Although the concept of golf on a miniature scale dates to the mid-19th century, most of the accoutrements of modern mini-golf — windmills, clown’s mouths, castle keeps, giant statues of Paul Bunyan, and so forth — were developed in the late ’30s by Joseph and Robert Taylor of Binghamton, right here in upstate New York. It’s no wonder, then, that the Hudson Valley is home to so many fine mini-golf courses. Here are a few of the more interesting ones.
(also known as Gnome on the Grange)
“We’ve got the coolest mini-golf,” says Maria Reidelbach, the owner of Gnome on the Grange. And if “cool” is defined as “wildly original,” she just might be right. The 10-hole course is laid out within a farm, which is also the source of its theme. The putting surfaces are surrounded by edible plants, 50-some-odd varieties of fruits, vegetables, and grains that players are encouraged to taste. For the less horticulturally minded, the tasting garden is annotated with facts and lore about the various plants. There is also a spectacular view of Rondout Valley and the pick-your-own farm below.
Then there is the eponymous gnome, the world’s largest (“we have a Guinness World Record to prove it”) that surveys the proceedings like some Santa’s elf on steroids. This, too, befits the theme. Reidelbach, who cowrote a book on mini-golf, knows full well that one of the principal decorations of the country’s first mini-golf course (Freida Carter’s in Chattanooga, Tenn., circa 1928) was a slew of garden gnomes. Her course has other traditional-yet-innovative hazards: a tractor tire loop-de-loop, a hollow log. “It draws on the history of mini-golf,” she explains.
Highlight: Lover’s Bench, a quiet, shady, intimate spot removed from the games, where daters can repose. “Mini-golf is a game of romance as well as fun,” Reidelbach says. “It’s a good place to court.”
What’s New: The Grain Gang, a large-scale, anthropomorphic assembly of 13 grains — “everything from amaranth to wheat” — that is sort of the granular equivalent of the California Raisins. This summer, there will be a contest to name them.
Take an 18-hole mini-golf course and sprinkle in a host of obstacles, both stationary and moving. Festoon said obstacles with fluorescent prints. Turn off the lights. The result? GloPutt, the trippy indoor, glow-in-the-dark mini-golf course at the Sports Place. It’s like you’re putting in a tropical fish tank, only drier.
Highlight: The highlight is the blacklight. That, and the legendary Ferris wheel obstacle.
Also: The complex features batting cages, arcade games, soccer fields, and basketball courts. Check out the numerous sports programs.
If mini-golf can be either goofy (windmills and loop-de-loops) or traditional (miniature putting greens), the course here tends toward the latter. The idea is just to hit the 18 holes — which feature a cave, a castle, and a pirate ship — and spend quality time with the kids out in the fresh air. Bumper boats, batting cages, a vast arcade, snack bar, and mini-restaurant complete the experience. If the recession’s got you down, Fun Central feels your pain, offering special discount family packages.
Highlight: For manager A.J. Deacon, the fun in Fun Central derives from an experience that draws families closer together. “Watching a little boy or little girl getting a hole-in-one, and their parents cheering them on — that’s a great family moment,” he says.
Also: Ride the virtual reality roller coaster, where you can experience the thrill of the Cyclone or the Loch Ness Monster — even going completely upside-down — without leaving the building (or throwing your back out).
A golfer’s paradise: All 18 holes on this lush 44-acre expanse, away from the hue and cry of Route 9, are small-scale replicas of holes at actual golf courses — seven local, the rest from across the country. The first hole, for example, is a truncated version of the 18th at historic Pebble Beach, complete with tree and aquatic vista. Overlook sounds like a real golf course, and it looks like one, too. The landscaping is country-club worthy. Its ponds, water traps, and waterfalls, a sight to see, are not just there for beautification; they are legitimate hazards, the sort of thing that makes Phil Mickelson mutter under his breath at the U.S. Open. “It’s a putting course more than a mini-golf course,” says owner and links enthusiast Bob Hines, who also cuts the grass and does the weeding.
Highlight: The replica of the 17th hole at Sawgrass, at which you have to putt across a foot-wide bridge or risk having your ball fall into the water trap.
Also: The complex offers a 40-station driving range, as well as batting cages and a go-cart track. You can also take lessons from the resident golf pro.
The Castle Fun Center has a traditional medieval theme
The golf balls might lie, but the name doesn’t. The medieval-themed Castle Fun Center boasts activities galore, including batting cages, laser tag, roller-skating, rock climbing, a restaurant and pub, and — beneath the blue-and-white castle — a go-cart track. At the center of it all is the dual main attraction: two 18-hole mini-golf courses, the Knight’s Revenge and the Dragon Slayer. These are one-of-a-kind courses. Like castle keeps in days of yore, both courses and all of the obstacles — the castle with turrets, the rope bridges, the chomping alligator — were built by hand by the owner, Brian Leentjes, a mason.
Highlight: The fire-breathing dragon on the 18th hole. “It’s always a crowd pleaser when this huge dragon snorts fire,” says Susan Berntsen, the events coordinator.
What’s new: This summer, mini-golfers will be treated to live music on weekends, so between rounds Rapunzel can really let her hair down.
Monster Mini-Golf in Middletown is populated with aliens and UFOs
There are 29 Monster Mini-Golf franchises around the country, each one striving to be, in the words of founders Christina and Patrick Vitagliano, “the Millennium Falcon of mini-golf.” The analogy is well-suited to the Middletown franchise, which (in a nod to the alleged UFO sightings in nearby Pine Bush during the ’80s) features an extraterrestrial theme. It’s not quite Monsters vs. Aliens, though, because there are plenty of both. The 12-foot-tall giant, the purple people-eater, the three-headed dog Cerberus — they all vie for attention on the otherworldly, glow-in-the-dark 18-hole mini-course.
Highlight: The blacklit fun is presided over by a deejay spinning favorites that will have Mom and Dad groovin’.
What’s new: The two party rooms, which can accommodate giant-sized gatherings. “We do a lot of birthday parties,” explains president Mike Beck.
This, ahem, diamond in the rough is ensconced on a single acre along an otherwise uninspiring stretch of Route 299. The course, which co-owner Anne Spero helped design, features a series of unique and varied challenges, including the jump across the stream, the tombstone hazard, and the trademark triple-dip. The well-arrayed clubhouse is known as the Log Cabin, but looks more like a ski lodge or a Swiss chalet. Here you can play board games and nosh on eats of a magnitude tastier than you’d expect from a mini-golf place; it’s called Yummies for a reason.
Highlight: The quaint, family-friendly vibe. “People come to relax, play games, and enjoy the ice cream,” says Spero. Indeed, it’s a great place to spend a few leisurely hours, whether hitting the mini-links, belting out tunes on the karaoke machine, or letting your toddler play with hula hoops in the fenced-in yard while you slurp a chocolate milkshake.
What’s New: An expanded menu with turkey, chicken, and eggplant burgers supplementing the hot dogs, grilled cheese, and what some aficionados call the best burger in the Hudson Valley.