Another golf war: Taking best shots down the coast PAR FOR THE COURSE

July 03, 1995|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff Writer

Ocean City -- This is how you know your career has flat-lined. On a steamy Eastern Shore morning, you find yourself with a notebook in one hand and a cheap putter in the other leaning into a giant ceramic frog's mouth as a Tidy Bowl-blue waterfall cascades in the background.

The entire ordeal begins when an editor marches up to your desk and fixes you with this eerie, Stepford Wives smile and says: "We'd like you to do a story on miniature golf.

"Go down to Ocean City," she continues as you mentally retrieve your resume from the word processor. "They have lots of miniature golf places. You could rate each one."

So you come to this ageless seaside resort town, where it's 93 degrees and the only breeze is from the doors at the Dip N' Donuts opening and closing on all the fat people.

And you play all 14 miniature golf courses. In one day.

With your 12-year-old son as a partner, you start at 9 in the morning not far from the Delaware line and finish almost 13 hours later at the inlet, with throbbing legs and a Chernobyl sunburn and some frat boy leaning against your car with his 32-ounce Bud draft, puking his guts out.

And now you hate miniature golf.

God, do you hate it! You hate it so bad that if someone even mentions the game, you have to leave the room so they don't see your hands shake.

But the bottom line is: You got the story.

Oh, it was hell. After a while, Coastal Highway became a blur of all-U-can-eat seafood joints, T-shirt stores and dopey-named bars with dueling happy hour marquees.

The mini-golf courses all run together, too: windmills and dinosaurs and rum-swilling buccaneers, flat courses, hilly courses, courses with volcanoes that look like miniature Krakatoas, only without the 3-foot blanket of ash.

But you played them all. You played until your hands had blisters the size of manhole covers.

Because updating a resume takes time.

Here's a look at the courses, with five putters being our top rating:

OLD PRO GOLF

136th Street.

Themes: Pirate, Polynesian, Safari.

Comments: Sure, we could have started with Viking Golf or Golf Down Under as the northernmost course. But they're technically in Fenwick, which is technically in Delaware, which is technically not even a state. Or at least it shouldn't be.

Here, we played the intricate Pirate course, which wraps around a square-rigged galleon Barracuda. The greens are smooth, the holes have cool names (Blackbeard's Cave, Bloody Dagger Tavern) and are tricked up with all sorts of moving obstacles.

Best hole: 7th. Blackbeard's Cave is the size of a broom closet, only without the mop and Pine Sol. But kids love to putt in semi-darkness.

Glaring thematic glitch: 11th hole, inside Barracuda, is decorated with typical pirate gear: fishing nets, weapons chest and plastic trash can, apparently picked up by tidy buccaneers at Sears.

GOLD RUSH TERRIOTORY

125th Street.

Theme: Heavy Old West. I felt like tossing a silver coin at the man handing out clubs and saying: "Whiskey, barkeep. Leave the bottle."

Comments: Despite an ominous sign at the first tee ("Anyone using clubs for reasons other than golf will be asked to leave -- no refunds!"), this was a pleasant, if uninspired, course. The Astro Turf (or whatever that stuff is) was the thickest of any course we played, necessitating that you either a) whack the ball real hard or b) develop a steroid habit in months preceding your visit.

Best hole: 14th. Tee off in front of the wigwam, with a steep incline down to the green. A routine shot only if you regularly play north face of Pikes Peak.

Glaring thematic glitch: Cross-armed Indian at 15th hole is over 17 feet tall.

OLD PRO GOLF

68th Street.

Themes: Dinosaur, Undersea Adventure.

Comments: Our personal favorite. OC's best-known course, with its trademark snarling tyrannosaurus rex and brooding brontosaurus overlooking Coastal Highway. Manager Rick Schoellkopf says people actually gather at dusk, Deadhead-style, to watch the lighting of the flame-shooting volcano. Some folks are even sober.

Determined to bring on heat stroke, we played the popular outdoor Dinosaur course, which has pool table-smooth greens, tricky holes and Jurassic Park-ish effect on kids. Harried parents can warn toddlers: "Knock it off or that triceratops will eat you."

Best hole: 8th, under brontosaurus' legs, which is directly

adjacent to Coastal Highway; enormous concentration is required to putt as you're abused by passing motorists.

Glaring thematic glitch: Stegosaurus at the 11th appears to be wearing a sandwich board announcing: "$1 Red Dog, $1 shots. No cover til 10." Closer inspection reveals it's a sign at the Hurricane Nite Club next door.

MAUI GOLF

57th Street.

Theme: Hawaiian island tour.

Comments: At the risk of lapsing into Hollywood-speak, the visuals here are cool: waterfalls, Easter Island statues, a broken-down Jeep with surfboard attached to top, etc. But pin placements are unchallenging, which probably explains my hole-in-one on 12th.

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