Miniature golf course in Stone Harbor, N.J., meets international standards

By Ellen Perlman
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, July 30, 2010

The night before the mini-golf tournament, I climbed a staircase to scope out the rooftop course at Tee Time Miniature Golf in the seaside town of Stone Harbor, N.J. Looking back, it would have been a much better idea to actually practice on it.

Instead, I ended up engaging in the other post-sunset activity typical of beachgoers: eating fast-melting ice cream on a hot summer night.

The morning of the tournament, I am grouped with four other players: Sid Rocke, an infrequent mini-golfer from Washington; Will Fox, a golfer on big courses; his son, Will Jr.; and Patrick Caldwell, the 14-year-old returning champ from the previous week, whose photo is posted downstairs at Tee Time's entrance, on what looks more like a wanted poster than a winner poster.

Patrick, from Martinsville, N.J., has left his family behind at their beach house in his attempt to retain his champion status.

This is daunting. So is the course.

That's what attracted me. I loved mini-golf as a kid, despite being an average player. And my hometown course had obstacles that mattered. You had to send golf balls through little doors and tunnels and avoid obstructions. Challenges were everywhere. It was great. I even had a birthday party there once.

Later in life, it seemed that mini-golf was all about decoration, with no complexity. Until I discovered Tee Time several years ago during a trip to Stone Harbor. I'd long wanted to get back and try it again.

Tee Time has strange and wondrous holes. If you're a mini-golf lover and have played scads of pirate- or wild-animal-themed, green-felted courses, this one may seem odd. Barren even.

But almost any European miniature golfer will recognize the holes. Tee Time owner Lynne Schaefer imported them from Germany 12 years ago. These are holes played by people who compete in tournaments worldwide, on courses with exacting standards for consistent play that are approved by the World Minigolf Sport Federation. (Yes, there is too a mini-golf federation.)

Most Americans are clueless about "real" mini-golf, the way we once were clueless about curling, until it became an Olympic sport (which mini-golf aficionados hope for their sport as well). We view the game mainly as entertainment for kids. In Europe, many teenagers and adults practice, practice, practice to compete in tournaments or against one another.

What's different about this mini-golf? For one thing, Tee Time, which holds weekly tournaments throughout the summer, is a "hole-in-one course." With skill, it's possible to complete each hole in one stroke. (The course record is 26.)

Take Tee Time's fourth hole, the "Z-Bolt." Shaped like a wide Z, it has no obstacles or decoration. You have to figure out the angles and the bank shots. If your ball doesn't make it past the first zig, you may not go on to the zag. If you're precise, you can send the ball through without hitting the jutting angles, bank it on one wall and hit the hole in one.

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