenever you hit it. In short, playing there was more stressful than I care to admit. And I care to admit a lot of things.** All I will say is, if David Pfefferle was trying to set the world record today, he’d probably destroy his putting iron in an uncharacteristic fit of rage and unbridled sexual exasperation because, no matter how well he played, the game was rigged.

But, despite its atrocious carpet situation, Westerville was overall pretty average. It had a beautiful flowing river through the center of the course, impressive fountains on either end, and a fun lawn-gnome theme. It was quaint but harmless. Like a wax apple. Or an underwritten female protagonist in a movie about a guy finding love in all the wrong places.*** But, in comparison to some of the courses I’ve already visited, it was unremarkable.

So, instead, given that Ohio was recently the site of the RNC in the midst of a particularly contentious election, I thought I’d take a brief moment to (perhaps pointlessly) talk about America.

If we’re being honest, I don’t know what I expected to see golfing through every state in America. I’ll admit, I sort of assumed I’d see at least a few Hillary Clinton effigies, burning brightly on the mini fairways like beautiful, politically divisive comets. Because that would be an amazing stereotype-reaffirming anecdote. But instead, I’ve really been struck by how mundane things have been. How similar all the people were (at least, the people who were playing mini golf). No matter what state I went to (red or blue), kids ran wild through the course while frazzled parents tried to keep up; octogenarians gabbed with their friends; high school students went on awkward first dates. And no matter where I was, if there was a large group in front of me, they would always stop and politely, kindly say “here, why don’t you play through?”

Without making too much of a political statement, all I’ll say is that it was nice of them to do that for me.

* A simpler time, when Lance Armstrong was still just a really good biker. And Tiger Woods was in a committed, monogamous marriage to a Swedish supermodel. And Ted Cruz was still a terrifying lizard-person with the moral compass of a plague rat that had been born with a congenital conscience-defect. But no one really knew who he was back then. So it was better.
** I still love you, Beth. If you’re reading this blog. Please. Come back to me.
*** The movie 500 Days of Summer singlehandedly set back gender equality for several decades.

Course Score: 52; Par – 44.
Pros: Quaint vibe; nice environment; pretty river/fountain; cheap.
Cons: Atrocious carpeting; simplistic holes; strangely sloped; very slick; twigs on the course; extraordinarily unpredictable.