“I thought one of the hardest holes was the garden one. You have to make it through all the carrots and then make it in the hole. I thought the [alligator] one was a little hard. You have to hit the ball straight and then it goes up. If you hit too slowly it goes back down to where you started.”
Mini-golf sites once dotted the region, especially in the 1960s and 1970s when communities in North Miami Beach, North Bay Village, Sunny Isles Beach and South Miami-Dade boasted numerous venues. There are still several mini-golf locales in Broward County and at Palmetto Mini Golf, a thriving, full-service mini-golf course in Palmetto Bay, attached to the county-owned Palmetto Golf Course. And coming in the fall of 2014 will be a new mini-golf course on the roof of the Lucky Strike bowling alley on Michigan Avenue in South Beach.
Factors like the soaring land prices, staffing costs and changing tastes have largely relegated mini-golf courses to the discard pile swollen with other artifacts of a bygone era like eight-track tapes, VHS recorders and beepers.
This means business for Miami-Dade’s premiere spot.
“We do about 25,000 rounds a year,” says Tom Gibson, head golf specialist at Palmetto Golf Course, which houses Palmetto Mini Golf, Miami-Dade’s last major 18-hole, outdoor mini-golf course.
Palmetto Mini Golf’s lush tropical setting includes waterfalls, caves, a Sports Grill eatery, a pro shop and instructors. Palmetto hosts school groups, summer camp park programs, company and family outings and, of course, proves a popular teen date attraction on Friday and Saturday nights.
“We’re as busy as a regular golf course,” Gibson says. “This is efficiently operated, it’s not a stand-alone business. We’re using the same staff from the 18-hole golf course.”
The main course is currently undergoing renovation, he said, and the audience for mini-golf is different than traditional golf: Kids. Couples. Parents and kids. Grandparents with grandchildren.
“The number one thing for beginners is entertainment, enjoyment,” says Palmetto’s director of instruction, Santos Caceres, who recently ran a group of students through a summer junior camp session. “When they are practicing mini-golf they are having fun but they are learning a lot about how to touch the ball and be gentle with it. This is a real putting green,” Caceres said.
Bob Baal, a Pinecrest resident, brought grandkids Luke, 13, and Kohl Yearwood, 8, both of whom were visiting from Atlanta. “They love mini-golf and it’s a good opportunity for us to spend time with them,” Baal said. “I play regular golf but this is one of the best facilities we’ve seen here, or in Atlanta.”
Luke made it past the first hole before some uninvited rain fell. “Mini-golf doesn’t have the pressure whole golf has where you have to drive,” he said. “This is fun for me. I’m just starting to get into [traditional] golf but haven’t played it yet.”
The Gables Museum patterned its mini-golf exhibit after the National Building Museum’s ongoing exhibit in Washington, D.C., Rupp said.
“It’s a fabulous idea, given our similar focus. So we put out a call to the architectural design community in Miami and found corporate sponsors. We wanted to engage the local architectural and design community and create unique holes.”
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