A blog about all things mini golf, crazy golf and adventure golf. Brought to you by 'Putterfingers' the minigolf experts!
The British Minigolf Association is the UK’s governing body for minigolf sport, including crazy golf and adventure golf. This is a round up of stories from the BMGA including its top players and events in the UK.
Tantrums and putter threat on pro minigolf course!
This week’s post was to be part 2 of A Putted History of Minigolf – see part 1 here. But we have a story from New Zealand that we think trumps it and might generate some discussion, so we’ll push that post back to next week.
A recent series of events in New Zealand raises questions about minigolf as a professional sport and how seriously or otherwise it should be taken. A feud between two prominent Kiwi minigolfers escalated into one allegedly threatening the other with his putter, saying “I’ll wrap my putter round your head”. This was apparently the final straw for Minigolf Federation of New Zealand secretary Damo Kissick, who said it followed a string of incidents in which Bobby Hart lost his temper, threw putters, swore and generally spat out his dummy. In the light of this behaviour the player has been asked to leave the federation.
Star national and international player Bobby Hart is known for his no-joking approach to the game and for saying things like “I’m here to compete, not make friends”. Which is kind of fair enough – he takes the game seriously and after all it requires great skill and practice. Interviewed after the incident, he said, “I’m not there to have a joke and a laugh, I’m there to take things seriously and grow competitive putting as a sport here in New Zealand. It’s not a joking matter … I think there’s a future for competitive putting and actually doing it as a job.”
The alleged putter threat came following a long-running disagreement with another player, Murray Cramp, whom Hart accuses of not taking the game seriously enough. Cramp said “It’s essentially a sport for children and their parents to have fun that we’ve turned into something that is well beyond [that] … The last thing you want to do is create a level of intensity where it looks like you’re at the Olympics.”
And yet there have been efforts to get minigolf into the Olympics. We blogged about it back in 2014. The World Minigolf Sport Federation regularly lobbies for it to be included.
All this begs the question: how seriously (or otherwise) should we take minigolf? Is professional minigolf a threat to the fun of the game, or should we have more of it? Can you be professional and have fun at the same time?
If you have any comments on this, please post them to our Twitter page. But try to keep your toys in the pram.
Much-loved American putting game Putt-Putt turned 64 last week and is still going strong, which shows that the U.S. putting population’s answer to the question “Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m sixty-four?” is a resounding “Yes!”
Some British readers might not be familiar with Putt-Putt, but rest assured it’s miniature golf, just a specific version of it that was commercialised and popularised in the USA in the 1950s. Here’s a bit of its history and one notable occurrence.
When the first Putt-Putt® course opened in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1954, the Putt-Putt mission statement was simple and honest: “To provide families with a safe, clean, wholesome entertainment venue where they can have an enjoyable experience for a reasonable cost in their own community.” A game cost 25 cents and the courses were standardised to give as equal a challenge as possible from one course to another. Doing away with windmills, fountains and other paraphernalia, they consisted of simple geometric shapes and standardised carpet and rails to give even roll and predictable bounce. The holes are designed so that a hole in one is always possible. So it’s a game of pure putting skill and judgement.
A franchise business right from the start, Putt-Putt courses spread quickly and became a household name in family entertainment. It is still possible to apply to become a Putt-Putt franchisee! Soon the brand had its own league, the Professional Putters Association (PPA) which still exists today and offers relatively substantial prize money.
Here’s a video we’ve shared before which not only shows what Putt-Putt holes look like, but also one of the very few occasions on which a player has hit 18 consecutive aces – the perfect game (see original post here). It’s a superbly made animated video that documents the most exciting moment in the putting career of an IT manager called Rick Baird.
At the weekend Hastings hosted the 16th World Crazy Golf Championships. Taking place at Hastings Adventure Golf, the annual event saw the biggest turnout of competitors since 2005. The winner was Marc Chapman, a fencing coach from Canterbury on his 9th attempt at the title.
After claiming the trophy a visibly chuffed Chapman said, “It feels amazing to finally become the World Crazy Golf Champion! It’s been a great personal ambition of mine to win this event and I have been close to it a few times before. I’ve only played in a few events in the last five years, which makes this win even more amazing to believe!”
He has every right to celebrate, having beaten a host of top pro minigolfers including 4-time champion Michael Smith, star putter Adam Kelly and many other illustrious names. Chapman chalked up an impressive 26 under par 226 over the seven rounds, with Kelly rolling in second just one shot behind and Smith taking third having dropped just a single shot from Kelly.
The Novice category was won by Russell Smith from Tunbridge Wells on 10 under par over four rounds, with Chris Horn and Mark Berezicki in second and third places respectively.
Seasoned pro and twice runner-up Sean Homer said: “I made my debut in 2006 and got hooked on the game. I’ve played in every competition since. It’s fantastic that the Hastings’ event is still focused on what has always made it so special – a fun, exciting, inclusive and entertaining spectacle for the young, old and everyone in between.”
Here’s some video of the event, with players explaining the challenges of the Arnold Palmer course and plenty of match play footage, seagulls, good weather and tricky shots. From 10:35 you will hear a series of delighted cries of “Yes! Come on!” from Chapman as he edges closer to the title.
On The 18th and 19th of May the US Prominigolf Association’s U.S. Open Championship was held in Hendersonville, North Carolina. One professional player stood out in particular, a man by the name of Niko Manou. What is different about him is that he does not use a putter. Niko has a debilitating condition that causes his wrists to dislocate very easily and without warning, which is painful and makes using a putter almost impossible. Refusing to be ‘disabled’, he has overcome this by designing special attachments to his shoes that present a putter-like face to the ball – and he putts with his feet.
He calls them shlubs, a portmanteau of shoes and clubs. And they are not just for himself – he makes them for other minigolfers and sells them. Here’s the shlubs Facebook page. Niko also plays big golf with shlubs and can drive a ball quite a way. He calls this sport shloffing.
Other pro players accept Niko and respect him for his resilience and creativity, and for the simple fact that he is a nice guy. Here’s a video of Niko talking about shlubs, shloffing and what makes him happy.
The sporting world is full of examples of people who play despite apparently overwhelming odds. Though his case is completely different, Niko reminds us of another disabled American by the name of Matt Stutzman, who has risen to the top of the sport of archery despite one tiny problem – he was born without arms. Want to see how he overcomes that one? Here’s a video about Matt, the amazing Armless Archer, who shoots as well as his able-bodied peers.
While we’re on the subject, it might be worth mentioning that Putterfingers minigolf courses are wheelchair-friendly. Because the putting surface is so low, wheelchair access is easy, and people using wheelchairs can enjoy a game if they are otherwise able-bodied. The only obstacles on Putterfingers courses are the ones they have to get the ball over!
There are special putters out there for wheelchair minigolfers. The shaft hinges just before the head to enable a good putting angle from a seated position. Unfortunately we are unable to source them at the moment, but we’re trying to get a supply line to help make our courses even more inclusive.
As you pootle around your local adventure golf course surrounded by animatronic dinosaurs, sinking a hole in one is usually a happy accident rather than an all-consuming goal. Crazy golf is fun, right? A social pastime for family days out, dating and business teambuilding days. We seldom spare a thought for those whose entire lives have been consumed by the plasticky rattle of the ball falling into the cup after a single stroke of the putter. Yet these fevered souls are out there in growing numbers, and the best of them are making money at it. Meet the professional minigolfer.
Pro players will take a couple of days before a tournament to scope out the course, take detailed notes on each hole and plan their shots. The planning is as meticulous as for other pro sports, including ‘big golf’. Prize money is an mini as the game itself, but the glory has no price. When professional minigolfer Matt McCaslin won the 2014 USPMGA Open he walked away with $4,000, and the prize purse for the 2018 Masters is $20,000, so it’s not exactly to be sneezed at. But you’ve got to be really, really good to get in the money.
How do you get that good? You turn pro and practice, practice, practice. Pros spend 8 to 12 hours a day getting the feel right, watching how the ball breaks, deciding on shot strategy, preparing for tournaments.
So pro minigolf is predictably dominated by middle-aged men, right? Well, a lot of the USPMGA‘s top-ranked players come from the world of Putt-Putt and are male and, yes, quite a few are middle-aged. But one good thing about the sport is that it’s open to all ages and genders. In 2013 Olivia Propokova, a Czech 18-year-old, won the triple crown: the Master’s, the U.S. Open and the World Championships. But then she is a bit special, a real fighter and lionized by her fellow pros. She’s also a heroine back in her home country and has landed sponsorship deals and has her own line of clothing.
“I don’t think any us at this level think of it as a hobby – we take it really seriously as a professional sport,” says Brad Lebo, a 55-year-old Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, dentist who’s earned about $145,000 putting professionally since 1991. “We like to think we’re the best at what we’re doing in the world. Unfortunately, we’re just in kind of a niche.” [pga.com]
Here’s a video featuring Matt Male, a minigolf professional who won the 2015 Masters, talking about preparation and the pro minigolfing life. The uncharitable comments on the YouTube video show how far minigolf has to go to be taken seriously as a professional sport by the general public. It probably never will. But there is no doubting the seriousness and commitment if the players themselves. They’re hooked, far beyond help, and they probably feel pity for the ignorant YouTube commenters who have never felt the thrill of a really cracking minigolf score. Haters gonna hate, putters gonna putt.
Got an event coming up? Brighten it up and make it fun by staging your own minigolf tournament! Hire a course from Putterfingers. Details here
Whether you fancy your chances with a putter or want to experience the tension of minigolf events as a spectator, there’s plenty happening this year around the UK. So here are some dates for your calendar if you don’t want to miss out on all the hot competition and good, hole-some fun. Watch top players in action or enter a tournament and try to become a top player yourself!
Planet Hastings Crazy Golf Open
4th March 2018
Spread across the three courses at Hastings Adventure Golf – the Adventure, Pirate and Crazy Golf Courses – this popular fixture is a festival of minigolf. Entry fees are ‘austerity friendly’ and payable on the day, but to participate you need to contact Planet Hastings Crazy golf to officially enter. Otherwise just get down there, loaf around with an ice cream or some fish and chips and watch the players sweat out the tournament.
The English Open
25th March 2018
Nottingham’s Lost City Adventure Golf hosts this event for the fifth consecutive year. The action will take place on the Sacred Skull and Temple Trail courses, which ordinarily feature talking statues and an artificial lightning storm. We’re not sure whether these features will be activated during the tournament! If you get put off your shot by unexpected jungle happenings, you can drown your sorrows at the Tiki bar.
The British Masters
22nd April 2018
Mr Mulligans Dino Adventure Golf course in Sidcup is the venue for the 2018 British Masters. It’s a four-round classic that sorts the men from the boys in minigolf. If you like the idea of putting or watching others putt surrounded by giant prehistoric reptiles, this is your kind of event … if you make it back alive. The winner gets to wear the coveted – and possibly bloodstained – tweed jacket.
The British Championships
12th and 13h May 2018
It’s back to Hastings for the British Championships. Played on the Pirate Course, this is one of the major minigolf events. There are men’s, women’s, senior and youth trophies. Hastings has seen some spectacular minigolf action, having hosted the British Champs in 2012 and 2015 and the World Minigolf Championships in 2017. Soak up the action at the mecca of minigolf.
The Midlands Open
28th July 2018
Held at the Four Ashes Golf Centre in Dorridge on their brand new 18-hole course, this promises to be a cracking tournament. It’s a three-rounder all on the Saturday so play will be intense as players won’t get an overnight break. Registrations are handled by the Midlands Minigolf Club.
The Sussex Wasps Open
2nd of September 2018
The Sussex Wasps Open will once again take place at the Dobbies Garden Centre course in Peterborough on Sunday 2nd September. Sussex Wasps are a very active minigolf club that has nurtured a lot of talent and produced several champions.
The British Open
15th and 16 September 2018
Strokes Adventure Golf in Margate is the venue for this top event and it will be the seventh time it has been held there. Described as ‘minigolf heaven’ on TripAdvisor, Strokes is a worthy venue for this major tournament.
The Kent Open
11th November 2018
Mr Mulligan’s in Sidcup hosts its second big tournament of 2018 in the final club open of the season.
The Star City Open
2nd of December 2018
One of the nation’s favourite minigolf events takes place at Star City in Birmingham. Thankfully it’s indoors, so the December temperatures won’t be a problem. The season’s finale, it is played on the Lost Hut Trail course. 2018’s last chance to prove yourself at a big minigolf tournament! Or to watch others prove themselves as you enjoy the surroundings and food.
All events are listed on the BMGA website so check there for updates as the year progresses.
Why not stage your own minigolf tournament with a Putterfingers course hire? Minigolf events of all sizes are always loads of fun. Instead of going to a course, we send the course to you! Find out more here
Sky Sports airs gripping adventure golf champs played at the Belfry
Our regular readers might recognise the face in the photo above. Yes, it’s our friend Richard Gottfried, putting supremo and the man behind the long-lived crazy golf blog The Ham and Egger Files. He has putted his way round over 700 minigolf courses in the British Isles and documented every one in his Crazy World of Minigolf Tour. He is no stranger to the media, but what is unusual in image above is that it is minigolf on the TELLY! Sky Sports, to be exact. Our favourite sports has hit prime time subscription TV!
Golf equipment supplier American Golf sponsors a series of golf tournaments in the UK which have grown in popularity. This year they have managed to secure slots on prime time Sky Sports TV for their competitions. Alongside the ‘big’ golf’ events like the Junior Championship and the 9 Hole Pairs, this year saw the inaugural Adventure Golf Pairs Championship aired on Sky Sports. Richard Gottfried, pictured above and below, chose Peter Jones as his teammate for this event. The grand final of the tournament was held on the Ryder Legends Mini Golf Course at The Belfry – not to shabby a venue! Each hole represents a famous hole from big golf, and includes some very long holes with a high difficulty level.
We are thrilled that our favourite sport has had this airing on a leading sports channel, alongside big golf and on an equal footing with it. We’ve always known that minigolf is just as challenging and exciting as big golf, but now the sports-viewing public has had a front row view of top minigolf players in action, and seen how seriously they take it.
So big respect to American Golf for adding minigolf to their tournament series!
Simon Lee, who won the adventure golf final with partner Steve Gerrish, said, “It’s a great way to get people who don’t play golf into the sport. They can come along and have a bit of fun. It was brilliant to see everyone come out today. If there was more stuff like this around I think you’d have more young kids getting into golf.”
Of course minigolf is more than a gateway into big golf – it’s a mature and highly competitive sport in itself. But if it helps send more nippers on their way to giving Rory McIlroy a run for his money, we’re happy about that too!
Nuke-happy leader gifts minigolf course to inexplicably cheerful populace
General Kim Jong-Il of the People’s Republic of North Korea is said to have played the inaugural round at Pyongyang’s golf course in 1987 with a score of 34 strokes, including 5 holes-in-one. The feat was witnessed by 17 bodyguards, a handful of officials and no-one else, so it is of course true. Now his son Kim Jong-Un, no doubt also capable of smashing the best PGA score of all time by 25 strokes before breakfast, has further enhanced the fun-loving image of North Korea by revamping the minigolf course situated next to the golf course. Thanks to the generosity of the little man who runs the country with an iron haircut, grateful North Koreans have flocked to the glorious facility to unwind after a hard day’s applauding wildly. Here they are enjoying the minigolf course:
In a cheeky attempt to upstage this enviable fun palace, soldiers of the free world maintain a golf course with a single hole in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. It is sited in Camp Bonifas, named after a United Nations soldier who was murdered with an axe by angry Norks in a dispute over pruning a poplar tree. Often called the world’s most dangerous golf hole, it is lined with live land mines and it is one place where you don’t go looking for your ball if it goes out of bounds. It’s listed in our blog post The World’s Most Dangerous Golf Courses. If you really wanted to, you could try to recreate the atmosphere there by using our exploding golf balls!
Dylan Harris, the man behind the unusual-location company Lupine Travel, had the awesome opportunity to play the inaugural Pyongyang Minigolf Open Tournament, a precursor to the equally surreal DPRK Amateur Golf Open Competition. Thanks to him for most of the photos in this post. Here he snapped a Western competitor playing a hole under the watchful eye of one of the course staff.
We’ll never use the words ‘adventure golf’ in quite the same way again after hearing about this trip!
There comes a point in every minigolfer’s life when whacking the ball around and hoping for the best is no longer enough. As you’re lining up a shot it suddenly enters your head that luck has very little part in this. You realise that everything can be controlled: stance, eyeline, ball speed, angle and bounce. You start to think technically and plan your ball’s path to the cup as carefully as a pilot flying a plane in to land. This moment of revelation is when the sport first hooks you, and before you know it the last thing you think of before falling asleep is holing out with a magnificent, perfectly-weighted bank shot for a round of 23. It’s usually around the time you buy your own putter and start spending a lot of time in Whitby.
You have two choices at this point: seek professional help, or improve your game to make your dreams a reality. Possibly both, but we’re interested in the second bit: improving your game. We’ve gathered together a smorgasbord of tips for the aspiring minigolfer, with a view to knocking your score card into shape and starting to win. So here we go.
Get a putter that fits you.
The top of a correctly-sized putter should reach to your belt, and your hands should be in the middle of the grip. This will help you to get a comfortable and repeatable stance. Putterfingers stock a range of sizes for adults and children.
Walk the course before you start and take notes.
Top players have notebooks in which they record the details of every hole and their strategy for playing it. So make a habit of this when practicing on unfamiliar courses, and before tournaments. Walk each hole and note any obstacles, imperfections in the surface, cracked edges, and any other oddities that could affect the ball. Take note of water features and variations in elevation that will affect the ball’s trajectory. If it’s allowed, play some test strokes to gauge the speed of the surface.
Ball speed is everything.
Train yourself to hit the ball with a precisely measured amount of force. On a straight and level green, practice putting to a marked point four feet away until the ball stops on or very near it every time. Move up to six, eight and ten-foot putts until you can place the ball on a sixpence at a variety of ranges. Master this before experimenting with how balls break on curvy surfaces at different speeds – the faster, the less break. As a rule of thumb, though, it’s better to hit a ball a bit too hard than too tentatively and weakly, because the priority is to get close to the hole with your tee shot and the ball can bounce back towards the hole from the walls. And weak shots will deviate more on ramps and curves, which can take you towards hazards and cost you shots. Be positive and firm, but get the ball speed right.
Watch your opponents’ shots. Then win.
Unless you’re up first, you can glean valuable information on bounce strength, angles and speed from watching your opponents play their shots. This can help you to make adjustments – or copy what they did if it went well! Watching how the ball behaves when close to the hole can help you to plan your shot with precision.
Focus on form and technique, not scores.
If you are tied for the lead and terrified of dropping a shot, or in any other pressure situation in minigolf, it won’t help you to worry and stress about missing. Why? Because it’s a sure-fire way to make you miss!
If you have practised enough, you will know how to strike a ball towards a hole. Any mental distractions from this ‘muscle memory’ skill will make you change something in an attempt to hit an ‘extra-good’ putt. So tune out everything including the score and your opponents, and trust your putting technique, with nothing but the present shot in mind. Some players say ‘practice as if you were competing, and compete as if you were practicing’.
Win with positive self-talk.
Don’t think about missing. Only think about sinking the ball. In fact, don’t think at all. Just focus, visualise the ball falling into the cup, and trust your subconscious mind to execute the shot perfectly (this comes after a lot of practice). See yourself as already having reached your goal, even if it sounds ridiculous to your conscious mind, because your subconscious will eventually believe it. Maybe something like ‘I am British minigolf champion. I score really low every time I play because I have a knack for finding the right ball path. I’m just an awesome shot. I’m fully prepared and mentally calm. It’s normal for me to win. I shoot more aces than anybody else’, etc.
To inspire you, here’s an excellent little video telling the story of a perfect 18 at Putt-Putt scored in 2011 in America. Now that was a win!
Hastings Adventure Golf lies on the seafront in the shadow of the ruins of Hastings Castle. This quintessential British seaside town, town, famous for a certain invasion rather a long time ago, sees a newer invasion every year in the form of hundreds of avid mini golf enthusiasts, who descend on Hastings for the World Crazy Golf Championships. Brandishing putters rather than swords, they are of all abilities from novice to professional (uniquely, it’s an open competition), and compete for the coveted trophy. The tournament has its own unique set of rules, including the condition that all players must use the same type of ball. This contrasts with some other minigolf championships where a selection of balls with different properties can be used, and players select the desired one for each hole.
In 2013 an 18-year old Czech, Olivia Propokova, was both the first lady winner and also the youngest. Michael Smith has won it for the last two years, with Sean Homer never far behind. This year it kicks off on the 10th of June and lasts two days. The course presents many challenges, including a waterwheel, a windmill, an obelisk, lighthouse, ramps, bends, twists and bunkers. The top players know each hole inside out and are frequently able to hit a hole in one. The winner is the one who hits the most – and it’s usually tight at the top, with play sometimes going down to the last hole and the victor winning by a single stroke.
Here’s a video taken at the 2014 World Crazy Golf Championships, in which Sean Homer, Chairman of the British Mini Golf Association, talks about the World Minigolf Federation’s efforts to get Minigolf into the Olympic Games. There’s no good reason why it shouldn’t be included in the Olympics. It’s competitive, watchable, tense and requires great skill. Who knows? Maybe in a few years we will be watching Michael Smith and other top players kissing their gold medals on the Olympic podium. We’re keeping our Putterfingers crossed for that!