At the Par-King miniature golf course in the suburbs of Chicago, you won't find any sad, little rotating windmills. Instead, you can putt your ball onto a conveyor belt that carries it to the top of a working miniature roller coaster built from 750 individual pieces of wood. And at the Around the World mini golf course in Lake George, N.Y., each hole depicts a different country, including giant pyramid obstacles for Egypt and a tricky "Iron Curtain" blocking the Russian hole.
With all those variations, it's no wonder mini golf is a beloved summer pastime for families and couples the world over. Real golf requires years of practice, expensive equipment and questionable fashion choices. Mini golf, however, is the great equalizer. The courses and obstacles are so bizarrely difficult that your average adult and child have the same chance of getting a hole-in-one.
But why limit your mini golf fun to the AstroTurf greens at the local putt-putt? Why not entertain the kids (for free!) by making your own backyard mini golf course? Keep reading to learn how to build your own temporary or permanent mini golf course, complete with challenging obstacles and brightly painted balls.
Building a Temporary Backyard Mini Golf Course
Unlike the Scottish course, you don't have to spend hours or hundreds of dollars constructing a professional-grade mini golf course for your kids. You don't even have to buy a putter. Simply provide some basic building materials and let your kids use their creativity and ingenuity to make their own obstacles and challenges.
First, the location. Ideally, you want to find a flat space on a lawn with short-cropped grass. If that isn't available, get creative. Is there a flat spot on the driveway, a back patio or porch? It doesn't have to be huge — maybe 4 feet by 8 feet (1.2 meters by 2.4 meters) or larger — it just needs to be big enough to knock a ball around.
Now you need materials to build the outside walls of the course and its interior obstacles. Dig around the garage for bricks, cinder blocks, wood boards, plywood sheets, buckets, strips of plastic siding — anything that can serve as a barrier, ramp or obstacle [source: Carlson].
Lay down bricks, cinder blocks or lumber in a large rectangle to frame the outside of the course. Inside the rectangle, place boards at 45-degree angles in the corners to create bumpers. Since the bricks and boards are easy to move, you can change the shape of the outside frame to "dogleg" to the right or left, or twist in multiple directions. If you don't have bricks and boards, a garden hose works in a pinch [source: Carlson].
Use sheets of plywood to make simple ramps and jumps. A spare piece of PVC pipe makes a great tunnel, and a pile of sand — or even kitty litter — makes an effective trap. For the hole, turn a tin can or yogurt container on its side.
Keep in mind that golf balls are designed to roll on extremely short and manicured grass, so you might want to use alternatives for backyard play. Croquet balls and mallets are a nice option, but you could also use a whiffle ball and bat, tennis balls and a racquet, or anything else you have on hand.
If you are experienced with a saw and wood glue, try our instructions on the next page for building a more permanent backyard mini golf course.
Building a Permanent Backyard Mini Golf Course
There are number of ways you could do this but the easiest is to assemble a modular course using a series of felt-covered boards.
Before you start the project, sketch out your design on a piece of paper. Measure the area where you want to place the mini golf course. The boards will be made from sheets of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) that are sold in precut sizes. Call your local home supply store to learn the available sizes, then decide how many you want to use — and in what configuration — to design your course [source: This Old House].
To raise the board off the ground, you need to glue composite wooden balusters (long, square-sided posts) along the edges. Then you can apply green felt to the board surface using an adhesive spray. To make a hole for the ball, use a 3-inch (7.6-centimeter) hole-cutting attachment on a drill, then insert a small section of 3-inch PVC pipe and insert it into the hole as a "cup" [source: This Old House].
Glue more balusters along the top edges to create walls. The placement of walls depends on where each section fits into your larger configuration. For the corners, cut a short section of composite baluster at 45-degree angles to create bumpers. You could also cover the surface with AstroTurf to produce a slower, more controlled roll [source: This Old House].
One advantage of this design is that the boards can be separated and stowed away in the garage or basement when not in use. But some folks won't settle for anything less than the real deal: grass.
Building your own backyard putting green is an expensive and complicated proposition. Expect to pay several thousand dollars to create a professional-quality green [source: Downs]. Then there's the maintenance. You can't use regular grass for a putting green. You need to seed it with a special variety called creeping bent grass, and keep the bent grass perfectly watered, aerated, fertilized and trimmed [source: University of California]. But think how cool a real sand trap will look!
Another alternative is to use artificial grass on your ground. Nowadays it looks far more realistic than it used to. Artificial grass may cost thousands of dollars to install professionally, but once it's laid down, you don't have to water or mow and it will last for decades [source: Abkowitz].
Now that your foundation is laid, how do you add the obstacles?
Backyard Mini Golf Obstacle Ideas
Backyard mini golf courses are all about the obstacles, and the best way make your own obstacles is to get creative with common household objects.
First stop, the toy chest. Do you own any toy car racetracks? Sections of track make great ramps and jumps. How about large animal figurines or trucks? You can use them as obstacles where the object is to hit the ball through their legs or wheels. What about a set of Legos or wooden blocks? Build yourself a huge tower with a narrow opening for the ball to roll through, or a complex maze to navigate.
Have fun with ramps and jumps. Making a ramp is as easy as leaning a piece of plywood against a cinder block. You can set up two ramps face to face with a space in between, creating a jump. For added drama, place a shallow pan full of water in between them. Or attach a short run of PVC pipe to the top of each ramp and make a tunnel to safety.
Don't forget to mine the garage for ideas. Old tires make great obstacles, as do coils of garden hose. Blocks of wood can be strategically placed for difficult deflections. The folks at This Old House even came up with a nifty design for a loop-de-loop using the bottoms of two 5-gallon (19-liter) plastic buckets. Also check out their instructions for making a cool ramp with three holes leading in three different directions.
Last but not least, every respectable mini golf course needs brightly colored balls. To paint golf balls, you need to buy spray paint that is designed for plastic. For the best results, spray with a plastic paint primer first, then with your colors [source: Riker].
For lots more information about backyard family fun, check out the related HowStuffWorks links on the next page.
Author's Note: How to Build a Backyard Mini Golf Course
As the father of three kids under the age of 8, I love writing articles like this. Now I know what we're going to do at the toddler's next birthday party! As parents, I think we mistakenly believe that our children's most memorable childhood moments will happen at expensive theme parks or vacations. We forget that kids often have the most fun when they can be free to use their creativity and simply play. I once took our very young kids to a real mini golf course and they hated it. It was too hard and they thought they were "bad" golfers. But I love the idea of giving the kids a bunch of harmless household objects and letting them build their own backyard version. I hope this article gave you some great playtime ideas, too.
- Akowitz, Alyssa. "Artificial Grass: It's Not Just for Stadiums Any More." The Wall Street Journal. June 13, 2013. (July 28, 2013) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324412604578517552670776878.html
- Bandon, Alexandra. "How to Build a Miniature Golf Course." This Old House Television. (July 25, 2013) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/intro/0,,20258510,00.html
- Carlson, Jeff. "Build a miniature golf course." Boy's Life. March 2007. (July 25, 2013) http://boyslife.org/hobbies-projects/projects/718/fore/
- Downs, Stacy. "The hole truth about backyard putting courses." Knight Ridder/Tribune. Oct. 1, 2004. (July 25, 2013) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2004-10-01/business/0410010277_1_green-putting-grass
- Emory, Pamela. "The Ladies' Putting Club." USGA Museum. April 16, 2010. (July 25, 2013) http://www.usgamuseum.com/about_museum/news_events/news_article.aspx?newsid=111
- This Old House. How to Build a Miniature Golf Course. (July 25, 2013). http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/overview/0,,20258510,00.html
- Par-King Skill Golf. "History" (July 25, 2013) http://www.par-king.com/history.html
- Riker, Melissa. "Plastic Playhouse Paint Makeover." The Happier Homemaker. April 12, 2013. (July 25, 2013) http://www.thehappierhomemaker.com/2013/04/plastic-playhouse-paint-makeover.html
- University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources. "The UC Guide to Healthy Lawns: Creeping bentgrass." (July 25, 2013) http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/TOOLS/TURF/TURFSPECIES/creepbent.html