Variations on the Game of Golf – Mini Golf

Mini Golf was perhaps the first golf variation...

Mini Golf was perhaps the first golf variation…

Baseball has softball and Wiffle ball. Football has Arena football and flag football. Even basketball has had a crazy version involving trampolines! But perhaps no sport has more variations and off-shoots than golf. Some variations are old, some new. Some played by golfers, some not. Some played just for fun, but some taken as serious as the original sport itself. But where did these variations come from? How did they come to be? Let’s start with the most popular off-shoot of all…mini golf.

It is believed that miniature golf first began in the same place as the great sport it emulates…Scotland. In 1867 the St. Andrew’s Putting Club for Women, which was simply an 18-hole putting green, was formed. The reason the club was for women? Well, women were not allowed to play golf. More specifically, women were not allowed to swing a club past their shoulders. So basically they weren’t allowed to do anything other than putt. From there, a new sport (or pastime) was born.

Here in the U.S. though, mini golf didn’t appear until roughly 50 years later. The Thistle Du putting course in Pinehurst, NC, built in 1916, is recognized as the first “putting course” stateside. But mini golf in its infancy wasn’t exactly what we think of today. There were no windmills, churches or clowns yet. Rather, “Garden golf” as it was sometimes referred, was played on real grass and was, in effect, a short version of an actual course. It wasn’t until the late 1920’s and 30’s when bumpers, rails and walls appeared on the courses in order to confine the ball. It was around this time when, with the help of celebrities of the day, mini golf rapidly increased in popularity. During the 30’s, over 30,000 mini golf courses popped up throughout the states. That’s over fifteen times the amount that exist today! It’s popularity was largely due to the fact that people of any age, gender, skill level or financial status could take part.

In the late 40’s and early 50’s, mini golf’s familiar obstacles began to sprout. That’s right…spinning windmill blades and all. Now, not only did you have to putt straight, but you had to time it right also. Additionally, Astroturf brought in a standardized playing surface in the 60’s. But it wasn’t until the 80’s when the mini golf course began to transform into what we know it to be today.

It was then that mini golf courses began to evolve from more than just golf and into a more family-themed event. The familiar adventure and pirate themes sprang up around the country, especially in popular vacation areas such as Myrtle Beach, Orlando, San Diego and Las Vegas.

While mini golf may not be as popular as it was in it’s heyday, there are still an estimated 1,800 mini golf courses throughout the country today, with Myrtle Beach, SC being largely recognized as the Miniature Golf Capitol of the World. It’s popularity can be evidenced through it’s previous contract with ESPN which aired the national championships for several years. In my findings, I’ve even come across a few miniature golf course review sites! Take a look at this one and see if you can find one near you:

Personally, I’ve found mini golf to be a great way to spend time with my kids. It’s fun as well as inexpensive. Additionally, it’s also given them a healthy chance at a bit of competition amongst each other. But most importantly, I’ve found it to be a great way to introduce them to the actual game of golf. It seems to have worked with my two boys. My daughter on the other hand? She’s still a bit more interested in the animals, lighthouses and windmills. But that’s OK…that’s why they are there.


  1. Chris, you forgot about the Professional Putters Association. (Their official site is I remember watching it on TV when I was younger, and we had a “serious” Putt-Putt course here in town that was actually used in some of the tournaments. (It has now taken over by the giraffes and elephants and such.) I suppose they’re still playing — the site would seem to indicate that — but serious minigolf seems to have passed its heyday.

  2. Thanks Mike! Also, most people don’t realize that Putt-Putt golf was actually a name brand, not just another term for mini golf. As I understand it, Putt-Putt was created in the early 50’s by a guy who didn’t want to see miniature golf turn into the “giraffes and elephants and such.” Kind of stinks that your local course became what it was trying not to be.

  3. I had forgotten it was a brand name as well. But when I was little, if you wanted to play mini golf, you went to a Putt-Putt course. If it had animal statues, it was for “kids.” (As in “anybody younger than me!”)

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