MORE THAN CHILD'S PLAY
Miniature golf is an affordable activity for young and old alike and occasionally a step into fantastical surroundings. The game has been around since the 1920s, and today there are several thousand courses in the United States that run the gamut in features from child-friendly to more grown up. A small number, meanwhile, are known for their out-of-the-box conceits. Even the most unusual courses are a relative bargain. For $15 or less, players get to enjoy whimsical sights that, not incidentally, add to the challenge of the game.
Par-King calls itself the world's most unusual golf course, perhaps for good reason. The 18-hole course, located in Lincolnshire, Illinois, was once considered the "Taj Mahal of mini-golf" when first opened in the 1950s. The course still boasts a dazzling array of moving obstacles, including a roller coaster, golf ball elevator, carousel, and castle, all of which set up a challenge for even the most seasoned mini-golfers. Oh, and don't forget a visit to the course's own Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty. Admission starts at $8.
DISNEY'S FANTASIA GARDENS
Fantasia Gardens is designed for all ages with adjacent courses at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. One course features whimsical scenes and music from the classic movie "Fantasia," and the other is a scaled-down version of a regular golf course with water hazards, sand traps, and sloping greens. Smithsonian magazine calls this miniature course one of the most difficult in America. Pricing is $12 for children and $14 for adults.
North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is considered the mini-golf capital of the world, and Hawaiian Rumble offers an epic distraction that challenges even the most seasoned players. A 40-foot volcano erupts frequently, making the course shake and players quake. The 18-hole course is a tropical paradise, complete with live parrots that otherwise could be found on the Big Island of Hawaii. This course is also home of the annual MiniGolf Masters. Cost is $9 for adults.
AROUND THE WORLD GOLF
Around the World Golf in Lake George, New York, has been a popular destination for putt-putt enthusiasts for more than 50 years. There are two 18-hole "itineraries" players can choose between -- a trip around the world or a trip around the United States. At each hole golfers find replicas of attractions associated with various locales, such as the New York City subway and a Dutch windmill. One game is $8 for adults and $6.25 for youngsters.
LEXINGTON ICE CENTER
Golf may be a religious experience for some, and this mini-golf course located in Lexington, Kentucky, takes that belief to the next level. Lexington Ice Center incorporates three 18-hole courses grouped by biblical themes: Old Testament, New Testament, and Miracles. Visit Mount Sinai and Jonah the Whale, and putt through the parting of the Red Sea. With biblical verses located at each hole, players can truly pray that they hit a hole in one. Unlimited course play is $9.
The 18-hole Glowing Greens, with locations in Portland and Beaverton, Oregon, is an indoor black light fantasy for all ages. Go on a pirate adventure with animated skeletons and undersea journeys, or visit an alien land, all in spooky fluorescent lighting. Adults play for $11 and children for $9.
This San Francisco course combines interactive art with tasty food and drinks and a 14-hole mini-golf course. The one-of-a-kind "Sleepwalkers" exhibit at Urban Putt features tiny glowing characters that respond to visitors' hands. The course also is known for its gourmet menu, making the spot a popular destination for dates and family gatherings. Playing is $12 for adults, and kids under 5 are free.
HOLLYWOOD DRIVE-IN GOLF
Hollywood Drive-In Golf, located in Orlando, Florida, is an 18-hole course where players enter a 1950s drive-in movie experience. The course design is based on scenes from old-time horror and sci-fi movies. (Note to families: The course is advertised as appropriate for all ages.) Some fun effects include giant spiders and space worms and a towering alien robot. While this course is one of the more expensive options, at $15 for adults and $13 for children, online deals are available through the website.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is a mini-golf lover's dream, and the 18-hole Mayday Golf is one of the star attractions. The premise here is that players have crash-landed in a golf course on a deserted tropical island. The course leads them on an island exploration, passing by waterfalls, mountains, and other island sights. Then suddenly, a rescue helicopter looms overhead. Adults play for $9 and children for $8.
We're not sure it can get creepier than Ahlgrim Acres, a miniature golf course in Palatine, Illinois. This short nine-hole course is situated in the basement of a working funeral home, and standout features include a guillotine and a mausoleum (not real ones, though). The course isn't open when an actual funeral is taking place, but the haunted theme is sure to send a chill or two up players' spines. Call ahead for pricing and hours.