Teed Off!

Written By: 
Phil La Borie

How one man found joy in mini golf after years of torture on the links

I’ve always wanted to be a golf widower. I’ve envied those lucky individuals (both women and men) who stayed put while others felt compelled to chase a little white pellet over hill and dale.
Instead, I’ve always been quite content to watch the action on TV. It’s so much easier to be seated in front of the set, popcorn and a cold beverage close to hand, while those on the actual course suffer the slings and arrows of the Golf Goddess’s judgments.

My reason for a lack of passion for the game is really quite simple. I am a terrible golfer. If there were a Guinness World Record for Worst Golfer of All Time, I’m not sure I’d capture the ultimate trophy, but I’d give a good account of myself in the qualifying rounds.

Alas, while I was growing up my parents felt quite differently about the game. Although they were lousy golfers themselves, they insisted that I accompany them on their lengthy pilgrimages in search of the sacred tin cup.

And what pilgrimages they were! I’m certain that even the Golf Goddess turned her head away when my folks took to the links. Woe to any foursome when they played behind our threesome!

Here’s why:

First up was my mother who cut a somewhat stylish but decidedly diminutive figure (she was barely five feet tall). While she would almost always hit the ball straight as an arrow, it rarely traveled much more than 75 yards max. This slowed play down considerably, as you might imagine.

Then there was her greens play, or rather the lack of it. She couldn’t putt to save her life. Four, five or six attempts to sink a putt were often the rule of the day—more delays and exasperation for those following us.

Next up was my Dad, who, while he had prodigious strength, had no sense of direction whatsoever. His drives were often the stuff of legends. He hit the ball with a short chopping stroke similar to a butcher hacking into a side of beef. The ball took off like a heat-seeking missile, rarely rising more than 10 feet off the ground. Then, perhaps after traveling 150 yards or so, it rose into the stratosphere.

Where it would land was anyone’s guess: in a rough, deep in the neighboring woods, a distant water hazard, a sand trap, an adjoining fairway. Any and all destinations were fair game. On one memorable occasion, his tee shot veered so far off course that it cleared both the pro shop and clubhouse roofs and then dropped like a piece of space junk on the patio, right in the middle of a fellow club member’s vodka martini.

Vodka, olives, vermouth and ice cubes flew everywhere. Luckily, no one was injured, but the shot was the talk of the club for days to come. And, of course, greatly added to my embarrassment.  

Finally, we come to the real duffer of the group: yours truly.

When I actually hit the ball, which was far from 100 percent of the time, it usually started out straight enough. But then, as if it were attracted by a strong magnetic signal sent from some alien transmitter, it would veer off to the right to disappear in the rough or the woods beyond. Despite numerous professional lessons, hours of well-meaning advice, intensely watched videos and reading volumes about how to reduce errors and achieve maximum performance, all of this was lost on me, both then and now.

The number of balls I’ve lost over the years, the muffled laughs and derisive snorts I’ve endured and how teed off I’ve been at my futile efforts are enough to make a grown man cry. Or at least seriously consider giving the game up once and for all.

One example among the many I could recount will suffice to explain my final decision never to darken another golf course. It happened on an out-of-the-way, rundown course in Australia. I was there on a film project and, against my better judgment, agreed to accompany one of my companions on a golf outing. My apprehension increased considerably when I heard the words of the heavily tanned golf shop pro. “Mind the roughs, mates,” he ominously intoned as we picked up our rented clubs.

Well, there are golf course roughs and there are golf course roughs. But I’d never seen anything like this one. Sinister, tightly twisted trees sprouting dark clumps of dripping foliage, numerous vines, impenetrable brush and the faint glint of water lined one side of the first tee. This was a place clearly full of hidden creatures and untold menace.

And sure enough, my opening shot veered off precisely in that direction. Clearly, I was not going to look for it. That did it. I replaced the driver in my bag, returned my gear to the pro and retired to the club bar, never again to take to the links.

However, despite that ill-advised adventure, I still liked the idea of golf. While I’ve always enjoyed the flight of a white ball against a clear blue sky, it’s the breathtaking ability of real golfers to sink impossibly long putts that always caught my fancy.

So, once I moved to South Carolina, I decided to take up miniature golf. With 50-plus courses in the Myrtle Beach area alone, I reasoned that I could make as big a fool of myself as I wanted and always count on a good time, no matter how many strokes it would take to get the ball in the cup.

And some of the miniature course names alone are enough to set a non-golfer’s heart racing.

How about Hawaiian Rumble (rated the #1 course in the world) and Captain Hook’s Adventure Falls (complete with a giant red octopus)? Then there’s Dragon’s Lair, Snake River and Gilligan’s Island (replete with teenage memories of watching Tina Louise as the lovely but vacuous Ginger Grant).

Now I’m not suggesting that we all rise and attack the mini links in force, but for me there’s a certain satisfaction in actually sinking a hole-in-one from time to time. Even if I don’t, I can always walk around in the sun, kibitz with my fellow players and enjoy the kids’ laughter. For me, that’s par for any course.


Illustration by Kellan Stover