Ladies’ Putting Club of St. Andrews
One of the oldest miniature golf courses in the world is located right next to one of the oldest and most storied regular golf courses in the world. At St. Andrews in Scotland—often the site of the British Open—stands the Ladies’ Putting Club of St. Andrews. It was set up in the late 1800s for women to play golf while keeping with the manners of the era that found it unladylike for a woman to swing a golf club. It’s really just some putting greens, but it provided the foundation for the recreational activity loved by millions of kids, adults, and people on first dates.
Another early example of smaller, putting-only golf courses with amusing obstacles came from the British Isles. In 1910, an attraction called Golfstacle opened. (It’s no longer in service.)
Tires, Pipes, and Barrels
In the U.S. in the early 20th century, golf courses, putting greens, and smaller, “par-3”-style golf courses were open primarily to the wealthy. That led to the first wave of miniature golf courses. The fun obstacles and hindrances to putt around weren’t quite yet custom-constructed mini Eiffel Towers and things like that, but mostly old tires, pipes, and barrels.
The first recognizable miniature golf course in the U.S.: Thistle Dhu (pronounced “this’ll do,” as in “this’ll do for a golf course) was built in Pinehurst, North Carolina, in 1916.
Tom Thumb Golf
Many of the first wave of miniature golf courses were franchisees of a company called Tom Thumb Golf. About a quarter of miniature golf courses in the U.S. were Tom Thumb. What made the sport, and the company take off? The development of artificial turf. Tom Thumb’s made its playing surface out of cottonseed hulls.
Courses on the Tops of Buildings
By the late 1920s, there were hundreds of places to play miniature golf around the U.S.. There were 150 courses in New York City alone—on the tops of buildings. Once the Depression hit, all but a handful of courses around the country were closed down and torn down due to a lack of business.
It’s known by many names around the world, such as goofy golf, shorties, extreme golf, adventure golf, and mini-putt. In the way that “ping pong” is a trademark of a table tennis goods company, one of the most common miniature golf nicknames, “Putt-Putt” is also the property of a company that builds miniature golf courses. (It’s called the Putt-Putt Fun Center.)
World Minigolf Sport Federation
The official governing body of the sport – yes, there really is one – prefers the name “minigolf,” as in the World Minigolf Sport Federation. It has 40,000 registered players representing more than three dozen countries.
Parts of Scandinavia and Finland are so far north that it gets dark and stays dark for large portions of the day and year. Result: glow-in-the-dark miniature golf courses are popular in those locations.