People of a certain age will remember when Putt-Putt golf courses existed in every town.

They’re still around here and there. They feature 18 carpeted golf holes, each one containing a hazard that ranges from simple to diabolical. The best is the loop-de-loop, which forces the player to hit the ball into a metal loop that, successfully addressed, carries the ball down the carpet toward the hole. It’s big fun.

Putt-Putt is not to be confused with so-called goofy golf, which typically features fake dinosaurs, tiny elves, odd mythical creatures, and artificial farm animals. You’re asked to putt between the pig’s legs or into the dinosaur’s mouth or under the dragon’s wings. These courses often are located in big tourist destinations. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for example, is a goofy golf capital.

Putt-Putt has a long history, and its holes rarely have strange animals. Playing well on a Putt-Putt course is all about speed and geometry. It’s critical to understand the angles and where a ball will go if it’s hit into the wooden boards forming the hole. Par on most Putt-Putt holes is two, and top-of-the-line players are disappointed if they don’t score an ace on every hole.

Here’s the question regarding Putt-Putt and real golf: How can someone be pretty good at Putt-Putt and pretty rotten at putting on golf course greens? 

Asking for a friend.

I haven’t played Putt-Putt in years. There used to be a great course about 10 miles from my house and, as a teenager, I played there at least once a week. It was a great place to shoot for holes-in-one, eat ice cream, and chase girls. I was pretty successful with the ice cream.

Actually, I was OK on the course, too. Didn’t have many holes-in-one but usually avoided the dreaded three. My scorecard was populated by a series of twos.

The toughest hole on the course was on the back nine. The cup was located in the center of an elevated area, and four small poles guarded the rise to the hill. The trick was to hit the ball with the speed necessary to make the top of the rise but not enough to cause the ball to hit the backboard and roll off the hill. My hopes for a bogey-free round typically ended there.

The course eventually closed. I guess I should have played more often.

Crazily enough, when I started playing real golf, putting on greens with irregularities like bumps and valleys and buried elephants presented my biggest challenges. 

I tried to reach back into my memories to benefit from my Putt-Putt days, but real grass didn’t relate very well to green carpet, so all that money and time I spent playing Putt-Putt lost its value quickly when I moved into the real game.

At most Putt-Putt courses (and also at most goofy golf courses), the 18th and the final hole are positioned so that when the ball drops into the hole it goes into a tunnel and into a collection area. Back in the day, this engineering marvel kept smart kids from carrying those colorful Putt-Putt balls home.

Losing one’s ball on a hole is the one thing that didn’t change when I evolved from Putt-Putt to golf.

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.