Innovative, artist-Created courses are the latest way to play
By Robin Cherry
Like the creative people who were inspired to make videos starring the compact, sporty, tech-savvy Chevrolet Spark, contemporary artists are taking on that bastion of diminutive kitsch: miniature golf. Launched in 1907 as “Golfstacle,” the original game consisted of a metal bridge, stick, tunnel, hoops and a box. Since then, miniature golf courses have devolved into tacky communes of faux fiberglass castles, windmills and shipwrecks, populated with dinosaurs, pirates and sharks. But that’s so 20th Century! Here are four innovative artist-designed courses you can catch in 2013—and like the Spark, they each bring their own sort of party with them.
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis will bring back its popular Walker on the Green: Artist-Designed Mini Golf Course in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden this summer. In honor of the Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary, the theme for the year is “Garden.” The museum’s curators invited the University of Minnesota Art Department to design and build two of the holes. Of the four presented, they picked Mega Golf and The Ames Room. Mega Golf will feature a hole within an oversized golf ball while The Ames Room, named for the distorted room designed to create the optical illusion that a person in one corner is a giant while the same-sized person in the opposite corner is a dwarf, will be set in a similarly-designed box. Other innovative holes will include one with an aesthetic landscape where players move topiary plugs, and one in which players will loop the ball through the handle of a watering can onto the lower putting green decorated with “glittering” water and flowers.
Also in Minnesota, sculptor Bruce Stillman built the Big Stone Mini Golf Course and Sculpture Garden in the front yard of his 17-acre farmhouse in Mound (just outside Minneapolis). Instead of a windmill, the course has a stunning 15-foot kinetic sculpture: a large stone topped with burnished swinging rings. An up-ended boat hovers over the seventh hole while light streams through stained glass windows made from colorful, shatterproof resin. The sunflower maze called “the Spiral” was inspired by Robert Smithson’s 1970 earthwork Spiral Jetty and is Stillman’s personal favorite. The final hole, Gently Down the Stream, deposits the ball in a watery granite maze where it bobs its way to a hole in the rock.
Students from the Architecture and Graphic Design departments at Lawrence Tech have created Urban Put Put: Detroit Mini Golf, as part of Imagination Station, a public art project to transform two empty lots into useable spaces. Urban Put Put (UPP) uses recycled materials (e.g. an abandoned house, a bicycle, traffic cones) to create a gritty urban course. The golf course was the result of a college course taught by Professor Steven Coy who helped raise almost $4,000 for the project, which he hopes—since that the course is recycled, community-driven and free-to-play—will connect with the residents and culture of Detroit.
Over the past five summers, FIGMENT, a non-profit that sponsors “participatory art that creates community,” has constructed a free, artist-designed Minigolf Course on Governors Island in New York City. FIGMENT is named after something Andy Warhol said when he was asked what he would like on his tombstone. He answered, “I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph, and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say ‘figment’.” Founder David Koren chose FIGMENT to epitomize the great history of American art and the ephemeral nature of its art projects. This year’s designs haven’t been released yet, but since the course will be titled “State of the Art,” the winning entrants will be selected based on their “innovative uses of technology that push the boundaries of mini golf while fostering riveting game play.”
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Robin Cherry is a Hudson Valley-based travel, food and pop culture writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Afar, Islands and many other publications. She blogs at Garlic Escapes and is writing a book on the history of garlic that will be published in 2014. Follow her on Twitter @garlicescapes.