You probably wouldn’t think to connect mini golf and contemporary music — beyond, maybe, the Gee Gee Shinn novelty record released by Putt-Putt Corporation in the late ’60s. There are more connective threads, though, than you might imagine. The popularity of mini golf was exploding just as rock and roll was born in the 1950s, and both came to embody shameless fun for the mass market. My own formative years growing up in the northwest suburbs of the Twin Cities were during the ’80s, another boom for music and mini golf. The joy I found both on the green and in the grooves helped me find my place in the world.
My passion for music led to my founding of Modern Radio Record Label almost 20 years ago. After a year of dating and playing numerous rounds of miniature golf, in 2012 my partner Robin and I started a mini golf review blog called A Couple of Putts. We’ve played nearly 200 courses across the world including an extensive assortment of courses in Minnesota. Our work has expanded into designing, building, and consulting on mini golf courses across the globe. Teenage me would be overjoyed to discover where I ended up.
In 2017, a new blacklight miniature golf course called Rock of Ages opened at Mall of America. I grabbed local music makers Arzu Gokcen (Selby Tigers, Lefty Lucy, Pink Mink, Strut & Shock), Dave Gatchell (1000s of Cats, Bug Fix, Selby Tigers), and Ali Elabbady (a.k.a. Egypto Knuckles) to join me for a round.
The four of us tackled Rock of Ages early on a Saturday morning. The 18 holes pay various tribute to musical eras and icons from the ’50s through the present. The walls are drowned in county-fair-style neon airbrush art with cheesy pop culture references to sock hops, Soul Train, Kool-Aid Man, and Angry Birds. The actual putting area is relatively flat carpet save for a few opportunities to shoot through or around themed obstacles. Hole #14, clearly inspired by Prince’s guitar, is the most memorable.
If you’re looking for a challenge, there are a few holes that will cause headaches, but even the first-time putter will find multiple opportunities for a hole-in-one. In fact, the overall course par of 54 is quite generous. A seasoned putter can easily achieve double-digit under-par scores. The oversized themed musical elements are placed to take the ball on a journey through a smattering of music history replete with surprise sound effects that are sure to stir nostalgic feelings for a wide age range. My biggest gripe is that for a music-themed course, the pumped in license-free tunes are comically bad. If you’re lucky and stand in the right place, you’ll hear the oddest mash-up of psychedelic EDM metal.
Post-putting, our quartet chatted about our connections to music and mini golf. The conversation drifted into childhood memories, and the sweet spot of dream course ideas. We all got to know each other better and left with a deeper bond. Future plans to play another round are already in the works. Rock of Ages provided a communal experience for the four of us that further solidified my belief in the magical intersections of these two worlds.