100 Years of Miniature Golf

Most people probably think miniature golf sprung up in the 1950s with the explosion of amusement parks and other entertainment aimed at Baby Boomers. But putt-putt golf in America is almost as old as the real thing.

The first course opened in 1916, 100 years ago, in Pinehurst, N.C., built by Englishman James Barber in his backyard. Although not much is known about this first layout—named “Lilliputian”—his second, “Thistle Dhu” (a Scottish-sounding version of “This’ll Do”), which opened in 1919, became such a sensation that Popular Science Monthly magazine devoted two-and-a-half pages to it that August.

Unlike mini-golf courses today, Barber’s wasn’t for children. The 18-holer was made of compacted sand and clay, making it quite difficult. There weren’t any clown’s mouths or windmills, but real hazards to avoid, like rocks, trees, and grass bunkers. Four holes required using a high-lofted niblick to carry bushes and long grass. The longest hole was 71 feet, the shortest 12.

Save for a few public competitions, Thistle Dhu was a private course. But anyone can play its much simpler namesake, patterned after the Himalayas Putting Course in St. Andrews, which opened at Pinehurst Resort four years ago. No niblicks, please.