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Putt-Putt Fun Center is the name of a chain of family amusement centers and miniature golf courses in the United States, Australia, Indonesia, Korea, and Lebanon. Although the official name of the company is Putt-Putt Fun Center, since the company's founding in 1954 Putt-Putt has marketed franchises under the names of Putt-Putt Golf, Putt-Putt Golf and Games, and Putt-Putt Fun Centers.
The chain is known primarily for its development of its Putt-Putt brand of miniature golf, however Putt-Putt locations may include indoor activities such as restaurants, laser tag, video arcades; and outdoor activities including miniature golf, kiddie rides, bumper boats, batting cages, climbing walls, and go-karts.
The company was begun by Don Clayton in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1954, where he created the first course. He charged 25 cents per game, and in 1955 the company began franchising and expanding to new locations. By 1959, the first professional Putt-Putt Tournament was played, and in 1960 Putt-Putt went international, opening locations in South Africa, Australia, and Japan. The heyday for Putt-Putt was in the 1980s as they added additional attractions (like video game rooms) to their facilities. At one time there were over 265 Putt-Putt locations in the United States containing more than 1,000 18-hole golf courses.
Founder Don Clayton retired in 1994, and his daughter Donna took over as chairman. Clayton died in April 1996 at age 70. David Callahan became CEO of Putt-Putt Golf Courses of America in 2000, where he started putting plans to revive the company, which had gone from 105 courses to 70, into action. By 2004, Putt-Putt Fun Center began advertising additional services with the intention of "trying to re-brand with a new concept", in the words of Mr. Callahan.
Miniature golf vs. Putt-Putt
There are several significant differences between Putt-Putt's brand of miniature golf and other versions:
- Par is set at 2 without exception on each Putt-Putt hole; in other varieties of mini-golf, par typically varies from 2 to 6. (Prior to 1960, par for an 18-hole round on a Putt-Putt Golf Course was 48, with 12 holes assigned a par of 3. The birth of the Professional Putters' Association, with scores of 30 or less for 18 holes being common, resulted in the lowering of the par the next year.)
- Putt-Putt's short holes are designed so that a hole-in-one can be scored on each hole with a skillful putt, often through the use of banking; the metal rails facilitate accurate caroms. Most mini-golf courses include holes that are impossible to ace, and those that can be aced often rely on luck due to extremely long holes and randomly placed obstacles. Additionally, the borders of each hole usually are made of rocks or uneven brick, making accurate banking difficult.
- When playing Putt-Putt, a player finishes a hole before the next player takes his first putt. In miniature golf, typically, each player takes his first putt, then the player farthest from the hole takes his second putt, as in real golf.
- Traditionally, Putt-Putt courses have no over-riding "theme" and have a spartan look about them. Many traditional miniature golf courses have themes (such as a story book or a religious theme), while more modern mini-golf courses twist in and around manmade mountains, lakes, caves and waterfalls, with the resulting water and elevation changes often in play. Recently, themes such as jungles and volcanos have been making their way to Putt-Putt courses, complete with caves, foliage and plaster animals, though the themes never come into play.
- Obstacles in Putt-Putt are limited to small hills, metal blockers, pipes, and rarely, small water hazards. Mini-golf obstacles know no limits, including boulders, windmills and other moving obstacles, bridges, ramps and loops.
- Putt-Putt courses reward holes-in-one with a ticket that typically allows the player a free game if he collects three, or in some cases a scratch-off game card. In addition, the player's ball (red, green, blue or yellow) is traded in for an orange ball, which prevents the player from claiming an additional ticket for that round. Some courses use a set of lights to allow the winning of tickets only for two colors of ball at a time, and announce the names of the golfers who score winning holes-in-one.
- Generally, Putt-Putt golf courses are considered more appropriate for competition; miniature golf tournaments are popular at Putt-Putt courses but rare at other courses, due to the difference in skill level required. The rare ESPN-televised miniature golf tourney is always at a Putt-Putt course.