ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Duluth's new mini golf course like none you've ever seen

You won't find any of the iconic images traditionally associated with miniature golf on the new course at Spirit Mountain. There are no windmills or gaping clown maws. There isn't even the replica of the Aerial Lift Bridge or Enger Tower that Ren...

Mini golf course
Duluth architect David Salmela tries his hand Thursday at the nine-hole miniature golf course he designed for Spirit Mountain. It features numerous geometric shapes as obstacles and is fashioned from a sturdy paper-resin laminate called Richlite. He ended up with a score of 32. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

You won't find any of the iconic images traditionally associated with miniature golf on the new course at Spirit Mountain.

There are no windmills or gaping clown maws. There isn't even the replica of the Aerial Lift Bridge or Enger Tower that Renee Mattson had in mind when she asked renowned architect David Salmela to design the newest addition to the recreation area's adventure park.

Salmela finally agreed to do it -- but not in those predictable ways.

"The more he warmed up to it, the more he saw the potential to do something unique," said Mattson, executive director of Spirit Mountain Recreation Area.

The nine-hole course is a single entity, a flat surface lifted a few inches off the ground. It is enclosed by knee-high walls, and the pins are covered with shed-like roofed structures. Salmela eschewed artificial grass for a surface made from Richlite -- a mix of recycled paper and resin.

ADVERTISEMENT

The first paying customers on the course wondered if it was even finished, since it didn't have the putt-putt staple of artificial turf.

The setup has the feel of a playhouse compound. Or, as Salmela described it: "like a cattle chute."

Instead of mounds and embankments, golfers work around a combination of wooden rectangles and circles that lie flat on the fairway. These obstacles were arranged by Spirit Mountain staff. It is possible, though not easy, to get a hole-in-one on every hole.

The course was made using locally available materials and by local workers. Once the landscaping is completed the space will be wheelchair-accessible. Rounds of golf cost $4 per person.

Salmela said he wanted to build a structure rather than a surface that was fit into the landscape. He wanted it to be low-maintenance, and he wanted it to be one-of-a-kind. He calls the finished product a simple, rational construction.

"It had to be fail safe as you could make it and be able to take the abuse," he said. "I think if someone gets angry and bends a putter over the wall, the wall can take it."

Salmela is an award-

winning, internationally known architect who creates modern, open designs with Scandinavian influences. He was behind the University of Minnesota Duluth's Bagley Classroom, a 2,000-square-foot, environmentally friendly building that opened last summer. Most of his work is residential, including a three-house community of black box homes on Observation Hill.

ADVERTISEMENT

This was his first mini golf course, and Salmela said he couldn't think of another architect who had designed one.

For at least part of Thursday, Salmela was not only the architect -- he also was the course record-holder, shooting 32. As he played, he referenced similarities between the game and both pinball and pool. Some shots called for the right-handed golfer to go left. Hole 8 gave Salmela trouble -- he 9-putted.

"The architect can't be the record-holder," he said. "That would be impolite. Unethical."

Just as Salmela was finishing his round, the course's first paying twosome teed up.

Kammi Bakke and Lindsay Leveille were taking advantage of a student discount at the Spirit Mountain Adventure Park, which includes the Timber Twister alpine coaster and the Timber Flyer zip line. And while the course was different than what they were used to -- the ball rolls faster and the walls keep wayward balls in play -- both got a kick out of it.

"It's nothing like I've ever played before," Leveille said as they finished.

Related Topics: GOLF
Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
What To Read Next
The Olympic curling gold medalist is a new co-owner of the club as it enters its sixth season in the National Premier Soccer League.
Kevin Marx Noren's third-period goal decided it.
A replay review confirmed the puck entered the net with :00.3 seconds remaining.
Luke Levandowski's late goal decided it for the host Windigo.