The 1920s saw a series of fads sweep the nation as the American populace searched out the new and exciting after experiencing hardship and deprivation during World War I and a great recession in the early 1920s. Mah Jongg, Ouija Boards, Crossword Puzzles, and the Charleston were a few of the newest things introduced to the American public in the middle of the decade, soon followed by miniature golf. This peewee golf boom exploded in the late 1920s, with celebrities joining the bandwagon.
The Los Angeles Times on June 22, 1930 called Mrs. Garnett Carter of Chattanooga, Tennessee the initiator of the mini-golf hysteria. She and her husband owned the Fairyland Inn on Lookout Mountain, which kept them busy and away from playing golf. In 1926, she laid out two small holes with little tees and putting greens so that she could at least practice putting, with the second hole more difficult as it possessed an undulating green.
Golf course designers Pollock (Polly) Boyd and Ewing (Slim) Watkins noticed the little course, and convinced the Carters to allow them to build a full eighteen holes. The Fairyland Inn course flourished, so Boyd and Watkins eventually opened their own public course in Chattanooga after much public comments that it was doomed to fail. Instead, the course proved widely popular. The men copyrighted their idea under the name “Bob-o-Link” and the Carters copyrighted the name “Tom Thumb,” and the rush was on to build courses across the country.
The two teams soon joined together to patent the idea of employing cottonseed in building the courses. To get around having to pay copyright fees, others created the idea of employing felt for the fairways, leading to more construction.
The Times article mentioned a homemade course at the Glen Arden Club in Glendale around 1928, but claimed that George R. Gillespie built the first “Bob-o-Link” course at Wilshire and Fairfax in 1929, soon followed by a “Tom Thumb” course behind the Plaza Hotel in Hollywood. Courses began blossoming around the city, as empty lots were converted into courses. Golf itself was riding a wave of popularity with Bobby Jones having won the golf Grand Slam a few years before, but miniature golf was affordable for the middle classes and something the entire family could partake in.
The Times article stated that course owners felt the game was here to stay, but did note “the situation has developed so rapidly no one, not even those on the inside, know what to expect.” More architecturally beautiful courses were being constructed, those that appealed to people of all ages. As the article also noted, “Playing these miniature courses requires practically no skill…but players can take a terrible score and still have a whale of a time.” The writer claimed that putting came naturally to most women because of their gifts with wielding a broom.
Miniature courses exploded around the city. A June 24, 1930, Los Angeles Times article stated that in late 1929 virtually none existed, but as of this date, more than 300 now stood, with no regulations covering them. Many stayed open seven days a week to all hours of the morning with bright lights in operation. Councilmen Webster introduced a curfew law to require all courses to shut at midnight to “preserve the peace, harmony and comfort” of the citizens of Los Angeles.
Courses soon appeared at the old Brokaw property at 5937 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood and in the basement at the southeast corner of Seventh and Broadway, which was played by more than 250 people daily. A beautiful Japanese course was built downtown, as well as one with rock garden and cascades in Pasadena. Peewee golf was so popular that courses were even rigged on top decks of ships like the City of Los Angeles and California liners.
The August 3, 1930 Los Angeles Times commissioned a report stating that there were more than 400 courses in Los Angeles County at that time, with more than 100 under construction. C. K. Levitt of the Miniature Golf Design and Construction Company stated, “It is believed that more than 400,000 persons play the courses each week or more than 1,125,000 a month. The average price is 35 cents with some courses charging 25 cents.” Average daily gross per course was estimated to be $300, with the estimated weekly income around the full county considered to be $150,000.
Film superstar Mary Pickford jumped into the craze, buying land at Wilshire Blvd. and La Cienega Blvd. in Beverly Hills on which to build an elaborate course. The Times in its August 3 article stated that she would spend $50,000 to construct her one of a kind course. The August 31, 1930, Los Angeles Times reported on the dedication ceremonies for the opening of the Wilshire Links, which a number of celebrities attended, including Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.
“Designed and constructed by artisans of the United Artists Studios under the direction of Mary Pickford, the course is French ultra-modernistic in style with a landscaping plan that includes a lagoon and wandering streams, the whole enhanced by modern holophanic lighting effects…In charge of construction of the links were members of Miss Pickford’s own staff at United Artists Studios, including N. A. McKay, business manager; Park French, art director; M. L. Lloyd, engineer, and E. J. Ralph, assistant to Mr. McKay.”
According to a blog posting, Lanier and Virginia Stivers Bartlett mention it in their Los Angeles boosting book, “Los Angeles in 7 Days.” “After passing the handsome Fox Wilshire Theater, Mrs. Guia again brought a gasp from Miss Jones by announcing “Mary Pickford’s Wilshire Links.”
“You mean–this place is run by Mary Pickford?”
“Well, it belongs to her. Isn’t it crazy looking, with all those grotesque artificial trees and toadstools and gigantic colored umbrellas–everything twisted and tortured into futuristic hobgoblinism? Is it popular? I should say so! That is, as miniature golf goes nowadays.”
While miniature golf exploded in popularity for a couple of years, by 1932, interest greatly faded away. Not until the 1950s did the sport come back into style.