There are no video games, no loud music, no bells, no whistles, no glitz. Just an old miniature golf course with windmills, barns, a lighthouse and other little buildings.
And of course, there's a clown's nose at the 18th hole, good for a free game for anyone who hits a hole-in-one there.
In an age of more high-tech entertainment such as Discovery Zone and Dave and Busters, this vestige of a less frenzied time seemed too good to true, and in fact, it was. This sign appeared the other day: "Closing. For Good. Last Weekend. Yes, Forever."
Thus did Monte's Miniature Golf in College Park pass into history, a fixture for 43 years off Route 193, soon to be replaced by 234 dormitory-style apartments for students attending the nearby University of Maryland.
The closing night, planned for months, still surprised and saddened many patrons who putted their way through Lilliputian windmills, loop-de-loops, barns, tepees and churches--all for $4.50 per round.
Friday at 9:30 p.m., despite the hot sticky weather, a dozen cars were in the parking lot and two dozen or so players on the two adjoining 18-hole courses. Monte's, lighted by 175-watt bulbs, was showing its age. Crab grass grew inside some of the holes; aquamarine-painted concrete "ponds" were bone dry; the green carpets were frayed.
"There's not many of these places left, and this is a perfect location for it," said Keith Manning, 42, of Greenbelt, there with daughter Ashley, 17. "It's like a dinosaur going out."
Once, miniature golf was something families did with their leisure time, playing a manageable game of golf writ small, where the hole was always a short distance from the tee, through ingeniously designed obstacles.
Miniature golf boomed during the 1930s, waned during World War II, then mini-boomed in the 1950s, when Jack and Myrna Finneran developed the 12.7-acre site with its two courses, which they dubbed Monte and Carlo. To make the course more challenging, they included several holes that required a driving iron rather than a putter.
"In its heyday, it used to be packed," said Finneran, 75, from his retirement home in Vero Beach, Fla. "My wife and I worked 70 hours, seven days a week. I had such overflowing crowds. Every year, my business got better."
It got so good that he was able to sell it for a handsome sum 10 years ago to Beltway Plaza Developers, the entity that now is selling the property and a handful of adjacent houses to the university. Altogether, there will be 704 beds in mid-rise apartments of two- and four-bedrooms and 768 parking spaces. The builder, Ambling Co., of Valdosta, Ga., expects them to be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2000.
Finneran was sorry to hear his old place was closing but happy to hear of plans for its future. "Well, that's a good thing to do," he said.
In its heyday, Monte's sponsored several tournaments a year, with prizes of $100 or $150. There was a midsummer championship tournament, which pitted the best 50 players on the 50-par course, and an end-of-season tournament.
Monte's also spawned informal competitions organized by others, most notably, perhaps, the School Closing Open. The 29th annual competition was held June 26, with 53 players.
"It started when two guys got their moms to take them to miniature golf the last day of junior high school, in 1970," said Michael Hayes, a computer programmer and longtime participant.
Hayes said the School Closing Open probably will move next year to the Golden Bear franchise, a miniature golf course that is three years old and practically next door to Monte's. Unlike Monte's, it is lushly landscaped and the ground is sculpted to recreate the contours of a big course. No windmills, loop-de-loops, or drivers.
"It's not nearly as challenging," Hayes said. "The first time, I shot par over there."
If Monte's closing was expected, the timing was not.
"When I took the job, they said the target was Aug. 8. It was a shock to me and all my [two] employees," said resident manager Mike Gillis, a University of Maryland student who also was told to vacate the house next to the course this week.
"I'm moving back home with my folks for the last semester," said Gillis. "Then it's the real world. No more putt-putt."