In all 1930's there was an estimated 50,000 miniature
golf courses representing an investment of $325,000,000. An estimated four million Americans were playing miniature golf. In fact, Wanamaker's department store
featured Tom Thumb Fashions which stated, "When you're Lilli-putting on the Miniature Golf Course ... remember your Clothes Technique!" Tom Thumb jackets with
berets sold for $19.50 and were sold out to addicts of the Miniature Golf Craze.
In the fall of 1930, on Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Tennessee, the first National Tom Thumb Open Miniature Golf Tournament was played comprising of players
who competed in play-offs in all forty-eight states. A cash award of $10,000 was offered and over 200 players representing thirty states arrived for the tournament
with the top prize being $2,000. After the crash, country-club style courses became a way to maintain the illusion of the "good life." Besides the uniquely
franchised Tom Thumb courses, both indoor and outdoor courses strove to simulate a country-club atmosphere and the results ranged from sublime to absurd. Outdoor
courses were landscaped with trees, flowers, shrubs, rookeries and fountains with umbrellas, easy chairs and snack bars to round off the ambiance. Indoor courses
required imitation as well as miniaturization and came with their own set of design imperatives: ceilings were painted blue, supporting columns disguised as oaks
or palms, and walls covered with canvas murals depicting open countryside or famous fairways. Balconies were transformed into clubhouses or verandas, offering
drinks, snacks and rooms to gamble or play bridge. Some courses even provided caddies. Public courses were open to anyone with a quarter or fifty cents. Miniature
golf was one of the first outdoor sports that could be played at night – along with baseball and football. People could play an after-dinner round, purchase a
combination movie and golf ticket or prolong a night at the theater by stopping on the way home to play in evening dress until the wee hours of the morning.
In fact, many municipalities had to enact ordinances, which forced the closings of the links at 1 a.m. for most courses used to stay open until 4 a.m. Ballroom
courses allowed one to polish dance steps and golf strokes under the same roof and in the same shoes.
However, the oils used in the patented cottonseed-hull formula putting surface were murder on the shoes so the course designers/owners struggled with this problem
and they searched for an artificial turf that was neither too coarse nor smooth but cheap, durable, and easy to maintain. Desperate course owners tried virtually
every material possible: compressed feathers, ground sponge mixed with cement, asphalt emulsion, oiled sawdust. Carpet was too expensive to install and hard to
maintain during this period. However, experimenters in an eastern state were reported to have developed, at a cost of more than $500,000, an odd combination of
goat hair and vulcanized rubber. Due to its even texture and durability, goat hair felt became the most popular surface bringing miniature golf through the 40's
|Along with the standardization of an acceptable putting
surface, came the familiar hazards or obstacles that one still relates to miniature golf such as the storybook characters and the ever-present windmill & tiny
churches. However, in 1953, the late Don Clayton, founder of Putt-Putt® Golf and Games was the most vocal advocate of miniature golf as a serious sport.
Disgusted by what he considered trick shots, he designed a new and improved course that allowed only straight putting with none of the gimmicks. Along with
McDonald's and Holiday Inn, Putt-Putt® went on to become one of the nation's first franchised roadside businesses.
In 1955, Lomma Enterprises, Inc., founded by Al Lomma and today still run by his brother Ralph Lomma, led the revival of wacky, animated, trick hazards
intended to be more challenging than straight putting. These hazards required both accurately aimed shots and split-second timing to avoid spinning windmill
blades, revolving statuary and other careening obstacles.
With the use of indoor/outdoor carpeting or astroturf starting with football stadiums in the 60's, so did the use of outdoor synthetic carpeting begin on
miniature golf courses. Along with this surface change came the Fantasy courses which produced a fun theming for the players with all kinds of imaginative
animals, miniature houses and unique multi-tiered, trick holes. By now theming was in and the older country-dub courses or spec franchise courses were a thing
of the past. The post-war baby boomer's generation took this new fantasy craze of miniature golf through most of the 1970's as well.
Starting in the mid-1980's, a newer adventure-style course became very popular which took on a Disney-look in its theming. Course names now were as exotic
as the courses themselves such as Pirate's Cove, Adventure Island, Mountasia, etc. Many were built first in the tourist destination areas such as Myrtle Beach,
South Carolina, which to this day, is still the Miniature Golf Capitol of the World. There are as many as 45 courses within a 20 mile radius from the center of
the Grand Strand and the tourist swell of over 12 million visitors easily supports this many facilities. The same growth could be seen in Florida especially in
the tourist areas.
During this new growth period, the adventure-style courses also became the start of what is now commonly called the Family Entertainment Center or FEC. Not
only were these courses designed for family fun on the course but most provided a newer themed gameroom which now boasted the new name of arcade and redemption
or family fun center which could attract any age player. Unlike the first Myrtle Beach adventure-style courses which usually provided only Coke & snack vending
machines, these newer FEC's also supplied a Fun-Food Full Service Snack Bar which even served good-tasting pizza. Many FEC's have large birthday party areas or
rooms in which to invite one's friends to a most unique birthday party. As the FEC concept grew, so did the component attractions. In the 90's, the themed
miniature golf FEC facilities were built, not only in the tourist areas, but also in the bedroom communities, however, only a few sections of the country as of
this writing have experienced this kind of bedroom community FEC growth. For instance, it is still popular to build a "B" Class FEC facility in the Northeast
which means that these facilities usually will have only about two or three of the necessary components which would move it into an "A" Class facility which
usually has more than three attractions such as go-karts, batting cages, bumper boats and/or cars, soft- play, laser tag with naturally a larger price tag yet
also a larger return on investment. Due to land costs, pocket bedroom communities and other entertainment venues, the Northeast seems to do well with adding
miniature golf to existing businesses such as bowling centers, skating rinks, ice cream parlors, restaurants, etc., with a full 'A" Class FEC doing well in
large MSA's. In the 90's, stand-alone miniature golf courses are almost gone except for very rural areas with low populations and no competition.
The first five years in the 90's showed a very strong growth period for the Family Entertainment Center concept, however, the adventure theming seemed to
have one down fall and that was due primarily with the buying & patronage habits of the American public. Americans all over the world are known as the "throw
away society" and the same can be said about the newer-style themed FEC'S. As many American's are now aware of at least the "Pirate's" theme, which is so
popular, the buying public only patronizes these facilities until the newness wears off (usually within two-three years). The FEC concept was able to achieve a
longer newness by adding more component attractions which in turn also gave the patron other choices for spending their entertainment dollar. The original FEC
concept started with several western facilities such as the Huish Family Entertainment Centers head quartered in San Diego, California along with the older
Golf N' Stuff mostly built by Castle Golf, Inc. The Camelot Park facilities, headquartered in San Francisco, have also built prototype FEC's in California.
Many Metropolitan Surrounding Area FEC's have been built throughout the 90's including ones in major cities such as Denver, Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix,
Orlando, San Diego and Las Vegas. However, in our estimation, many MSA's such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, St. Louis, Seattle, Charlotte,
Miami, etc. have not even been touched. Some of the FEC components can work very well with other sport & recreation facilities such as driving ranges and
community park & recreation department complexes plus regulation golf courses. This is known as "Alternative Golf" or a Sports Park facility.
In the mid-1990's, after a long, hard road of again proving to the American public that miniature golf can be played as a sport as it was played back in the
20's & 30's, the miniature golf country club-designed courses have proven to hold the interest of the players on a more consistent and regular basis. This
fact, coupled with the newly sparked interest of alternative golf complexes by well-known celebrities such as Michael Jordan and PGA Pros, Jack Nicklaus, Hale
Erwin and others with their Golf Learning Centers, Golf Academies and Executive Golf Courses, has now started a revived era of putting more emphasis on the
challenging short game (golf in miniature) of real golf. Several factors can attribute to this great resurgence. First, by providing an Alternative Golf
experience, one can not only tap into the regular Core golfer numbers which is a staggering number but this type of a facility also attracts the whackers as
well. Just by the fact that there is hardly any intimidation factor at these facilities compared to a real country club plus the fact that the cost and time
consumption is much less. This is why several publicly traded stock companies are now building these Family Golf Center facilities such as the two-year-old
$300 million-market-cap company Family Golf Centers, Inc. based in Melville, Long Island, NY or Jack Nicklaus' Golden Bear company who has an extensive
building plan. For your information, an Executive Golf course is similar to the old now include longer holes in order to use other clubs such as the drivers
rather than a chipping wedge and a putter as in years gone by. The cost of play is much less than a regulation course and so is the time of play yet the same
executive decision and meetings can still take place thus the name Executive Golf Course. The resort area is still a virtually an untapped market, at this
writing, for miniature golf courses.
For four years, a miniature golf National Championship was aired on ESPN with excellent family ratings and still ranks as one of ESPN's top family sport
shows. The actual television production was produced by PGA Tour Productions who gladly has agreed to renew our production schedule as long we would like due
to such a great public reception to this program. This program alone generated more interest in the sport of miniature golf and the total concept of an FEC or
Sport Park due to viewing households of over 63 million with accumulative actual viewer-ship of 2.2 million.
In closing this section, we would like to mention our affiliation with the World Minigolfsport Federation – WMF, which is the world sanctioning body for
players clubs and their facilities. International players clubs are now in 24 nations with 8 nations now organizing. Since 1930, this and other previous sport
federations have held tournaments for the sport of minigolf. The 34th European Championship held in Odense, Denmark with the 35th European Championship held in
Porto, Portugal in 1998. The WMF World Championship is also held every other year all over the world.