Tanya and Steve Carlson remember the day they decided to enter the miniature golf business. The Virginia business owners were on a hike on the Big Aspen Trail in the Superior National Forest on Aug. 24, 2020.

"We'd been thinking about doing something on our own, some kind of business, when Tanya turned to me and said, 'I've got an idea. I think we should open a mini-golf course,'" Steve said. "And I thought about it for a second and said, 'You're right. That's brilliant. It's exactly what the area needs.' And we haven't really looked back since."

Miniature golf has existed in the Northland for years, with indoor and outdoor courses at venues such as Spirit Mountain and Adventure Zone in Duluth; Capt'n J's Miniature Golf in Superior; Country Inn's course in Two Harbors; and a course at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.

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September Falls is the centerpiece of the new miniature golf course that opened Labor Day weekend in Virginia called Greens on Foreteenth. The artificial waterfall features local rocks mined from the region. 
Contributed / Greens on Foreteenth
September Falls is the centerpiece of the new miniature golf course that opened Labor Day weekend in Virginia called Greens on Foreteenth. The artificial waterfall features local rocks mined from the region. Contributed / Greens on Foreteenth

But the region has also seen a rise in the creation of new courses over the past year, with Black Beach Mini Golf opening in Silver Bay, the Carlsons' Greens on Foreteenth in Virginia and Rogue Eagle Mini Golf slated to open next year in Proctor.

For Black Beach course owner David Klemmer, the decision to open a course made sense due to the rise in tourism he's seen on the North Shore in the past 10 years or so.

"Even with COVID, with the restrictions, it still really picked up last year," Klemmer said. "There’s a lot of people hanging out at the climbing adventure park across the highway. There were always people parked down at Black Beach. I looked at it and thought, what could a guy put in here to attract more people? Mini-golf popped into my head because when we’re out on vacations, that’s one of the things we look for since it's something you can do with the whole family."

Family vacations inspired the Carlsons as well. They wanted to create a course that the whole family could play at and worked with Harris Miniature Golf, based in New Jersey, to create a partially Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible course. Their course was mostly inspired by the woods that surround the park. They incorporated locally mined rocks, inserted statues of local animals such as bears and turtles and added a waterfall inspired by the wetlands located outside their borders.

"We don’t have any clown heads or windmills. That’s kind of a thing of the past. But what we did was incorporate the woods around us," Steve said.

"We always like to joke that the animals on the course just stepped out of the woods," Tanya said.

Klemmer was also inspired by the local area. He worked with his neighbor and father to build a replica of Split Rock Lighthouse to incorporate into the course. He worked with Castle Miniature Golf to design his course.

A replica of Split Rock Lighthouse sits beside a water feature in the Black Beach Mini Golf course that recently opened in Silver Bay. Owner David Klemmer worked with his neighbor and father to build the piece for his course.
Contributed / Black Beach Mini Golf
A replica of Split Rock Lighthouse sits beside a water feature in the Black Beach Mini Golf course that recently opened in Silver Bay. Owner David Klemmer worked with his neighbor and father to build the piece for his course. Contributed / Black Beach Mini Golf

"I figured that's a pretty iconic symbol for the North Shore, so I wanted to add it in for some local flavor," Klemmer said. "I'd like to also add in an ore boat and a placard with info on the Temperance River for our visitors over the next year or so."

Both courses opened over the past month, with Black Beach opening Aug. 7 and Greens on Foreteenth opening on Labor Day weekend.

Another Northland mini-golf course is still set to open next season. Luke Lindstrom has been working with his mother and business partner, Kim Sorenson, to create an 18-hole outdoor mini-golf course at the corner of Boundary Avenue and Waterview Drive in Proctor.

"We think it'll be really good for the area," Lindstrom said. "My mom has wanted to do it for a long time now and it worked out for us to team up and get this started."

COVID-19 has been a hindrance to the project, as it's both raised the demand and price for supplies necessary to build the course.

"I wrote the business plan over a year ago, but it's been a long process," Lindstrom said. "As with any business, there's always a lot of hoops to jump through."

The business hopes to hold a groundbreaking soon and to open in the spring.

Greens on Foreteenth miniature golf course owners Tanya and Steve Carlson stand beside the street signs marking the corner of their new course lot before it was created this summer. 
Contributed / Greens on Foreteenth
Greens on Foreteenth miniature golf course owners Tanya and Steve Carlson stand beside the street signs marking the corner of their new course lot before it was created this summer. Contributed / Greens on Foreteenth

Both Black Beach and Greens on Foreteenth are open and ready for players for the next month. As they're both outdoor courses, they'll close sometime in October and open again in the spring. So far, they both say they've been embraced by their communities.

"We've been really active on Facebook with our visitors," Tanya said. "If you get a hole-in-one, we'll take your photo and post it on our page. Between those posts, we've just seen a lot of interest and we hope it continues."

"We've seen more visitors than I hoped and I'm excited to see what happens in the next year," Klemmer said.

A large water feature weaves its way through the Black Beach Mini Golf course near Silver Bay. The course opened Aug. 7, 2021, and has been open daily.
Contributed / Black Beach Mini Golf
A large water feature weaves its way through the Black Beach Mini Golf course near Silver Bay. The course opened Aug. 7, 2021, and has been open daily. Contributed / Black Beach Mini Golf