The History Of Miniature Golf

When James Wells Barber first began construction of a small, private golf course in his backyard in 1917, he had little foresight into how mini-golf would become a nationally enjoyed recreational activity for all demographics.

The first public miniature golf course was opened by Garnet Carter in the 1920s, which quickly became widespread in the U.S, reaching 25,000 mini-golf courses by August 1930. The craze initially died down due to over-saturation and economic hardships in the Great Depression, but then made a resurgence with the baby boomers.

In the 1950s, Don Clayton invented the Putt-Putt brand and Ralph and Alphonse Lomma built Lomma Enterprises. Since then, mini-golf courses have been on the decline, with only 5,000 remaining.

The First Mini-Golf Course: Thistle Dhu

James Wells Barber, an avid golf lover and resident of the premier golf resort Pinehurst, set out to build a golf course in the backyard of his second residence to entertain his houseguests. Though the course would be smaller than usual, the eighteen-hole course, named Thistle Dhu after the Scottish pronunciation of “this will do,” was built for experienced golfers.

Every hole was possible to be made in one shot, though the difficulty would prevent many from doing so. The longest hole was 71 feet while the shortest was only 12, and the putting surfaces were made of compacted and architecturally drained sand. Following media attention on the golf course, the term “miniature golf” was coined.

Founding of Putt-Putt

Just 44 miles from Thistle Dhu, the Putt-Putt company was founded with the goal of treating mini-golf seriously, placing emphasis on skill and player improvement. While many other mini-golf courses involved elaborate settings and gimmick props, Putt-Putt courses include obstacles like hills, ramps and angled blocks and mostly consist of par-2 holes that can be aced in one go through practice.

The brand eventually became synonymous with mini-golf. Since then, the brand has expanded to become “Putt-Putt Fun Center,” including go-karts, arcade games, and more.

Myrtle Beach

While mini-golf courses under Putt-Putt’s sporty and serious style are easily found throughout the country, mini-golf courses that include exaggerated and unrealistic props, such as windmills and oversized alligators. 50 of these courses are located within a span of 30 miles in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, otherwise known as the mini-golf capital of the U.S. Myrtle Beach is also home turf for the ProMiniGolf Association annual “Master’s” tournament. Mini-golf, as well as the beachfront, serve as the town’s main tourist attractions.

Works Consulted

Boznos, Chris. “The Origin of Miniature Golf and ‘Thistle Dhu,’” NCpedia, State Library of North Carolina, 2012.

Greenbaum, Hilary. “Who Made Mini-Golf?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2012 April 6.

McMillan, Libby. “Putt-Putt’s 60th Puts Spotlight on Mini-Golf,” USA Today, USA Today, 2014 June 11.