Walker Art Center

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When Artists Take on Mini Golf

By Tom Loftus and Robin Schwartzman

Mini-golf connoisseurs Tom Loftus and Robin Schwartzman met because of their love for art and community—both worked for the Twin Cities’ first Northern Spark festival in 2011—but they bonded over their love for miniature golf. The pair has played more than three dozen courses around the United States since then, reviewing each on their blog, A Couple of Putts; but their passion for the game comes through in a new form with their design for one of 15 holes for the Walker’s artist-designed mini golf course, open in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden through Labor Day. When they’re not putting, Loftus co-manages the Twin Cities–based indie record label Modern Radio and advises students at McNally Smith College of Music; Schwarzman is an artist and adjunct instructor at the University of Minnesota—for last summer’s Northern Spark, she made the Think and Wonder, Wonder and Think installation spanning the Stone Arch Bridge. Here, they delve into the elements that make mini golf so alluring, and share thoughts on what players will encounter on two artist-designed courses at the Walker.

For many, mini golf is simply a diminutive version of golf itself, but after playing courses across the country, we’ve come to think of it as something more: a journey characterized by a unique blend of leisure, art, and populism. With each putt, the ball embarks on a new trip up and down hills, around obstacles, over bridges, through tunnels, and along other conveyances on its way to the hole. And while you can’t, of course, physically follow it through every nook and cranny of the course, your mind begins to move with it, navigating the uncertain terrain.

As mini golf lovers, we have an appreciation for all styles of the game, ranging from skill-driven greens that do scale down real golf to the courses at kitschy resorts with their classic obstacles of chance: windmills, bridges, waterfalls. We’re especially fond of the temporary, artist-designed courses that have been popping up around the world, a trend the Walker helped popularize with its first edition in 2004. Unlike typical commercial mini golf, the play and design when artists are involved vary widely, making each hole a distinctive experience.

An element of some hole designs for the Walker’s 2013 course that we find exciting is the opportunity for mini golfers to manipulate each others’ games. For example, Move Your Hole! by the MakeSh!t collective bolsters strategic competition as players change the location of the hole on their opponents. This sense of mischief, entirely novel in our own mini golf experience, could easily make this hole both the most frustrating and the most fun on the course. Similarly, Be Your Own Sculpture! by Nicola Carpenter, Bryan Carpenter, and Sean Donovan encourages players to use their bodies as hazards. It’s entertaining to see the creative ways people pose as obstructions.

Classic mini golf is appealing in part because many holes rely heavily on elements of chance—which is great for those of us with subpar putting skills. This concept is carried out in several of the Walker’s 2013 holes. In Stormi Kai Balise and Kyle Potter’s Earth Avenues, players putt up a grassy slope and into a subterranean tunnel system inspired by ant colonies, where the ball can take any number of paths. LOCUS Architecture’s Gopher Hole has balls drop into one of many holes as they circle down a wishing well–style cone, traveling through a tunnel to pop out somewhere on a putting green below. If you tend to have good luck, Karl Unnasch’s Le Bagatelle de Bagatelle is designed for you. On a pachinko-style board that visually and conceptually references not just the popular French parlor game, but also the chateau where it was invented, the ball bounces freely through wooden pegs, falling randomly into a numbered slot that determines your score. Lastly, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our own offering: Can You Handle This? has the ball swing through a classic loop and into a giant watering can with three tunnels concealed in its spout, leaving luck to play a factor in its ultimate proximity to the hole.

While many of the holes fulfill our desire for kitsch, two maximize it to a wonderful effect. Aaron Dysart’s Rock! Garden is inspired both by Japanese zen gardens and the Walker’s annual, wildly successful summer concert. Players unleash their inner rock stars by hitting balls into glittering, colorful fiberglass rocks, triggering chimes and percussive sounds. And with its three-way combination of gnomes, mini golf, and the classic bar game, the Carpenters’ Garden Gnome Foosball is already becoming a crowd favorite.

Led by artist Chris Larson, sculpture students at the University of Minnesota are creating two holes that play with perceptions. One puts mini golfers—and a miniature version of the Walker— inside a giant golf ball, while the other, inspired by the optical illusions and spatial distortions of an Ames Room, makes opponents look extra big or small: think Willy Wonka meets mini golf.

We love the concept of the shared 8th “hole”: David Lefkowitz and Stephen Mohring’s 18 Holes in One, whose topography is a physical manifestation of all 18 legendary greens at the Augusta National Golf Course, each laid over the other. Better still, their design allows for a group of players to surround the terrain, each putting simultaneously at different holes to send the ball to its final destination.

To see these and four additional holes, view our recent slideshow tour of the course. See you on the green!

Be A Sculpture!

Move Your Hole!

Can You Handle This?

Rock! Garden.

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