Links to history
Seabreeze's whispering pines is a relic of minigolf's heyday
Like baseball, jazz, and Happy Gilmore, miniature golf is particularly American. Adapted from its origins in Scotland’s regulation golf, American ingenuity adopted the sport at the turn of the twentieth century as an affordable source of entertainment. It became especially stylish during the Great Depression and has seen continual reinvention throughout the decades. And the oldest remaining artifact of one of its earliest versions sits right here, up by Lake Ontario.
Actively engaging (especially relative to the then-burgeoning pastime of attending the cinema), minigolf grew in popularity as an affordable form of entertainment. Having opened in 1930, Irondequoit’s Parkside Whispering Pines is the only depression-era miniature golf course left in operation, which landed it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Previously Tall Maples Miniature Golf Course, this charming piece of history is located in the hamlet of Seabreeze—a stone’s throw from Seabreeze Amusement Park. It was purchased by the Papas brothers in the nineties, and they built the Parkside Diner on an adjoining property. The course features eighteen holes, fossil rocks, and a lighthouse and is open at varying hours throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
The first minicourses closely mimicked Europe’s regulation-sized ones, featuring naturalistic elements and design, and were located mostly at hotels and resorts. After World War I, minigolf drifted from this romantic aesthetic and became influenced by the “city efficient movement,” espousing geometric shapes, symmetric walkways, and fountains.
The year 1926 brought a proliferation of pocket courses—dyed cottonseed hull carpets birthed something like 150 rooftop courses in New York City. In 1929, minigolf was going through a minimalistic shift, perhaps indicative of an America exiting a tumultuous social climate and attempting to define some normalcy. One quarter of the minigolf industry was effectively owned by baron Tom Thumb (around 6,000 courses), and it was well on its way into American ubiquity. Courses that appear more frequently in popular culture—the ones featuring dinosaurs, minimonuments, and vacillating obstacles—became prevalent in the fifties with the proliferation of American highways. Courses competed for the attention of traveling families with peculiar, supposedly exclusive, monoliths. This mid-century cultural renaissance wove its way into the American cultural fabric, making minigolf more accessible as an all-inclusive social activity; dovetailing the circumstances of teenagers on dates, families hanging out, and marriage proposals just the same.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and southern California in particular became centers for minigolf tourism. Evoking an ethos of novelty and kitsch, minigolf in the eighties became largely commodified. Courses were bought out by large conglomerates and corporations for fun-houses and family-activity centers. This is when courses were moved or built indoors (recall Funscape’s indoor minigolf in Victor, which closed in 2000). Affordable, charming, and easy going, confronting the byzantine causeways of a course’s design has ingrained itself as a delightfully peculiar part of American culture. A total gas on prom night and a default vacation activity, minigolf has withstood tests on the American experiment, permeating social infrastructure and the games industry the world over.
Hassan Zaman is a freelance writer, musician, and aspiring bohemian polymath. You can find his creative ramblings at HZaman.com.