There’s a reason that Mini Golf gets celebrated just as summer begins to end. Lots of warmer places host miniature courses as a tropical destination, but it’s also time to go indoors for people in colder climes. So let’s salute everyone’s favorite putt-putt pastime with a tour of 18 courses that offer much more than just fluorescent balls, dwarf pencils, whirling windmills, clown-mouth trashcans, and plaster statues of cartoon characters that looked just weird enough not to count as copyright infringements.
As a kid, miniature golf turned what seemed like the most boring of dad’s favorite sports into an afternoon of fun and surprises (except when nobody wins the free game at the end: that’s neither fun nor is it ever a surprise). Now that you’ve probably hit maximum golf courses more than a few times, the mini version provides a great date destination and/or an opportunity for some really stupidly enjoyable drunken gambling.
Seaside getaway areas such as Myrtle Beach, Lake George, and the Jersey Shore are home to intense concentrations of mini golf attractions, as you’ll see below, but many of the wildest variations on loony links orbit Chicago, with amazing outposts in South Dakota, Portland, and Tennessee.
Two of the most amazing, elaborate, and enjoyable mini golf destinations couldn’t seem more opposite: a bonkers rock-and-roll Kiss-themed course in Las Vegas and an epic compound of play areas in Kentucky based on books of the Bible.
Here now are the 18 coolest COED-endorsed mini golf courses in America…
Location: Palatine, IL
Theme: An actual working funeral home with indoor mini golf during off-hours.
Big Mini Thrills: The Algrhim Acres funeral home boasts nine holes in its basement that are done up as tombstones, mausoleums, haunted houses, and even a guillotine. Surprise shrieks and spooky sound effects enhance play, as does a ghoulish funeral director who provides putting tips.
Around the World in 18 Holes
Location: Lake George, New York
Theme: A tour of 18 major nations via gimmicky golf
Big Mini Thrills: Egyptian pyramids, Mexican sombreros, a mammoth Canadian lumberjack, an Australian kangaroo (you have to aim for her pouch) and, for France, a statue of Napoleon whose mechanical leg attempts to kick your ball off course.
Website: Around the World Golf
Congo River Mini Golf
Location: Kissimmee, Florida
Theme: African explorer exotica
Big Mini Thrills: Live alligators you can feed (anything but golf balls), waterfalls, a crashed airplane, and a “Congo Queen” hole where players shoot through a boat.
Website: Congo River
Dragon’s Lair Fantasy Golf
Location: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Theme: Dragons and Vikings
Big Mini Thrills: Two courses (“Dragon” and “Viking”), swords and flying serpents aplenty, trails through a castle, holes onboard a dragon-headed Viking ship, and a giant dragon who sporadically pops his head up out of a cave and breathes real fire.
Website: Go to Myrtle Beach
Location: Portland, Oregon
Theme: Under-the-sea and tropical adventure in 3D-enhanced blacklight
Big Mini Thrills: The 10,000 square foot course starts off with pirates and palm trees, moves to underwater caverns and ends up in an actually rumbling jungle while reggae tunes and ambient sound effects fill the air.
Website: Glowing Greens
Location: Joliet, Illinois
Theme: Ghosts, monsters, and spookiness
Big Mini Thrills: Course obstacles feature skulls, bones, black cats, classic movie ghouls, and haunted house ephemera running alongside a river that’s dyed blood red. In October, Haunted Trails hosts “Survival at Fort Dread”, a haunted house attraction where visitors get caught between zombies and human soldiers who are fighting off the undead.
Website: Haunted Trails Joliet
KISS by Monster Mini Golf
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Theme: Rock-and-roll your balls-and-holes along with Kiss
Big Mini Thrills: Indoors and electrified with black lights and neon-flames, animatronic KISS members jam out classic tunes while players aim through super-sized guitars, massive platform boots, and a giant Gene Simmons head where you have to shoot up inside his outstretched 20-foot tongue.
Lexington Ice Center
Location: Lexington, Kentucky
Theme: The Bible
Big Mini Thrills: Three courses based on Holy Scripture—the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Miracles—provide inventive, intricately executed obstacles that even the staunchest non-believer will find rapturously fun to pay. Highlights include Jacob’s Ladder, Mount Sinai, Noah’s Ark, and Jonah and the Whale. Hole #7 is purposefully easy, as God took the seventh day off.
Website: Lexington Ice Center
Location: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Theme: An Amazon exploration gone wrong, where players are airplane crash survivors who putt their way back to civilization
Big Mini Thrills: Mayday Golf does not bill itself as “Home of the Giant Yellow Airplane” for nothing. The downed craft is awesome, as is the rainforest setting with its waterfalls, lush flora and fauna, and larger-than-life rescue helicopter.
Website: Mayday Golf
Location: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Theme: Volcanic madness
Big Mini Thrills: The Molten Mountain itself is a volcano in the center of the course that erupts every half-hour, shooting three massive fireballs 50 feet up into the sky. Players work around falling rocks and shoot their way through lava streams.
Website: Molten Mountain Golf
Par-King Skill Golf
Location: Lincolnshire, Illinois
Theme: Elaborate mechanisms and exquisitely rendered attractions in a fantasy kingdom
Big Mini Thrills: Par-King comes off as a Disney World attraction that somehow landed in the Midwest. Beautifully rendered hole features include a looping rollercoaster that gives balls a crazy ride, a replica Willis Tower inside of which balls ride an elevator to the top, and two giant, nonstop spinning roulette wheels.
Perils of the Lost Jungle
Location: Herndon, VA
Theme: Jungle exploration
Big Mini Thrills: Animatronic bugs, birds, animals, and other threats, including a ferocious komodo dragon, headhunters with dart-guns, and a life-size gorilla.
Website: Woody’s Golf
Location: Ocean City, New Jersey
Theme: Timber-shivering uccanneers
Big Mini Thrills: Pirate robots, clouds of mist, jungle plants, a hole at the end of bouncy rope bridge, and the final shot taking place on board a 40-foot pirate ship.
Website: Pirate Island Golf
Prehistoric Dinosaur Golf
Location: Ocean City, Maryland
Theme: Jurassic golf
Big Mini Thrills: Dozens of dinosaurs, including a towering, somewhat terrifying T-Rex.
Website: Old Pro Golf
Putz n Glo
Location: Rapid City, South Dakota
Theme: Blacklight rock-and-roll sensory overload
Big Mini Thrills: 8,000 square feet of hard rock sounds and eye-popping fluorescent graphics (including a humongous Kiss mural) create the feeling of being inside an incredible ’80s video arcade game and MTV video at the same time.
Website: Putz n Glo
Location: Several in Florida
Theme: Pirate adventures in five Sunshine State locations
Big Mini Thrills: A lagoon full of live alligators, pirate ships, water holes, and expertly crafted and maintained obstacles and attractions.
Website: Smugglers Golf
Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini Golf
Location: Sevierville, TN
Theme: Barnyard high jinks
Big Mini Thrills: 54 farm-themed holes spread out over three courses. Animatronic animals cheer and jeer for players, and some even strike up conversations. A central water tower is circled by happily flying pigs.
Website: Ripley’s Gatlinburg
Wild Abyss Mini-Golf
Location: Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Theme: Underwater exploration in black-light 3D.
Big Mini Thrills: Giant aquariums filled with live sharks, stingrays, barracudas, and electric eels, pumped up by ocean sounds, black-light visuals, and 3D effects.
Website: Wilderness Resort