Minigolf: A Putted History Part 1

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A bit of history about the most fun you can have with a ball and a stick

This is the first in a series of two or maybe three posts about how minigolf got started, why it got so crazily popular, and other historical bits and bobs and trivia about the game. If you’re curious about where minigolf/crazy golf/adventure golf/putt-putt/goofy golf came from and how it got started, read on!

Much as we’d love to say that minigolf started in England, the truth is that it’s a transatlantic affair. There were British precursors – more on them in a  minute – but the idea of a minigolf course as a theme park goes back to the American miniature golf boom of the 1920s. Surely no self-respecting Englishman would charge the public money to enter a kitsch landscape full of objects that made garden gnomes look like Michelangelos, and putt a ball around it in the name of enjoyment? But here’s the kicker: it was an Englishman who opened the first ever minigolf course in America! But first let everything go wavy for a moment as we take you back to the first inklings of minigolf.

Precursors

For all we know, prehistoric folks might have played miniature golf with jawbones and rat skulls. But for this article, we’ll have to leave the anthropology aside and stick to the recorded facts.

If we define a precursor of minigolf as ‘a smaller and more compact version of golf’, the Ladies’ Putting Club at St Andrews was the first prominent example of such a game. To give the golf widows something to do as their hubbies hiked around the links all day, a putting-only area called ‘The Himalayas’ was set up specially for ladies. At the time it was considered unseemly for a lady to swing a club above the shoulder, but a bit of demure putting was permissible as long as they were all ladylike about it and didn’t make to much noise besides a light tinkle of musical laughter. So the patronised females were given their own bit of St Andrews, and it proved popular. Other clubs around Britain copied the idea, but they were more pitch-and-putt courses than minigolf as we know it today.

One of the earliest attempts to package miniature golf and sell it as a product was Golfstacle, a game patented by a British Army Colonel in 1907 as ‘a golf game for putters’ or alternatively ‘golf-croquet’. In your wooden box you got some painted metal obstacles including croquet-style hoops, balls, putters and a peg taken straight from croquet, which was presumably what you had to try to hit with your ball. Putting cups were still a thing of the future, but the introduction of obstacles and the compact size of the course layout was a significant step towards minigolf as we know it today. The game is documented in the 8th June 1912 edition of the Illustrated London News:

Golfstacle minigolf crazy golf
An advertisement for Golfstacle in the Illustrated London News 1912
Minigolf crazy golf golfstacle
A piece of putting history!

NEXT WEEK: THE AMERICAN BOOM!

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