Smash Putt Miniature Golf Apocalypse!
A Cultural Experience In Portland, Oregon, US

United States of America By: Jase Luttrell on 4 April 2011
Category: Culture > Features Comments View Comments


Mini golf. Putt-Putt. Iconic and awesome, this classic game is reworked as Smash Putt, a traveling Industrial Art exhibit full of mayhem and chaos. This isn't the post-Depression putt-putt with Dutch-style windmills you may have played as a kid. It is more impressive, and vastly improved with the dangerous additions of booze and power tools, giving you the perfect handicap for your bad score (and maybe more of a handicap, if you get too close to the power tools).

I am truly amazed I had never seen something similar to Smash Putt before. It is so original but features elements that are so commonplace. As a kid, I remember going to the one and only mini-golf business in the area once or twice a summer. It featured three different courses, all of which were practically the same: putt your ball past the windmill and other mildly inventive objects and hazards for all eighteen holes. After a year, the game became tiresome, and my friends and I stopped playing.

The last time I played mini golf was at a run-down place somewhere in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. The actual course was missing pieces of the green Astroturf, some of the holes were filled with debris, and the electronic hazards weren't working properly. The actual gameplay was rather lackluster, but the memories and reminiscing of my childhood were strong and powerful. This was nearly three years ago.

Now older (and theoretically wiser, but mostly more cynical), I needed a game that was edgier than windmills and castles. I needed power tools, air cannons, and a game that was more interactive. I also needed alcohol to make things a bit more interesting. Smash Putt met these needs with its clever reinvention of the game, and slaked my desires. For US$12 [?] entrance, my friend and I were given our putters and balls, informed there was a shooting range in the basement, and were given a quick legal disclaimer (basically, if you're injured, it's your own fault and Smash Putt isn't liable).

The basics of Smash Putt followed the original rules of the game. There were thirteen holes to the course. Each stroke of your putter is a point, and the player with the fewest points is the winner. The goal is to get your ball into the hole, and then you can move on until you've completed all the holes but there are obstacles and hazards that challenge you and impede your progress. The similarities end there.

Smash Putt is not linear in play. You don't need to start at hole one and, in fact, it took some time to find the first hole in the former bar in which Smash Putt took place. Because of the crowd of people, the first thing my opponent and I did was get a beer at the bar (US$5 [?] for approximately 12oz (355ml), and I don't even remember what beer it was, but the choices were limited to a few). After finding a hole that didn't have a long line, the game began. Each hole had specific rules and safety notes, as well as the par for the hole (the amount of strokes it should take to get your ball in the hole). The holes were all named, and are listed below, with photos, my notes, and words of caution:

Smash Putt

1. Moving Terrain: This hole was closest to the bar but was one of the last we played. I only drank one beer but I would find this hole especially demanding and confusing if I had more to drink. It was very interactive. Your opponent had the ability to push a button at the teeing area, which changed the play area drastically. Hills and slopes popped out of the ground, while other areas sunk. The overall design was intriguing but the hazards weren't much of a hindrance, as you could easily putt around them to get to the hole.

Smash Putt

2. Driving Range: This was the shooting range that was mentioned when we paid our admission. Three air cannons were aimed at a fenced-in area of the basement, and different objects (such as a cardboard cow, hubcap, and other assorted materials) hung from the ceiling. We were given four balls and a safety mask, and were instructed to go wild and shoot what we could. There was no real hole, just fun stuff to shoot. We ended up doing this twice because it was so entertaining.

3. K-Hole: This hole was in the third floor of the warehouse where Smash Putt was located. It wasn't a particularly interesting hole and was next to the DJ, which sort of explains why a microphone was sitting on an Astroturf covered turntable as a hazard. Sort of. I was displeased with this hole, so I didn't even bother photographing it.

Smash Putt

4. Foosball: Another game that brings me back to my childhood is Foosball. I love this game, and I think it's brilliant that someone smashed mini golf and Foosball together. This hole was actually quite challenging. The Foosball "people" moved constantly, and there was only a small window of time in which you had a clear shot to the hole. To compound the difficulty, the slope of the hill was close to 45 degrees. We watched one woman shoot her ball seven times before giving up (and heading to the bar).

5. Roulette Française: This hole was quite a bit challenging and interactive. You could choose to putt your ball to the right of the teeing area and avoid any significant hazards or you could putt your ball to the left. The left side of the course involved a MopedPlace Charles de Gaulle, including a miniature Arc de Triomphe, as your ball entered the roundabout, your ball could really end up anywhere on the play area. Your opponent could also honk the horn of the Moped right as you hit your ball, further impacting your success.

Smash Putt

6. Rusky Roulette: This "hole" was a small room that was dark until you walked in, and then a motion detector turned on the light and revealed a chair, table, empty liquor bottles, a lone golf ball, a plastic toy pistol, and hundreds of bullet shells on the ground. The par for the course, which, of course, references Russian Roulette, was one stroke. There really wasn't anything to do as far as the game was concerned, except poke around the room. Therefore, I didn't get the point or the artistic message behind it.

7. Wrong Hole: Your opponent could really mess with you on this hole. It featured a few sharp 90 degree turns, and your opponent could push a button and change the location of the hole. Theoretically, this could go on forever. Because of the turns and my limited ability in geometry, it took me five strokes to get to the hole (when it stayed in the same location).
Smash Putt

8. Infinity: The play area of this hole was designed as an infinity symbol, at a slight incline, with the hole at the top. You would putt your ball up the slope and along the curve, and when your ball went into the hole a mechanism kicked the ball out so it came back down the slope to you. Lather, rinse, repeat. Truly clever but, because of this hole, your score is automatically infinity plus your scores on the other holes.

Smash Putt

9. Tool Run: The initial play area of this whole was similar to the play areas of mini-golf courses all over the world. Putt your ball up a steep slope, into one of a number of holes. Whichever hole your ball went into determined what happened to your ball. However, in this case, what could happen to your ball included a run-in with a number of power tools, all of which were intent on damaging your ball. My ball went in the hole that led it straight into the path of the circular saw, which did little except created a few nicks and cuts. A band saw was also part of the destruction. Unfortunately, the design of this had a flaw: the holes that led the ball into the enclosed area that had the tools were a little too small for the ball to travel through, so your ball would get stuck. You then had to push your ball through the hole and into the mayhem (without getting your hand involved in the mix).

Smash Putt

10. Log Jam: This hole was the first we played, as we came across it first (it was right near the entrance). It was rather dull. The logs (with stuffed animals) slowly moved into the path of your ball. Emphasis on slowly. At least the stuffed animals were cute, though I would have enjoyed something that evoked Frogger better.

Smash Putt

11. Deconstruction Zone: We played this hole last because we watched what happened to other players as they played this and because there was always a line at this hole due to its difficulty. The slope was very steep, as it was for Foosball, and the hole at the top led your ball into an enclosed area similar to that in Tool Run. A small mechanical arm grabbed your ball, and then a power drill started and drilled a hole halfway through your ball. The arm then released the ball, and your ball dropped into a bucket at your feet so you could play on. The smell was horrible (heated rubber and plastic) but it was a hilarious turn of events that would have been better suited halfway through the course, as it would impact your play for the remainder of the course.

Smash Putt

12: Ball Maze: This hole was my favourite, and industrial art at its finest. It is the vertical equivalent to those Cracker Jack games I would get as a child: a small metal ball trapped inside a small plastic maze, and the object is to tilt the maze in all different directions to get the ball to the other end. In Smash Putt, you drop your ball into the top (indicated by a red arrow). There are numerous holes your ball could jump out of, each marked by a red number, indicating your stroke penalty. This wasn't as challenging as it may seem but it was a lot of fun and I tried a few times to get different outcomes (only writing down my first score, of course).

13: Loopty: This hole wasn't completed at the time, and when we paid our admission it was crossed off of our scorecard, so I've no idea what this entailed, but my guess is that it involved a loop. I'm insightful like that.

After playing all the holes you could revisit your favourites (as I did with Ball Maze and Driving Range), or you could play the entire course again, or you could sit back at the bar with your drink and watch the mayhem unfold. I never felt hurried or rushed and the other people playing the course were friendly, excited, and having a great time. Clearly, they were all remembering their childhood summers and their trips to their local mini-golf courses but were enjoying this re-imagining of one of life's greatest games.

Smash Putt! is back in Portland, Oregon, US for the month of April 2011 and part of May 2011. Tickets range between US$10 [?] and US$15 [?]. Opinion: Smash Putt 2010
Overall Experience: This was something that was extraordinarily quirky, yet still close to home in its delivery and impact. I was delighted by what I saw and will remember this event as inventive and enjoyable and, best of all, I had a damn good time. It's nearly impossible not to. My only complaint is that the exhibit only ran a month in my city, so it came and went before I could tell enough people about it.
Costs: For US$12 [?] admission it was slightly more expensive than a movie but more enjoyable because we were actually doing something instead of sitting in front of a screen. The bar had a decent amount of liquor but only a few draft beers (no bottled beers, because glass would be a catastrophe). The price of the beer was quite high, at US$5 [?] for approximately 12oz (355ml).
Additional Notes:
• You must be over the age of 21 to play, because of the liquor laws in Oregon, USA.
• Smash Putt is not liable if you hurt yourself, so it's best if you don't at all.
• The Portland, Oregon, USA exhibit ended after a month, but check the website for future exhibitions.
• I couldn't find a listing of the artists involved in Smash Putt, other than the cryptic "Department of Culture Collective", which doesn't have a web presence. If you know any of the details, please post them in the comments section.

Key Facts: Smash Putt 2011
What: Smash Putt Miniature Golf Apocalypse!
Contact: Email events [at] smashputt[dot]com or visit this page.
2011 Dates: (Visit the web site for tickets and times.)
• 1 April 2011 to 3 April 2011
• 8 April 2011 to 10 April 2011
• 15 April 2011 to 17 April 2011
• 22 April 2011 to 24 April 2011
• 29 April 2011 to 1 May 2011
• 5 May 2011
• 6 May 2011 to 8 May 2011

On The Internet
Smash Putt: Official Site

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