In Miniature

RICK HOROWITZ

July 14, 1993|By RICK HOROWITZ

FISH CREEK, WISCONSIN — Fish Creek, Wisconsin. -- If you would know a man, said the ancient Greeks, see him at his games. If you would know a man completely, added the ancient Geeks, see him at his Mini Golf.

Man, and woman -- and yes, children, too; in Mini Golf, all things are revealed. Eighteen holes, no hiding.

''The driver, the wedge, the putter,'' said the wise man Ephraim of Thrace. ''All these are great, yet the greatest of these is the putter, for it does large things in small spaces.''

In Ephraim's sage words, we begin to grasp the universal appeal of Mini Golf. Unlike its full-grown cousin, Mini Golf requires no colossal feats of physical strength, no costly investment in equipment, no commitment of hour after hour in an otherwise unstructured day. Mini Golf is open to the frail as well as to the muscle-bound. The cost is slight. And Mini Golf asks no great commitment -- except to self-knowledge.

''Consider the windmill,'' said Maurice of Sheboygan to his disciples. ''While it spins, paths of opportunity abound, if only one can seize them.''

''And if the path is blocked?'' asked a young woman among them. ''What then?'' Maurice of Sheboygan did not respond directly.

''Timing is everything,'' he replied.

Here is a Mini Golf hole on multiple levels; the cup sits at the loftiest of these. Stroke your ball too timidly, and it will climb only partway up the incline and roll back down. Stroke your ball too firmly, and it will race up the incline, bounce off the rear wall and likewise roll back down. Only the proper level of firmness will bring success.

And here is another hole, with a canyon cutting through it. What is needed here is the vision to see beyond the hazard, and a leap of faith to land safely on the other side. The lessons for daily living are obvious.

The story is told of the cheetah, the goat and the chimpanzee on the Mini Golf course.

''I can put the ball in the hole before either of you,'' boasted the cheetah, ''for I am the fastest animal in all the jungle.''

''That is all very well,'' replied the goat, ''but I can put the ball in the hole even sooner than you can, for I can eat any obstruction in its way.''

''You two can argue all you want,'' said the chimpanzee. ''But I'm the only one here with an opposable thumb.''

It is an answer worthy of repeated study.

How do you move toward your goals? Straight down the middle, or slipping cautiously along the sidelines? By carefully plotting all the angles, or by simply trusting to gravity and the fates, and letting the vagaries of slope and wood and Astroturf work their will?

How do you handle adversity? When your ball only rims the cup instead of dropping in, do you grimace, curse, slam your club, wave your fist at the sky? When your ball abandons the course altogether, do you bemoan the injustice of the penalty stroke, or vow to do better next time? Do you knock your opponent's ball off track, make strategic noise, cast distracting shadows?

Yet Mini Golf is forgiving, too. Splash your ball into a certain bubbling stream and a pipe deposits it, damp but playable, right on the green. Encounter an insurmountable obstacle and you are permitted -- encouraged -- to ''move the ball six inches -- no nTC penalty.'' What mercy in those words!

And it can only get so bad, and no worse. When your every tee shot finds a boulder, when your hands start trembling at the simplest of putts, six strokes is the limit. You pick up, you move on.

Score is kept, your achievements and failures totaled up for all to see. But you can start all over again, lessons learned put to immediate use. And sooner or later, there begins to flourish an understanding of your place in the larger scheme of things, a unity of your self and your potential, until at last you can say you are truly ''Whole in One.''

There is nothing like this in Go Karts.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist.

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