POST-MORTEM REVIEW of the 2012 Course
By guest reviewer Jared Schmidt
Note– The studio hosting these images is Mike Fetault Photography and the copyright is under the name Bruce Silcox. We want to thank the U.S. Bank Skyway Open 2012.
For all but the most intrepid Minnesota mini-golf enthusiasts, February is off-season. This is something with which we have come to terms – accepting that, unless we choose to brave the bone-chilling cold to chase blaze orange balls as they skitter across the ice, our closest indulgence to the game requires a trip south of the 43rd parallel, and often much further. But one weekend each February, the downtown Minneapolis skyway system defies this maxim by transforming into a seasonally-affected putt-putt lover’s dream: a full 19 hole climate-controlled mini-golf course.
Spanning from the egalitarian City Center into an Art-Deco inspired Gaviidae Common and beyond, filling the iconic IDS Tower’s crystal court and surrounding skyways, and extending as far east as the quintessentially post-modern Accenture Tower – the US Bank Skyway Open offers an indulgent, albeit temporary, distraction from the winter doldrums.
With the architecturally-inspired context for the course, it seems fitting that the golf-holes themselves are designed and built by the Twin City’s top design and construction firms. As such, the holes often represent the results of a laborious design process intended to express differentiation, sustainability, and “Design” as virtues. Unfortunately, this is just as often achieved at the expense of Fun.
I know this because I am one such designer and have just as often whiffed as scored holes-in-one.
Mini-golf is all about Fun. It’s not just a kids’ game, but it definitely harkens to an age when Fun and play are life, as opposed to a diversion from it. Watching kids play through the Skyway Golf course on family day, it’s pretty darn clear they could not care less about the architectural significance of the context, let alone that the holes were designed by “professionals” (in reality, most often the holes are crafted and built by unlicensed designers, graphic artists, and interns). There may be those folks who genuinely care about such things. But for the vast majority of mini-golfers, child and adult alike are just looking to have a good time. And I tell you – there is nothing more fulfilling than watching a kid squeal with glee while playing your hole.
Tom and Robin have graciously asked me to guest review the 2012 Skyway Open. For this evaluation, Fun will be the prime value by which I will be judging the holes and course. Full disclosure: I was the designer of the People’s Choice Award winning 6th hole, so I am a bit biased.
Hole-in-One –The thing about the Skyway Open is that because of the wide variability in quality and experience, it really is hit or miss from hole to hole. With 19 different design teams having different resources, backgrounds, and approaches to the design and thematic interpretation, you are bound to encounter diamonds as often as lumps of coal. This variety alone makes the course really interesting and attractive to play, despite the dud holes. Throw in the transient and temporary nature of the course, the communal aspect of playing in the hubbub of the skyways, and the truly unique downtown context and you have, in my opinion, a must-golf course. But even beyond that – the course was just downright Fun to play.
Now the interesting thing about Fun is, it can be drawn out in a bunch of different ways, which I’ve found—and Tom and Robin have suggested in their reviews—typically fall into 2 major categories: Mechanics & Aesthetics. Mechanics are the rules, form, hazards, and constraints that create the pure gameplay of the hole, while aesthetics are the theme, scene, or atmosphere of the hole. But whether through mechanics, aesthetics or any other means; at the expense of all else, make it Fun. The Skyway Open has done this.
The theme of the 2012 course, as interpreted by the individual design teams, was, “Minneapolis – City by Nature”. Like most previous years, this theme was vague enough to incite a wide array of different aesthetics ranging from hunting lodge to over-sized leaves to giant golf tee plinko boards in the shape of a face, leaving me often wondering how in the hell they got to where they got from the initial theme. Far be it for me to criticize anyone’s interpretation – I was still pleased with most of the holes’ design and fabrication standards. Once again, the Fun here comes in the novelty of design and, in this age of digital photos and social networks, the Instagram-ability of the course.
Mechanics – Some tubeplay after an initial tee off from the high platform—typically in pool cue fashion—followed by a quick dogleg right and some changing surface characteristics. I appreciated that they tried to mix up the mechanics a bit.
Aesthetics – As a showpiece for Aaron Carlson architectural woodworking, this hole demonstrated excellent craftsmanship and use of salvaged materials. A very handsome hole, if not totally engaging from a thematic perspective.
Bottom-Line – Pretty classic gameplay for a pretty hole. I also believe this one won the Sustainability Award for reuse of salvaged materials.
Mechanics – A hardwood surface with a smattering of obstacles. The surface itself was difficult to putt on simply because there was almost no drag on the ball. Otherwise, there was nothing interesting here.
Aesthetics – One of many small scale holes. I assume that the wood flooring material, wooden cars, and grass covered building silhouettes were intended to suggest the natural theme of the course. Otherwise, pretty uninspired.
Bottom-Line – A boring and entirely forgettable hole.
Mechanics – A terraced surface with interesting forms to divert your ball into unpredictable directions. The challenge here was hitting the ball with the appropriate velocity to keep it from flying off into the skyways, but keep enough momentum to make it all the way down to the cup.
Aesthetics – Giant fall-colored leaf forms – enough said. A nice and relatively original interpretation of the theme. I also liked that they played with an enlarged scale, unlike so many other holes that choose the opposite.
Bottom-Line – For a relatively straight and narrow hole, the undulating surface and original thematic interpretation made it interesting enough to want to play.
Mechanics – A radially oriented ramp with the cup at its apex and a few vertical tube obstacles. As the picture suggests from the guy waiting to block the balls on the other side, this hole was frustratingly difficult and had no threshold or barrier to keep your ball from careening off into the skyway or over the ledge and down to street level. Either this was not play tested or they deliberately chose to make it un-fun to play. Most people I talked with just gave up and walked away.
Aesthetics – Even worse than the mechanics of the hole were the aesthetics, which were trying to prove a point, although I’m not sure what that was. It basically listed Minneapolis’ ranking under a number of sustainability categories. I’m not sure how this fits in with the theme, other than poorly. And where they got the orange and white color scheme, I have no idea.
Bottom-Line – This hole committed the double sin of impossible mechanics and annoying aesthetics. If people did have fun, it was from the emergent chaos that ensued from the gameplay, but this did little to redeem the hole. Easily the worst hole of the course.
Mechanics – A flat relatively flat surface made from the stacked edges of corrugated cardboard strips, causing some minor divergence of the path of the ball.
Aesthetics – Corrugated cardboard – I guess maybe because the cardboard was recycled it could be thought of as ‘natural’.
Bottom-Line – Interesting use of material for the surface, but otherwise it was as boring as they come.
Mechanics – Skeeball shooting gallery, followed by tubeplay leading to a classic green. The challenge was to hit the ball into the slot in the shooting gallery connected to the tube that would drop the ball closest to the cup – in this case the middle slot, which was presumably the most challenging.
Aesthetics – Northwoods Hunting Lodge, complete with shooting range, cabin, foliage, woodland critters, and a huge cuddly bear. We figured, what’s more natural to Minneapolis than being able to quickly escape to the wooded countryside of MN?
Bottom-Line – We won the People’s Choice Award for this hole because people, kids especially, just had a fun experience with it. The theme was fun and not too serious. People loved taking their picture with the rifle-handed putter and giant bear. And the gameplay, although relatively simple, was engaging and just challenging enough to make it interesting. Okay, so I’m a bit biased because I created the thing, but it was damned fun to create too. And nothing pleased me more than being able to make those kids smile when they played our hole.
Mechanics – Changing surface materials with occasional hole hazards and obstacles in the form of bamboo plants. Not too challenging, but classic nonetheless.
Aesthetics – As one of two holes designed and built by Home Depot, this used various materials and products one could find at the retail store. Nothing spectacular, but nothing too disappointing either. As an interesting effect, they rigged the holes to switch on a light-bulb along the side.
Bottom-Line – The Home Depot was asked only 2 weeks before the event to make this hole (in addition to hole #8) after another designer dropped. I gotta give it to them, for so little time, they made a rather interesting hole to play.
Mechanics – After teeing off with a swinging hammer the ball rolls along a narrow channel towards a spinning windmill before dropping to the green and kitchen sink drain cup. If at any point the ball falls to the side, down the sloping roof shingles, into the rain gutters along the slope, or is blocked by the windmill, you find yourself putting through narrow holes in a slat fence out to the green.
Aesthetics – The other Home Depot hole, this was built of materials one could find at the store. In this case, as for Hole #7, the materials are the mechanics.
Bottom-Line – Some interesting mechanics and simple play make this hole fun. For both Home Depot holes, I was really impressed with what they did to showcase their products and still make relatively fun holes. Kudos to them!
Mechanics – A small undulating surface.
Aesthetics – A small undulating surface.
Bottom-Line – A small undulating surface. Enough said.
Mechanics – The hole was a single wooden beam with wavy curves to guide your ball towards the cup at the end. The challenge here is to hit the ball hard enough to avoid getting stuck in a ‘trough’ along the way. Otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward.
Aesthetics – Simple and elegant. A really interesting interpretation of the classic golf hole.
Bottom-Line – My beef with this hole is that this is at least the 3rd year I’ve seen it at the Skyway Open. It may be really interesting, but come on, let’s see something new here guys.
Mechanics – a long hard surface leading to a cup at the end. Like bowling, except you have turf on either side.
Aesthetics – Real grass was used for the side surfaces. That’s about the only thing interesting here.
Bottom-Line – Somewhat challenging, but overall a pretty boring design and execution.
Mechanics – A plinko style hole with golf tees for the pins and a hard clear acrylic surface with a hole at the bottom of the curve.
Aesthetics – This was perhaps the most aesthetically interesting and original, if not fun, hole. The golf-tee plinko pins formed the face of Charles Loring, pioneer of the Minneapolis parks system, and led down to an illustration of the parks etched into the clear acrylic. Not sure where they got their color scheme. But I suppose hot-pink is as good as any color.
Bottom-Line – Although it didn’t really offer much challenge or fun in the gameplay, it was certainly a novel design.
Mechanics – A set of rails lead from the upper green down a series of terraced surfaces to the putting green below. Depending on your choice of rails or terraces, you can position your ball closer to, or directly in, the cup. Fairly classic gameplay.
Aesthetics – Resembling a small scale farming landscape with patchwork fields.
Bottom-Line – Nothing was too remarkable or memorable about this hole – but it wasn’t offensive either.
Mechanics – Intended to resemble a giant foosball table with only one bar and player that one could slot into different grooves around the edge to direct their shot.
Aesthetics – Giant foosball table with a small scale, childishly illustrated map of the city.
Bottom-Line – The mechanics for this hole are fairly unique, interesting, and fun to play. However, it begs the question: is this even mini-golf. Without the putter and the tee-off, the hole loses that sense of putt-putt and turns into something else entirely – a game to be sure, but questionable as to its golf-ness. The aesthetics of the hole are nothing spectacular either.
Mechanics – a series of tubes, terraces, and obstacles make this hole seem more like a plinko board than anything else. Essentially you place your ball in one of several holes and allow it to take its own course down to the putting area before making the final putt into the cup. No tee-off and little use of the putter much else other than the final putt.
Aesthetics – A stark and blocky small scale replica of the city.
Bottom-Line – Bright colors and chaotic ball pathways bring interest to this hole, but not enough to make it all that memorable.
Mechanics – Roll the ball down past a series of obstacles formed by the negative space of a Foshay Tower impression. No real skill was needed for this hole – or a putter for that matter.
Aesthetics – One half of the negative form needed to mold a small-scale replica of the Foshay tower, made with exquisite craftsmanship.
Bottom-Line – The immaculate fabrication of this hole suggests the time and materials that went into its construction. Probably the reason why its creators brought it back for this, its second year. I wouldn’t say that the gameplay alone is enough to recall it for another. Interesting, but time to try something new.
Mechanics – A flat hard surface with occasional bumps and dips from Monopoly houses and lake-shaped depressions.
Aesthetics – Yet another small scale reproduction of the Minneapolis city map, this time with the lakes as its focus. Overall, kind of drab and uninspired.
Bottom-Line – At hole 17, you’re just about ready to be done with the course. There is no reason for this hole to be interesting or fun. Perhaps the designers knew this and responded as such.
Mechanics – Similar to a table-top game with similar mechanics, you roll a soccer ball down a pair of long pipes by slowly squeezing them together. Your score depends on which hole the ball drops into below. This game is surprisingly challenging and fun, despite the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with mini-golf.
Aesthetics – Fun shapes, colors, and typography stained into the wood frame serve to complement the exceptional fabrication. No real theme here or connection to the ‘natural’ theme of the course, but interesting and pleasing nonetheless.
Bottom-Line – I hate that I like this hole, because it really isn’t putt-putt at all.
Mechanics – Roll the ball down a long, thin passage, controlling it to avoid obstacles by tilting the surface from side to side with a steering wheel. Make it all the way down the skyway and you get a hole in one or fall off to the side and putt around the hazards to sink it in the cup.
Aesthetics – This hole, with its apparent hodgepodge of connected themes—golf-cart, skyway, Accenture Tower, etc.—is actually really good looking and very well built. The use of recycled carpet samples for the turf gives it visual interest and a sustainable flair. And it serves to perfectly cap off the course which also ends after a long walk through a skyway to the Accenture Tower.
Bottom-Line – This was a contender for the People’s Choice award, and for good reason. Fun and novel gameplay combined with a well-executed and interesting theme.