More than a year after developers razed the last commercial miniature golf course in Arlington, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has dramatically revamped a puny, mostly flat concrete course at Upton Hill Regional Park on Wilson Boulevard near the Fairfax County line.
The result is a $300,000, 54-hole course scheduled to open tomorrow that the designer, county resident James Bryan, promises is on the putting edge of miniature golf technology.
"There's nothing like this anywhere," said Bryan, a former English professor who has designed about 100 mini-golf courses worldwide.
The course contains no fiberglass props (look for real southern magnolia trees, live goldfish and waterfalls) and boasts a hole with a 140-foot putting range that Bryan says is one of the longest in the world.
"The gimmicks are here, but I hope they blend in so well that people don't think they've been to a gimmicky course. I hope they think they've been to a better place," said Bryan, "like gardens."
The course is, indeed, a landscaped garden, with winding paths and streams lined with native field stone. Given a little sun and a few months, the course will bloom with rhododendrons, periwinkle, water lilies, cattails and grass. But always, of course, with strips of bright green artificial turf.
Bryan's enthusiasm for what he called "the least important American pastime" found a partner in the park authority last year, after Arlington officials suggested that the authority upgrade the seldom used Upton Hill course to compensate for the loss last year of the popular Putt-Putt Miniature Golf Course in Ballston.
Parks are parks, however, and the authority made it clear to Bryan that Upton Hill would not tolerate orange dinosaurs.
"We're just trying to make it different and trying to make it high quality in terms of plants," said Darrell Winslow, executive director of the park authority, so that park users may "enjoy the beauty of it and the thrill of playing on a creative golf course."
Miniature golf has changed since it was first introduced in the late 1920s, according to Bryan. The courses have become more complicated and grandiose to the eye, but course designers have traditionally kept the game simple enough for novices and children.
"At resorts, we try to make them look difficult and be real easy," said Bryan, who described his previous creations -- such as 15 courses in Myrtle Beach, S.C., featuring water-spouting fiberglass elephants and other jungle gimmicks -- as "glitzy."
By contrast, Bryan designed holes at Upton Hill that are challenging to conquer in a single shot. At several holes, a player will have to calculate bouncing the ball off four-inch barriers, as in pinball or billiards, to land a hole-in-one. Each of the 18 putting areas has three possible holes, with a different hole open each night, to vary the game for repeat customers.
"They'll have to learn how to play this. I think that's what'll keep them coming back," Bryan said.
As the game has evolved, the customers have changed, said Bryan, who said he built his first course when he was 19. Although in years past fathers who played golf with children would look "indifferent or irritated," he said, "one of our best customers right now are divorced fathers. I'm not kidding. It used to be they'd go to zoos."
Other frequent customers are dating couples and, more often, married couples, he said.
Other aspects of the game have not changed, according to Bryan.
"It's one of the only games I can think of that doesn't have any real addicts," he said, and "almost no one plays by themselves."
"The nice thing about the game, besides making money, is it makes a great game for grandparents and grandchildren," he said. "People come here and don't play well and they don't mind that. I don't know why that is."
The golf course will operate from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Each round costs $3.75. Special rates include $1.75 for people 60 and older and 15 and younger weekdays until 5 p.m., $5 to play all day until 5 p.m. for everyone else, $1.75 per person per round for groups of 10 or more, and a 50-cent discount for patrons of the Upton Hill swimming pool. For more information, call 534-3437.