Saturday, May 24, 2014

Goofy Golf

Did you ever wonder just where and how the tradition began to make miniature golf courses double as Outsider Art sculpture gardens? No? Well, here's the answer anyway: it all started with Florida's Lee Koplin, who came from California to help make the Sunshine State a little kookier.

Miniature golf had been mildly popular in America since at least the 1920s, but it was Koplin who took the game one step beyond into the land of kitsch forevermore. It all started with a giant sphinx he'd dragged onto the course for decoration. He looked upon his works and saw that it was good. Next thing you know, he's got a giant monkey out there. And a dinosaur. And when someone offered him a giant imitation Easter Island head, how could he say no? Soon the decorations had become half the attraction. And something started happening that had rarely ever happened on a golf course, miniature or otherwise, before: people took pictures. And more pictures. And bought postcards with still more pictures. Koplin had, in his visceral and tacky style, found a way to make the world's most boring game interesting and the world was never the same again.

Before long, every other putt-putt and Tom Thumb golf place on Earth was emulating Koplin. Dinosaur Golf, Hillbilly Golf, Monster Golf, even Biblical Golf. Even courses like Pee Wee Golf in California, which Koplin and his brother had founded in 1948, reinvented itself with statues of ghosts and gorillas and sea monsters. In its heyday, Goofy Golf had many locations in many cities. Most are gone now, but their statues still turn up when you least expect - such as the big orange ex-Goofy Golf dinosaur who's now found employment outside a hippie smokeshop in Jacksonville or the Easter Island head that can today be seen at St. Pete Beach's Polynesian Putter.

Goofy Golf is still in the family - the original Panama City location is currently owned by Lee Koplin’s daughter Michelle. Find it at 12206 Front Beach Road, Panama City, FL. You can also scope it out on Google Maps here.

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