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Adventures in Lilliputt

No sport is more unremittingly Grimm than miniature golf. According to minilore, the modern game began nearly eighty years ago at a Tennessee resort called Fairyland Inn, where plaster gnomes and elves guarded the holes. By the end of the thirties, little links carpeted the country and the fad spawned a song, "I've Gone Goofy Over Miniature Golf." Some players did just that: One course was laid out at a hospital for the insane.

I know the feeling. A decade ago I flew to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with my slightly demented friends John Diliberto and Mark Moskowitz. Over a single crazed weekend, we played thirty putt-putt courses. After five dizzying hours, Moskowitz's face was glazed with the blankness that occurs when one game begins to blend with the next. Eyeballs spinning, he scaled the skull of a gigantic gorilla and watched his ball bounce off a brick bumper and down a tunnel, then lazily wind around a path and into the cup. "Haven't we played this hole before?" he said.

We had and we would again. Astonishingly, after 540 holes of putting through teepees, past gurgling streams dyed Ty-D-Bol blue and up three-tiered mesas concealed by frogs brandishing golf umbrellas, we all finished within five strokes of each other.

We had planned a tenth-anniversary rematch a couple years ago, but at the last minute Diliberto bugged out and Moskowitz flat-out refused. Perhaps they'd become adults. "Be that way," I snarled. "I'm going." To keep the threesome from becoming a lonesome onesome, I recruited my daughter, Daisy, who was then eleven years old and whose height—five-foot-one—made her a truly miniature golfer.

I figured three days of minigolf might be a hard sell to Daisy, so I played up the retro hipness of the Myrtle Beach courses. I raved about Spyglass Adventure's water explosions, gangplanks and smoking cannons. But Daisy was unmoved. I rabbited on about the catapults and sorcerer's cave at McLean's Medieval Village. Daisy wouldn't bite. I rhapsodized about the sublime surrealism of a course called Wacky Golf, where one hole required you to whack a ball between the whirling blades of a windmill erected in Mother Hubbard's shoe, then into the mouth of an enormous amberjack with revolving eyes.

"Well, all right," Daisy said at last. "You convinced me."

"What clinched it?" I asked her. "The gangplanks, the catapults. . . ."

"Actually, it was when you said I could get off school."

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