Rich Mathews used the photograph below in his presentation on The Early Days of Coxe Avenue back in April. It really piqued my interest. I thought I knew a bit about the history of the corner pictured, but was totally taken aback by what I saw. Not the remains of Margo Terrace (razed in 1928) or the building and parking lot that are there today. Most certainly not a miniature golf course!
Tennesseans Garnet Carter and Thomas Fairbarn are credited with “inventing” miniature golf. Mr. Carter needed something to entertain his guests while waiting to build a full-size golf course at his Fairyland resort on a 700-acre parcel of land atop Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. Mr. Carter consulted Thomas Fairbarn who had invented a scaled-down version of golf on grass. Mr. Fairbarn’s original name for the grass version was Midget Golf. Together the two men devised and patented Tom Thumb Golf, a scaled down version of the game replete with obstacles, statues, and other hazards. Grass was used in the earliest versions. However, one of Mr. Carter’s patented changes was to mix crushed cotton-seed hulls into paint to coat concrete surfaces for consistent putting surfaces.
On the 25th of September in 1929 one of the early franchises of Tom Thumb Golf opened in the booming tourist destination of Asheville. The 18-hole course could accommodate up to 72 players at a time. Play wasn’t limited to daylight hours; huge poles were strung with lights for nighttime play. Imagine being a guest on one of the upper floors of the Battery Park with a western view of the setting sun turning the mountains blue as the lights twinkled on the golf course. Now that’s a view I’d like to have seen.
In May of 1930 the course opened again for the season. The ad below shows green fees of 25 cents. And something for the harried businessman to do on his lunch hour.
The golf course remained open for business—seasonally—with a name change or two into the early 1940’s. I found a 1942 want ad in the Asheville Citizen-Times offering a 1936 Packard for sale that could be examined at the miniature golf course. In 1945 this ad in the newspaper heralded some intriguing, live entertainment.
The Bell South (now AT&T) Building was erected in 1947-48, but the golf course was still listed in the city directory until 1951. It did not appear in the 1953 edition. By then other courses opened in Asheville.
In the 1950’s the Dreamland Drive-in Theatre opened on Tunnel Road where the Lowes stands today. Many of its advertisements touted a course that opened at two in the afternoon. After all who could play by the light of the silver screen?
In 1958 two Putt-Putt golf courses opened on Patton Avenue where Regent Park is today. In 1961 another miniature course opened at Recreation Park; in 1965 still another course opened on Tunnel Road.
Miniature golf reached its apex of popularity in the boom years after World War II and the early 1960’s. A friend of mine recently remarked that when she was growing up miniature golf was a safe first-date choice: at least you wouldn’t be trapped in the dark of a movie theatre if your date turned out to be a bust!
When was the last time you played miniature golf? You don’t have to travel to venerable tourist destinations such as Maggie Valley, Gatlinburg, or Myrtle Beach to find a course. Asheville still boasts one indoor and three outdoor miniature golf courses for your miniature golfing pleasure.
Posted by Terry Taylor, Friends of the North Carolina Room board member