PUTT PUTT PUTTERING AT THE SHORE Ingenious new courses and solid standbys make miniature golf a major attraction.

Posted: August 07, 2009

OCEAN CITY, N.J. — Patrick Boylan is always looking for the new new thing in the miniature golf world.

The vice president of Harris Miniature Golf in Wildwood, one of the largest mini-golf design and construction firms in the country, Boylan has seen the trend go from growling polar bears and windmills guarding holes to realistic doglegs with sand traps and groomed greens to magnificent edifices with waterfalls and rocks spewing ersatz lava.

This year, Boylan is gaga over Harris' latest creation, the black-light holes at the new Medieval Fantasy Miniature Golf atop a row of stores at 14th and the Boardwalk in Ocean City.

"I think it will be the new trend - some outdoor standard holes and then some indoor holes which you can only make out with black light," Boylan said.

Half of the holes on the course are under black light, said Medieval Fantasy manager Diann Walters. The rest of the course is mocked up like a castle, with crenellated "stone" walls and dragons and wizards guarding the joint.

"What I like best about the indoor holes, though, is that means since we have some overhangs, only four holes are not under a roof of some kind," Walters said. "It is a hot spot on a rainy day, crowded when it wouldn't be otherwise."

A bit inland, at Ninth Street and Haven Avenue, is one of three Pirate Island golf courses at the Jersey Shore, the others located in Sea Isle City and Avalon. Pirate Island, which is celebrating its 15th year, is the brainchild of Philadelphia sports icon and pirate aficionado Pat Croce - he has a pirate museum in his other hometown, Key West, Fla.

There are galleons and swinging bridges and tropical plants and waterfalls at each of the Pirate Island courses. The holes are in the style of a real course, with sandtraps and either undulating doglegs or straightforward greens.

Those looking for an old-timey course might go instead to Long Beach Island or Cape May, resorts that have not changed all that much in the last quarter-century.

A drive toward Beach Haven along Long Beach Boulevard, which bisects Long Beach Island, will pass a VW Beetle with a sign saying merely "Golf" and an arrow to the right on its bumper. That directs players to Mr. T's Miniature Golf & Arcade, a half-block east at 101 S. Bay Ave.

Mr. T's has a sort of Shore-surf theme, with surfboards and sea creatures and the like as obstacles and decor. Its real distinction, though, is that it is an almost mind-numbing 36 holes. Parents from Abington to Absecon can often complain about surviving 18 holes with a cadre of kids; for them, 36 holes would be a Shore misadventure.

Mr. T's, then, is better for kids on their own, especially those who might rocket through 18 holes in a seeming split-second. There is a second, saner, Mr. T's, the Putt and Play 18-holer, in a more southerly part of Beach Haven at 226 Engleside Ave.

In Cape May, perhaps the closest to the ocean is Stockton Golf, also designed by Harris Miniature Golf, a Victorian wonderland at Beach Avenue and Howard Street, with short holes and hazards easy to negotiate. Cape May Miniature Golf, at 315 Jackson St., is another Harris design, with those natural sandtraps and dogleg greens.

Perhaps the goofiest course at the Shore is Club 18 in Stone Harbor, just off the main shopping drag in town, 96th Street, on Third Avenue. Club 18 may be the only storefront miniature golf course at the Shore, wedged into a space only one storefront wide and about five split levels high.

Overlooking Third Avenue from the top level is a long-necked dinosaur, appropriate to the prehistoric theme of the course. There are driftwoodlike stairs up and down the multilevels, and several two-story holes. The chances to get holes-in-one are many, and the appropriate ending is to go to a Shore-like 19th hole, Springer's ice cream bar across the street.

Mini Golf at the Shore

A sampling of miniature golf courses:

Medieval Fantasy Golf, 1336 Boardwalk, Ocean City. 9 a.m.-11 p.m. $6.50 until 6 p.m., $7.50 after 6 p.m. 609-938-0579.

Pirate Island Golf, Ninth Street and Haven Avenue, Ocean City; 33d Street and Landis Avenue, Sea Isle City; 27th Street and Dune Drive, Avalon. 9 a.m.-11:30 p.m., $8.95 before 6 p.m. and $9.95 after 6 p.m. 609-368-8344.

Mr. T's, 101 S. Bay Ave., Beach Haven. 9 a.m.-11 p.m. $7. 609-492-8689.

Stockton Golf, 801 Beach Ave. at Howard St., Cape May. 9 a.m.-11 p.m. $7. 609-884-4036.

Cape May Miniature Golf, 315 Jackson St. 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. $7. 609-884-2222.

Club 18, 9505 Third Ave., Stone Harbor 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. $5 before 5 p.m. and $7 after. 609-368-4362.

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