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Miniature golf course to offer big play at Heavenly Village

Jeff Munson
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ A 19-hole miniature golf course has been built on top of the ice rink foundation at Heavenly Village.
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Whether it’s Ty Webb’s dubious putting methods on and off the fringe or crazy Carl “the Greenskeeper” Spackler’s hallucination of holing the 18th to win the Masters, both characters from the 1980 golf seminal “Caddyshack” had a certain Zen touch around the green.

In two weeks at Stateline, Michael Jordan will or won’t have his green game going, but Lord knows, Charles Barkley might. Either way, both retired basketball stars may want to get their practice chops in before the American Century Championship by rolling a few at Heavenly Village Mini Golf, which celebrates its grand opening the night of Friday, June 30.

This 19-hole ode to all things Tahoe features a windmill powered by snow skis, a bear that prefers golf balls over garbage cans and a paddlewheeler – curiously made to look like the Tahoe Queen – which carries golf balls to their final destination.

What’s more, at the end of fall, when temperatures drop to freezing and the snow begins to fly, the course will magically revert back to what the site was built for originally – an ice skating rink.

Making use of good space

The miniature golf course was the brainchild of Powder House Ski and Snowboard owners Ron Williams and Jim Bradford. After watching the deconstruction of the skating rink in spring, the men figured there had to be a better way to use the 10,000 square feet of space besides throwing a few lawn chairs on it.

“After walking past the empty space for the last couple years, I thought that creating a miniature golf course would be the perfect use of the area during the summer months for both tourists and locals,” Bradford said.

A $30,000 investment was enough to lay down 19 holes, plus all the course trimming, including lights for night putting. The designer of the course, East Coast-based Mini-Golf Inc., used schematics provided by Bradford, plus photographs of the Lake Tahoe area to come up with the course’s visual elements.

“It’s turned out to be quite nice,” said Stuart Maas, spokesman for Powder House, who helped facilitate the design. “They were very flexible with what we wanted, which was to give the course a Tahoe look and feel.”

Clear-cut mulch put to use

Indeed. Tahoe locals who have read recently about the controversial cutting down of 387 trees at the Lake Tahoe Airport may be interested to know that some of the downed wood has been put to good use. Mulch and wood chips from some of those 387 trees arrived at the course on Thursday and are scattered throughout the grounds.

Though none of the holes carries the amount of controversy as the downed trees, there are Tahoe-centric talking points, including a putt-through miniature Heavenly Gondola clocktower, a hanging raccoon with its paws open that swats at golf balls as they pass through a gate, and a hole designed like a pinball machine with Lake Tahoe as its background.

The miniature golf course isn’t the first one at the site. Before Heavenly Village was constructed, a course was located where the Marriott complex now sits.

The most challenging hole is the 19th, where players aim for the mouth of a bear, who chomps down and growls at golfers as they attempt to putt. If the ball lands in the bear’s mouth, golfers will find themselves winning a free game – a much better alternative than what real Tahoe bears leave behind on decks and backyards after they’ve eaten too much.

Plans are in the works to host private parties and miniature golf tournaments and league play – if not this season then next, Maas said.

Early origins

Miniature golf rose to popularity during the early part of last century as a way for golf enthusiasts to replicate major golf courses on a small scale, according to the online Web site Wikipedia.com

The game was commonly called “garden golf,” and was played with a putter on grass. Thomas McCulloch Fairbairn, a golf fanatic, revolutionized the game in 1922 with his formulation of a suitable artificial green – a mixture of cottonseed hulls, sand, oil and dye. With this, miniature golf became accessible everywhere. By the late 1920s there were more than 150 rooftop courses in New York City alone.

Mini golf became a popular culture craze in the first years of the Great Depression, according to the Web site. In 1938 two brothers built and operated their own miniature golf course franchise and were the first to put landscaping and obstacles such as windmills, castles, and wishing wells into the mix.

If you go

What: Heavenly Village Mini Golf

Where: Heavenly Village

Cost: $7 for adults, $5 for children, includes putter and ball

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Grand opening: The course opens to the public at 6 p.m. Friday following an invitation-only private open house.


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