New York Times: Putt-Putt is not a generic name for miniature golf. It is the brand name of a company that builds and franchises a particular style of miniature golf course designed specifically to make competitive putting possible. For something that sounds as if it was named by a child, Putt-Putt has a surprisingly grown-up creation story. The first Putt-Putt course was designed in 1954 by Don Clayton, a 28-year-old insurance salesman trying to stave off a nervous breakdown. Clayton was otherwise successful and healthy, but one day he went to a doctor in his hometown, Fayetteville, N.C., complaining of a strange symptom: sometimes while driving in his car, he found himself crying. The doctor ordered a monthlong vacation. Clayton decided to relax by playing miniature golf, which turned out to be a bad idea, since there are few things more challenging to sanity than missing short putts, especially when the cause is poor design or an errant windmill.
To keep his wits intact, Clayton sat down at his dining-room table and drew up on 3-by-5 cards a set of holes that were tough but fair. His version of the game would feature holes bordered by standard rails, smooth, feltlike carpets and obstacles that would punish only poorly struck putts. Clayton had intended to call his version of the game Shady Vale Golf, but while filling in forms at the bank he realized that he was not sure how to spell ”Vale,” so he called it Putt-Putt instead. The Putt-Putt design made the game more like billiards in the consistent nature of the surface and the central role of the bank shot.
Before long, Clayton had created an entertainment empire based on the concept that it should be possible to ace every hole, but only with a perfectly conceived and struck putt. By keeping windmills and fiberglass jungle animals off the fairways, Clayton all but removed luck from his version of miniature golf, and his spare, tranquil courses, sold as franchises but built according to his strict rules of design, became the Zen gardens of the early American highway system. The Putt-Putt chain still stretches around the planet from North Carolina to Australia, by way of Cape Town, Beirut and Seoul.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.