Putt Putt Camp: Design, Iterate, Hole-in-One!

This past week at NOMAD summer, we made our own mini-golf holes! What I find so appealing about mini-golf is the inventiveness of it all. Unlike most other sports or pastimes, which tend not to be re-imagined too broadly, mini-golf relies on creativity and imagination to make the simple goal of getting your ball into the hole exciting. Every course can have its own theme, each hole can employ a different task or skill, and there are often various approaches to tackling one hole. Urban Putt, my favorite mini-golf course, is a maker's paradise located just one block from the NOMAD Depot. The obvious way to start our week was on the course - playing, noticing, and ideating. 

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While we played, we noticed that certain slower holes create a bottleneck of waiting golfers while other holes shuffle balls and players through rapidly. The times we had to wait gave us a few moments to notice as many small details as we could take in; however, we noticed only a fraction of what there was to see.  

Monday morning, we met with Steve Fox, one of the designers behind this intricate course, to peek behind the scenes of Urban Putt. There isn't so much a "behind the scenes" but an "inside the wall, under the robot, within the fiberglass and epoxy mountain" type deal. Steve blew our minds describing the arduinos and the many types of sensors and the unexpected materials they used to build each hole. He revealed that the antique-looking metal beam is really wood with rustable metal paint; the robot is cardboard covered in layers of hardened epoxy. 

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Steve also listened to our hole ideas and made mechanical suggestions. We left our meeting ready to creatively build our desired effects!

Brimming with enthusiasm, we revelled in drawing our own plans in 2-d bird's-eye view, and side-view 3-d. I'd hate to ruin the surprise, but the plans were each fantastical and unique.

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On Tuesday with our sketches in hand, we took off on the bus to the hardware store and to SCRAP to collect materials. 

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We planned our layout, drew out our features, and built our bases using 2x3s and plywood. Alex built a hole that utilizes gravity, while Sebastian and Charlie had other unique challenges in mind. 

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Alex made a hole modeled after pin-ball, so he didn't require any felt turf.  The other holes relied on felt in order to slow the ball and create precision in putting.  

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We had to take a quick trip to the fabric store for more felt in the appropriate colors. We couldn't help but play with the amazing sequin wall. Another reminder that insanely fun and unexpected surprises surround us when we get out of the classroom. The sequin wall spurred new ideas, too, beyond the momentary fit of glittery etch-a-sketch glee. I try to always take the kids to buy materials with me for this exact reason. 

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Arguably, the features of our holes are the most exciting but also the most challenging. Our dreams of electronic components were slowly ruled out due to time and the inherent priority of our woodworking. 

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The last few details and tests led to frustrating iterating, but without that important step, our holes would be less playable.  

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Finally, we created score cards and a course name and banner. We determined par for each hole before families arrived to play the course.  

 Alex's pin-pall hole was a hit because it was a challenge to navigate the many bumpers and tracks with the putters-turned-flippers at the base.  You'll notice the stragically placed hole which required the player to calculate angles and speed. 

Alex's pin-pall hole was a hit because it was a challenge to navigate the many bumpers and tracks with the putters-turned-flippers at the base.  You'll notice the stragically placed hole which required the player to calculate angles and speed. 

 A celebration after Alex and Charlie's grandmother hit a hole-in-one down the center of Charlie's axe-protected throne!

A celebration after Alex and Charlie's grandmother hit a hole-in-one down the center of Charlie's axe-protected throne!

 Sebastien's hole was modeled after his favorite video game Terraria. Players had to pass through each level (and each painted "boss") in order to make it to the finish line.  

Sebastien's hole was modeled after his favorite video game Terraria. Players had to pass through each level (and each painted "boss") in order to make it to the finish line.  

We had a blast building our course and playing it at the end of the week. We'll definitely have to do it again!