Man Who Can't Stop Puttering Around Builds Golf Course

Neighbors/ Glen Burnie

February 13, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

Under the shade of the plastic palm trees, Russ Helveston stands smoking his pipe and practicing his stroke.

Swish. He brings back thegolf club and swats at an imaginary ball. Swish.

The faint noise of his club scraping the carpet is almost completely drowned out by the splashing waterfall and the Guns N' Roses sound track. As Axl Rose whistles in the background, Helveston eagerly points out the centerpiece of his miniature golf course -- an artificial pond and waterfall.

"We spent more money creating this pond thanmost golf courses do on six holes," he boasted. "We wanted to bring the outdoor in. This isn't your ordinary miniature golf course."

The most obvious difference is that it's indoors. But Glen Golf & Games also differs from other indoor miniature golf ranges because Helveston designed and built most of it by hand.

"The fun was creating the holes," he said. "You start with a piece of plywood and a couple of two-by-fours and nothing but an idea in your head."

Transforminga huge, empty office into a miniature golf range and game room is sort of the culmination of Helveston's life work.

Ever since he was a little boy growing up in Morrisville, N.J., Helveston loved to workwith his hands. He started by making a doghouse for his pet in eighth grade. By the time he was in high school, he had built everything from a china cabinet to his own dark room.

The itch to build grew stronger as he got older. He never was satisfied with any house he bought. As soon as he moved in, he felt compelled to construct decks, porches or garages, knock out walls to expand rooms or make some other change.

"I'm a creator," said the 56-year-old, who just spent fouryears renovating his house on Cape St. Clair from top to bottom.

After graduating from high school in 1953, Helveston studied at Trenton Technological School and then found a job fixing and selling televisions. In 1962, he opened his own television store in New Jersey. Ten years later, he quit the business and became an electronics salesman.

"Again, it had to do with creativity," he said. "When I had myown business, I started from scratch. Then, I reached a point where I had done the most I could with it and wanted to help other stores."

But traveling around Maryland to sell electronics equipment really didn't satisfy his need to create, Helveston confessed. He still had the building bug.

His longing to fix things kept nagging at him when he took up boating with his wife, Joyce. Every time they cruisedinto a marina, he would pick at things, always finding something wrong with the piers or the service.

In 1976, Helveston decided to take a shot at his dream. He talked his wife into quitting her job, sold their house and invested all their savings into a run-down marina on the Eastern Shore.

The Helvestons bought the 70-slip marina in Rock Hall for $485,000. A decade later, they sold their place, completely overhauled and now boasting 225 slips, for $1.6 million.

When he retired in 1986, he planned to sit back, sip gin-and-tonics and lounge by the pool at his new house in Cape St. Clair.

It wasn't exactly a handyman's special. But Helveston, of course, wanted to fix a few things. The renovations started with building a new bedroom and ended four years later. By that time, Helveston had completely rehabbed his home -- opened up the interior space, installed new windows, built a bar at the pool and topped off the work with a fish pond.

All of a sudden, he had nothing to do. So he took up golf. He also bought some town houses on West Street in Annapolis as an investment. Before he could sell them, the real estate market nose-dived and he "virtually lost my shirt."

He was looking for something else to do when he went to a franchise show in Washington, D.C., in June and discovered the wonderful world of miniature golf.

Six months later, he leased a 9,220-square-foot office across from the Loews-Glen Burnie Town Center-7 movie theater on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard in Glen Burnie. He designed and built a 19-hole miniature golf course, complete with landscape murals on the walls, an alligator sitting in the middle of a sand box, mechanical gorillas and a devil. It's an off-beat fantasy land, a conglomeration of standard miniature golf greens, colorful mascots and outdoor props, such as the split-rail fence.

He built seven of the holes from scratch. Only four of the manufactured oneswere left untouched. The rest were altered to make the course more challenging and more fun.

For Helveston, a large part of the fun isdone. Now that he's built his course, he's finished with the creativity and focused on the business end.

But for the customers, the fun's only starting.

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