WORDS BY MARTIN DEVANEY
When it comes to the short game, Minneapolis’ Tom Loftus has a long resumé. Along with his wife, Robin Schwartzman, Loftus runs the website A Couple of Putts, dedicated to mini golf “reviews, design, and consultation.” Together, they have played more than 400 different courses in 25 states and five countries, designing several courses along the way, including here in the Twin Cities. What began many years ago as a Sunday Funday activity, the game gradually sent Loftus and Schwartzman down the (golf) hole, resulting in such adventures as attending the Mini Golf Masters in Myrtle Beach, and an appearance on the first season of ABC’s Holey Moley, where commentator Rob Riggle referred to them as “mini-golfists.”
“I never consumed anything that tripped me out as much as playing that course,” says Loftus, who celebrated the appearance in 2019 with a watch party at Grumpy’s Roseville.
Through their website, co-founding the American Mini Golf Alliance, and Putt Cast (the podcast Loftus co-hosts that started by recapping Holey Moley episodes and has grown from there), he hopes to drive (and, err, putt) the narrative about the world of mini golf and its many nuances. Often thought of as an activity with the kids or a high schooler’s date night, the sport is actually a whole subculture, which Loftus says is a lot more inclusive than many of the rock shows he has attended over the years. (He’d know, as the founder of the Modern Radio record label.) Recently back from a tournament in Sweden (where they often have a different ball for each hole on a course—including a glass ball on a felt surface!), he handpicked a few great courses for DISPATCH readers right here in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Uptown Collab (Formerly Arts & Rec)
3001 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., artsandrecuptown.com
The event center/bar/restaurant at Seven Points (formerly Calhoun Square) offers “an indoor experience like no other, along with Can Can Wonderland,” says Loftus—both courses were designed by Chris Pennington. At Uptown Collab, the first hole is designed to be a functioning record store, while another is a sauna. Local nods appear throughout and, he says, the attention to detail will have you catching new things on return visits.
7110 County Rd. 110 W., Minnetrista, bigstoneminigolf.com
Located about a half hour outside the Cities, this “intensive labor of love” is a hole-in-one in the hearts of Mr. Tee and the Pink Putter (Loftus and Schwartzman’s mini golf aliases; they enjoyed their first date here so much, it was later where they married). The artist-driven design, profiled in The New York Times in 2012, is welcoming for putters of all ages.
7053 10th St N, Oakdale, bigstoneminigolf.com
Another “Hole-In-One,” Loftus notes that The Burrow is one of the more colorful courses with its vibrant design and a game catering to all levels of experience. Loftus adds this is a good beginner spot—but not boring: There is a lot of variety on this course, including holes with movable obstacles to allow players to use a different cup. Plus, If you’re up for some axe throwing or laser tag afterwards—and who wouldn’t be?—you’re in the right place!
Can Can Wonderland
755 Prior Ave. N. Ste. 004, St. Paul, cancanwonderland.com
An early Couple of Putts review rated Can Can a “birdie,” the second highest rating on the site—this is the spot for whimsy and wonder from the team that brought you The Haunted Basement. Though the course is challenging, and you can expect your ball to take “an unexpected adventure” or two, the artist-designed course offers “an abundance of kitsch” and is one of a couple courses that Loftus would recommend taking an out-of-towner to for a round.
Centennial Lakes Park
7499 France Ave. S., Edina, edinamn.gov/786/Putting-CourseScottish-Links
As they claim at Centennial Lakes, “It’s not mini golf, it’s golf in miniature!” This course is a real grass course, devoid of windmills or dinosaurs, but challenging nonetheless. Aimed more at regular golfers, this 18-hole course is age 8 and up.
825 Flying Cloud Dr., Chaska, golfzonemn.com
Golf Zone hosts the “Coziest Mini Golf Open,” one of three local tournaments organized by A Couple of Putts. Golfers descend onto this challenging course anytime, though, which sLoftus describes as “high risk, high reward” for competitors, with a Northwoods vibe throughout.
1349 Coon Rapids Blvd NW, Coon Rapids, lilliputt.net
Loftus’ childhood course Lilli Putt hosts the “Miniest Mini Golf Open,” now in its fourth year. This year’s tournament will take place September 16-24. A family friendly course that Loftus says is nevertheless “incredibly tricky,” Lilli Putt fits the classic mold for the mini golf of your youth, with go-karts and bumper boats to add to the fun.
Loon’s Nest at Island Lake
1000 Red Fox Rd., Shoreview, islandlakegolf.com
The site of (what else?) the “Looniest Mini Golf Open,” which took place earlier this month, Loon’s Nest provides “the perfect accompaniment to a larger golf training center.” Though hole-in-ones are technically possible throughout, this clean course with “subtle nuances” like the length of the holes and certain breaks around the cup makes for a challenging experience.
Walker Art Center
725 Vineland Pl., Mpls., walkerart.org
Since 2014, the Walker has been hosting artist-designed holes (including A Couple of Putts) on their rooftop. Great for kids and folks visiting the Twin Cities. New Walker memberships include a complimentary round. Of note: Tee times are set in person, day-of only.
A Couple of Putts joined Can Can Wonderland to create a State Fair-themed course for the Fairgrounds’ Kickoff to Summer event happening May 25-28. More information at mnstatefair.org
Two national chains are set to hit the metro area soon, including the upscale Puttery (240 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.) later this year, and Putt Shack (246 7th Ave. N., Mpls.) in 2024.
Further Reading and Listening
A Couple of Putts: acoupleofputts.com
The American Mini Golf Alliance: amaminigolf.com
Putt Cast: puttcastmini.com