America’s Wackiest Mini-Golf Courses
It’s the kind of goofy, cheap thrill you can expect from the wackiest of America’s 1,600 mini-golf courses. Computer technology developed by Disney (known as animatronics) has helped to make miniature golf more popular—and more challenging. Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini Golf in Sevierville, TN, features talking animated barnyard animals that cheer, jeer, and even call out “Nice putt” to certain players.
Many indoor mini-golf courses are glow-in-the-dark or black-lit, such as Glowing Greens in Portland, OR, a 10,000-square-foot tropical island/pirate adventure with optional 3-D viewing. Some courses are even quirkier, such as Ahlgrim Acres in the basement of an actual funeral parlor in Palatine, IL, or Lake George, NY’s Around the World in 18 Holes, where each hole represents a country through its famous landmarks (and a few stereotypes).
Miniature golf has its own national day, September 21, and turns up in pop culture: Homer and Marge of The Simpsons conceived Bart in the windmill of a mini-golf course; Adam Sandler refined his short game at a miniature-golf course in Happy Gilmore; and in Jackass 2003, they demolished a mini course with golf carts.
It’s a far cry from the early days of mini-golf, which began in St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1868 because women were not allowed to complete a full back swing; with an 18-hole mini-course, women wouldn’t have to drive the ball. In 1927, a Chattanooga, TN, hotel owner built a mini-golf course on Overlook Mountain, hoping to draw traffic to his property, and three years later, it hosted the National Tom Thumb Open, America’s first mini-golf competition. (These days, Myrtle Beach, SC, attracts serious mini-golfers to an annual championship.)
By the ’50s and ’60s, the local putt-putt was a family destination and a fine place to bring a first date. As DVDs and video games have families increasingly glued to their digital screens, miniature-golf course owners have adapted to the new technology by replacing windmills and clown mouths with interactive challenges and animatronic characters.
So go ahead. Get goofy, bring the family, and test your swing at one of America’s wackiest mini-golf courses.
Kiss by Monster Mini Golf, Las Vegas
This indoor glow-in-the-dark 18-hole course is modeled entirely after the rock group Kiss’s platinum album, Destroyer. While a live DJ spins Kiss hits, naturally, animatronic Kiss band members rock out on a stage in the middle of the course. It gets wackier: hole no. 18 is a giant Gene Simmons head, and golfers must hit the ball up his tongue. And any old pencil and scorecard won’t do; download the score app onto an iPhone, complete with trivia questions. $11.95; monsterminigolf.com
Molten Mountain, Myrtle Beach, SC
The exterior of this course is a volcano that erupts every 30 minutes, shooting three fireballs 50 feet in the air. Visitors playing the holes inside can hear the volcano when it erupts and watch as rocks fall around them. There’s a par 3 hole that challenges you to hit the ball over a lava stream. $9 or $12 for an all-day pass; ages 4 and under play free; moltenmountaingolf.com
Ahlgrim Acres, Palatine, IL
When this funeral parlor isn’t in session, it opens for another kind of business: nine holes of creepy mini-golf in the basement, decked out with mausoleums, cemeteries, headstones, a haunted house, and a guillotine. Golfers who bypass hole no. 2’s coffin receive a penalty. Scary music and screaming sounds complete the ambience, and a funeral director is on hand to offers tips on how to conquer the tougher holes. Free of charge; closed during funerals and viewings; ahlgrimffs.com
Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini Golf, Sevierville, TN
Flying pigs circle a water tower at the center of three courses that amount to 54 barnyard-themed holes: the Udder Course (cows), the Chicken Egg Spread (hens), and Porkie Putt (pigs). The animals cheer, jeer, and encourage the golfers with “Nice putt.” Hole no. 18 offers every golfer a chance to win a free game. $10.99; ages 2–5 $5.99, ages 6–11 $7.99, for 18 holes; ripleysgatlinburg.com
Glowing Greens, Portland, OR
A pirate statue greets visitors to this 10,000-square-foot black-light course, which sticks with a tropical island theme and offers optional 3-D glasses. The 18-hole course includes an under-the-sea coral reef section and an underwater cavern painted with stalagmites and stalactites. At hole no. 15 in the jungle section, a dishwasher-size box that looks like a cage scares golfers as it shakes, rattles, and growls when someone comes near. Reggae music, jungle sounds, crashing waves, and underwater sea creature sounds round out the sensory experience. $9; seniors and under 12 $8; optional 3-D glasses ($1.50); glowinggreens.com
Lilliput Mini Golf, Grand Lake, CO
Each of the 36 holes of this ingenious homemade off-the-wall mini-golf course has a mechanical device, made by a wacky local mountaineer who gets a kick out of inventing odd mechanical devices. In one, the ball rides up a lift to the top of a building, then by conveyor across to the other side. In the summer, locals and out-of-staters seek out this little hole-in-the-wall in Grand Lake (population less than 500). There’s no website or phone, but Lilliput is on the main street, right by the only four-way stop sign. $7 for 18 holes, $12 for 36 holes
Congo River Mini Golf, Kissimmee, FL
Stanley Livingston meets Indiana Jones at this 18-hole African explorer–themed course built to resemble a rainforest (one of nine Congo River courses in Florida). The adventure begins at the entrance, where golfers can feed live gators from a baggie on a pole (the gators go crazy)—and even have a photo taken with a gator whose mouth is secured. The outdoor course itself features waterfalls splashing over the edge of caves with viewing holes, a “Congo Queen” hole played through a boat, and the wreck of a long-lost airplane. $10.99, ages 9 and under $8.99; congoriver.com
Wild Abyss Mini-Golf, Wisconsin Dells, WI
Visitors don 3-D glasses and submerge themselves in a black-light underwater fantasy world where gigantic aquariums teem with real eels, stingrays, barracudas, and bamboo sharks along the nine-hole course. Guests play to a soundtrack of the ocean, scuba bubbles, and the zapping noise of electric eels. There are two other themed Wilderness Resort mini-courses on the property: Wild Buccaneer and Big Fish. $7; ages 11 and under $5, group of four $15; wildernessresort.com
Pirate Island Golf, Sea Isle City, NJ
Ahoy! Sure enough, this 18-hole outdoor course features talking pirates, pirate-themed music, mist rising from a pond, and a plant-filled jungle. Golfers must cross a bouncy swinging bridge for one hole, while the 18th is played on a 40-foot-long wooden pirate ship. Last challenge: drop your ball in a three-hole drop box to see if you’ve won a free game. And if you, too, lose a ball in the waterfall or other water hazards, the course monitor will replace it. $7.95 daytime, $8.95 evening; pirateislandgolf.com
Around the World in 18 Holes, Lake George, NY
It’s a small world indeed at this mini-golf course where each hole represents a country through its famous landmarks (and a few stereotypes). The France hole requires you to hit the ball through Napoleon’s animated leg; for Egypt, golfers must hit the ball through three pyramids; for Australia, the ball must be hit into the kangaroo’s pouch. Brazil’s Sugarloaf Mountain is the final test: make a hole in one and you receive a prize. For those who want more, there’s always the on-site Around the U.S.A. in 18 Holes. $7.25, kids $5.95; aroundtheworldgolf.com
Hillbilly Golf, Gatlinburg, TN
This isn’t the Beverly Hillbillies—there’s nothing fake here, among the lush native rhododendron and mountain laurel. Play one of two 18-hole mini courses surrounded by antiques and old farm machinery including authentic covered wagons, ploughs, and tractors. Ride an incline elevator 300 feet up to the mountaintop where the two terraced courses are on both sides winding down the hilltop. Each is riddled with hillbilly hazards from outhouses to moonshine stills. In true hillbilly style, the owner won’t publish prices and has no computer.
Perils of the Lost Jungle, Herndon, VA
This 18-hole course takes adventurous golfers deep into the so-called Lost Jungle and tells a story with the help of animatronic explorers, bugs, and wild animals. Players must advance past quicksand, face a growling killer komodo dragon, enter a Mayan tomb, and more—all while watching out for headhunters’ darts; poisonous, water-spitting frogs; and a life-size gorilla that rushes guests as they putt. $10, seniors 61-plus $9.50; kids 3–12 $9; woodysgolf.com