I was making my semi-regular tour of the golf sections of my local book stores and found two interesting books. The first was a copy of Jimmy Roberts’ Breaking the Slump. It should make for interesting reading and might even be useful, given the recent status of my game.
But the real find was a book on clearance for the princely sum of $3.00. It jumped out at me because the cover is surfaced with artificial turf. It’s titled Miniature Golf (photos by John Margolies and text by Nina Garfinkel and Maria Reidelbach) and is a history of that glorious and oddball game. The book is full of (often hilarious) photos of miniature golf course holes and courses, obscure historical facts, and early newspaper and magazine stories about the game.
I had no idea that miniature golf was a craze in the 1920’s, and became big enough in the 1930’s that the USGA issued a statement that “Tom Thumb golf” came within its rules and governance, so accepting cash prizes for miniature golf was a violation of USGA amateur status. Tommy Armour and Gene Sarazen even showed up to play in the First National Tom Thumb Open.
Hollywood stars such as Mary Pickford , Fay Wray, and Jackie Coogan were big fans, even though major studios discouraged star involvement in the game because the public was staying away from theaters to play mini golf at night. A L.A. Times reporter suggested that women were naturals at the game because of their “hereditary gift of wielding a broom.” (If you are particularly suicidal, try injecting that into the current debate about long putters.)
The game declined and nearly disappeared in 1931 as zoning laws cracked down on course locations, lights, and noise at night. Prominent figures came out against it. Will Rogers said people should have shovels in their hands rather than putters, and at least one columnist went after Herbert Hoover for not condemning the game as contributing to unemployment. You can almost hear Trouble in River City from The Music Man playing in the background.
The book also covers the games reemergence in the 1950’s and courses of today. I remember Saturday afternoon televised professionalPutt-Putt tournaments in the early to mid 1960’s, although the book doesn’t cover that weird little episode in the game’s history. The tournaments struck me as ridiculous, but I watched when I couldn’t get a sandlot football game up.
This book has earned a place of honor on my shelves. My only problem is figuring out how to display it – it would be a real shame to hide that artificial turf.
(Miniature Golf Image by Sven Teschke, Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0 License. Image via Wikipedia.)