In a world too often filled with worry and division, here’s something that unites us: the joy of mini-golf. Some clever person at Seattle Art Museum, perhaps realizing that many of us are in need of that joy, had an idea not long ago: Why not build a temporary mini-golf course — golf being, not incidentally, a socially distant sport — at Olympic Sculpture Park? And get local artists to design the holes? And use the whole thing as a fundraiser for the museum? To which I say: bring it on. (And, “Fore!”)
So here it is: SAM’s “Par-Tee in the Park Mini-Golf,” teeing off for a week starting Aug. 18, with multiple opportunities available to par-take: from a pricey fundraising dinner (sold-out) to a very-slightly-less-pricey benefit cocktail party ($250/person; tickets still available as of this writing) to mini-golf tee times ($100/foursome, a few slots remain at press time). The wildly creative holes — each one an adventure — are the brainchildren of Seattle artists Eroyn Franklin, Quinlyn Johnson, Justin Lytle, Tim Marsden, Cathy McClure, Katie Miller, Matt Sellars, Kimisha Turner and local architecture firm LMN. All were, more or less, given free design rein, as well as the advice of A Couple of Putts — Minnesota-based mini-golf consultant couple Tom Loftus and Robin Schwartzman (two people who are clearly living my best life).
I spoke to three of the designers earlier this month; all of them were then in the midst of fabrication and creation, and all were dazzled by the trial-and-error fun of doing something completely new. (No, none of them had ever designed a mini-golf hole before.) The inevitable conclusion: The world needs more art — and more mini-golf.
Name of hole: “My Mind as an Artist”
An interdisciplinary artist whose Black Lives Matter mural for SAM was recently brought into the museum’s collection, Turner was excited by the idea of designing a mini-golf hole. “I love mini-golf!” she said, laughing. “I thought this would be a really cool opportunity to put that on my little list: I’ve done a golf course.”
Her design was inspired by the artist’s brain — “what goes on in my head when I’m creating,” she said. “I wanted to literally have a lot of weird quirky things that kind of make up my eclectic taste.” Players will putt through a giant eye, in and around burritos and watermelon; other elements include an outline of Turner’s son and a bright mandala — things that “don’t necessarily go together, but I really wanted to have something really bright and quirky and fun because that’s what I remember putt-putt golf courses being like.”
After consulting with Loftus and Schwartzman, Turner decided to make her sculptures from Styrofoam, painted and sealed in epoxy — though Seattle’s had a remarkably dry summer, you never know when rain might fall. “The consultants were really super helpful in telling us how to seal these items so that water doesn’t seep in, and what not to use,” she said. She’s looking forward to playing the course with her family — and to the new directions this commission has inspired in her art. “It makes me want to make more sculptures out of Styrofoam!” she said. “It’s opened doors for me creatively. I don’t know if I would have thought of this, some of the items that I’ve made so far, without having this opportunity.”
Name of hole: “Bull in a China Shop”
Local artist Franklin’s design was directly inspired by a SAM trademark: the museum’s Porcelain Room, where more than a thousand exquisite examples of historical European and Asian porcelain objects are on display. But her spin on it is a little different. “The theme is a bull in the Porcelain Room,” she said. A ceramist, Franklin loves the Porcelain Room, calling it “a wonderful place of reverence … everything is just so pristine and perfect.” That’s not, however, the way she works.
“I don’t think of ceramics as precious and delicate,” Franklin said. “Though sometimes I do delicate work, I am not a graceful creature.” She envisioned a narrative “where the bull runs through, mixes up all the vessels and all the patterns and colors, and creates this beautiful cacophony of joy.”
Franklin briefly thought about creating ceramics for her mini-golf hole, but quickly abandoned the idea — “turns out that ceramics, when they’re hit by a golf ball, don’t do well!” So she sculpted her “porcelain” vessels from laser-cut wood, each standing about 30 inches tall. Her bull was cut from an extra-large sheet of MDF (not an ideal material, Franklin was told, but it should hold up for a week in all but the most torrential downpour). The end result, she said, is “very bright, very colorful — a lot of fun to play.” While this is definitely Franklin’s first attempt at a mini-golf hole, “I hope it won’t be my last.”
Name of hole: “Scintillating Seattle”
Though most of the SAM mini-golf holes are designed by artists, there’s one exception: The Seattle architecture firm LMN, which designed SAM’s Asian Art Museum expansion, put together a small team to create the course’s biggest hole, one inspired by Seattle’s downtown.
Hank Butitta, project lead for the hole’s creation, said that the team initially talked about “trying to find a balance of something that was kind of architectural, to speak towards our background, but also thinking about playability, wanting to make sure that it was a fun hole to play.” They settled on a design incorporating multiple elements of the downtown waterfront: the Great Wheel, the skyscraper skyline, the hillside, the Highway 99 tunnel (“if you make it through the tunnel you’re right at the cup, and if you miss it you end up somewhere near the water”).
The hole will be 24 feet long once completed, made mostly of wood, with the downtown buildings crafted from solid chunks of cedar — “nice and sturdy, kind of a simple aesthetic,” said Butitta. But it’s not without sparkle: Sequins will light up the waterfront waves and LED lights will illuminate the buildings.
“We’re in an interesting position — the only nonartists involved in this project, so we’re coming at it from a bit of a different perspective,” Butitta said. “I’m kind of curious to see how differently ours turns out. It’s a bit more, I think, fully architectural than the other ones will be, coming from a background that’s very focused on buildings and urban planning.”