Whether you call it mini golf or putt-putt, the familial pastime tugs on some serious all-American heartstrings. Lately, this nostalgic activity has seen an inventive resurgence as creative, whimsical, artsy and occasionally even boozy versions of mini golf have popped up all over the United States. From a lavish art-themed course at an Indianapolis museum to a volcanic excursion in Myrtle Beach, here are seven of the most unique mini golf courses to check out across America.
Urban Putt, San Fransisco
The first (and currently only) indoor mini golf course in San Francisco, Urban Putt has been a pioneer in the Bay Area for destinations mixing dining and drinking with leisurely sport. Much more tech-savvy and contemporary than the hokey golf courses of childhood yore, this Mission District spot contains 14 holes that incorporate abundant elements of art and robotics in a historic Victorian building converted into a family-friendly wonderland. Challenging and fun for all ages, the course boasts intricate fixtures featuring San Francisco streetscapes, a submarine and a duck shooting gallery hole modeled after carnival games. This being California, there’s also an earthquake hole where the ground vibrates and buildings fall over. Upstairs is a restaurant called UP @ Urban Putt, where the food is just as focused on comforting nostalgia as the golf. This means fried chicken and waffle skewers, deep-dish pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and buffalo chicken sandwiches. There’s also plenty of booze, from Old Fashioned cocktails to Pinot Noir.
Mini Golf at the IMA, Indianapolis
One of the most colorful and intricate mini golf destinations in the country is courtesy of the exquisite Indianapolis Museum of Art. Last summer, the museum kicked off its first ever “Mini Golf at the IMA,” to ravenous success. The outdoor course is back for the season, this time with a new batch of local artists commissioned to design their own holes throughout the museum’s Alliance Sculpture Court. This year, all artists were tasked with designing within the theme of the natural world, drawing inspiration from nature to create holes that’ll take golfers through African plains, jungles, glaciers and beyond. One example hole, called “To Bee or Not to Bee,” takes putters through a beehive in order to find the honeycomb hole, complete with a giant bee perched atop the hole. The course operates from May 28 through September 3 during museum hours, and it’s included with general admission.
Can Can Wonderland, St. Paul
Art and play collide to great effect at Can Can Wonderland in St. Paul, Minnesota. Similar to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, this lustrous indoor course features 18 holes designed by various artists, along with a veritable playground and gallery of other artsy fixtures and sights. Designers submitted proposals from across the country, resulting in a wide array of interactive, challenging holes like the Loopty Loop Madness, which catapults golf balls over water, and The Comet, a hole that acts like a giant science experiment as it carries balls up a nine-foot screw before rocketing it off a ramp towards the hole. Can Can Wonderland also features an on-site restaurant, Culinary Amusement Park, and two bars, Main Bar and Wee Bar. Things like nachos, mini donuts and hot dogs tie in nicely with the whimsical Americana atmosphere.
Flatstick Pub, Seattle
Mini golf is all grown up at Seattle’s Flatstick Pub, a bar with an abundance of local beer and an indoor 9-hole course. There are two locations, one in Kirkland and another in Pioneer Square, both with an assortment of beer-themed par-3 holes ideal for novices or putt putt pros. Examples include the Tap the Keg hole, which challenges golfers to weave their ball through a set of kegs. The Daredevil hole is all about risk, with a thin stretch of green leading to a small gap in the wall, with water on both sides. To eat, Flatstick specializes in unique pot pies, including a meatball pie. Beer-wise, all tap handles are reserved for assorted Washington beers and ciders.
Holy Terror Mini Golf, South Dakota
Tucked away in the rolling Black Hills of Keystone, South Dakota, Holy Terror Mini Golf is a blast from the mining-era past. So named for the last active gold mine in Keystone, which houses world-famous Mount Rushmore, the colorful course features a miscellany of gold-strewn boulders, steep hills, a mine slew, a water wheel and a stream, plus plenty more, all against a beautiful backdrop of tall, lush green trees. It's 18 holes long, taking golfers up more than 50 feet in elevation over the duration of the course. To make things more interesting (and challenging), there's three kinds of artificial turf designed to mimic sand traps, fairways and rough earthy terrain.
Molten Mountain, North Myrtle Beach
South Carolina’s epic Molten Mountain mini golf course features 36 holes and periodic volcanic eruptions, as visitors putt their way through caverns and small volcanoes. There’s also an 18-hole version that’s housed entirely inside a massive air-conditioned volcano. During play, the course’s central 50-foot mountain erupts every 30 minutes, bursting with fire and steam. Throughout the grounds, fountains and waterfalls pour forth with “lava,” while palm trees and other lush landscaping lends a tropical Hawaiian-like air.
King Putt, Henderson
Nestled in the heart of the Nevada desert, King Putt is an indoor wonderland that’s sure to transport visitors to a bygone era in Egyptian lore. Golfing here feels like golfing inside a pyramid, albeit a pyramid with lots of neon and black light. The Henderson location boasts more animations, sensors and moving props than any other course in the country, complete with glowing pharaohs, camels, tombs, mummies and hieroglyphics.
Written by Matt Kirouac
Read more posts by Matt Kirouac