WMF organized its first ever European adventure golf tournament, World Adventure Golf Masters, in England on 13-14 May 2011. WMF has finally decided to try something different than the three traditional European styles of minigolf courses, hoping to find a recipe that helps the game to grow outside of Europe, where the sport has grown very slowly in the past decades.
The date for the tournament was chosen to be 13-14 May 2011 — the same weekend when USA had the US Open major tournament, Sweden had Elitserien team league, and Austria had LM championship tournaments, which occupy practically all players of the country. This conflict of dates with other big tournaments gave a laissez-faire atmosphere to the event long before it started: careless planning, "whatever happens, let it happen". I got the impression that WMF did not seriously do its best to organize a big international event. (I don’t want to suggest that something so small can happen when WMF actually tries its best.)
Anyway, WAGM had 30 players from 6 countries, not a bad result after all. And not just average second-class players, but very good players indeed, including two German Kader players (official national team candidates) Sebastian Kube and Oleg Klassen, and 1998 European Champion Thomas Giebenhain. The highlight of the event was a new country, Kosovo, participating in the event and playing some amazingly good game there.
The minigolf course was built by Castle Golf, one of the leading builders of adventure golf courses. I am sure that their minigolf courses are carefully optimized from the viewpoint of minigolf course owners, to entertain the paying public and make money. But for competition players the standard minigolf concept of Castle Golf has some essential negative details:
- The minigolf courses have a thick carpet with a long nap (hair), which always runs from end of the lane towards start of the lane. Playing the ball from the start of the lane, against the nap, is a bit like trying to stroke a cat from tail towards the head: it is not a very tender and smooth thing to do. I got the feeling that two shots, played with exactly the same force, sometimes had more than one meter difference in actual distance travelled by the ball. Usually in minigolf when you hit harder, the ball runs a longer distance. But here the ball sometimes bounced heavily against the nap and stopped quickly, and sometimes the ball rolled smoothly over the nap for a longer distance — with the same force used by the player. It was difficult to control the force of your shots as precisely as we are used to in minigolf sport.
- The 20 cm high walls start immediately at start of the lane, often making it very difficult for competition players to find a comfortable place where to stand while playing the first shot. I stood on the loosely moving gravel stones around the lanes most of the time, sometimes having my feet on two sides of a bush (this will be difficult when the bushes grow bigger), to the horror of the gardener who thought that I was stepping over the fruits of his hard work. The gardener addressed me with the famous quote "who do you think you are?" when I didn´t listen to his warning not to walk or stand near his carefully planted bushes. A conflict of interests, he had planted his bushes exactly where a competition player would want to stand when playing the first shot.
- The course included two "pipe lanes", a bit like lanes 3 and 4 of WMF standard beton courses: hit the ball through the pipe, and then hope that it goes to the hole. Or at least comes out of the pipe. The pipes had a design flaw, the straight pipe part was some millimeters higher than the first corner part of the pipe, so the ball could easily get stuck inside the pipe. I asked Mr. Zimmermann about this problem two days before the competition, hoping that he would ensure that the pipes are repaired before the competition. It is a "WMF certified" minigolf course anyway, this phrase must mean that somebody actually checks the technical quality of the minigolf course, does it? Maybe not, after all. The pipe number 15 was "repaired" two days before the competition, but so carelessly that it didn´t become much better than it was originally, and balls still got stuck inside the pipe during the competition.
You maybe want to hear the rule what to do when the ball gets stuck inside the pipe? I asked about the rule from Zimmermann, and he replied that he does not decide the rules, the organizing committee make their own local rules how they want. Now this is some laissez-faire, and of course the local rules were written the lucky way: if the ball gets stuck, then your next shot will be a putt from the green. One more point for you, bad luck mate.
About the other pipe number 11, the organizer Sean Homer assured Zimmermann that the pipe "has been cleand" and balls never get stuck inside it, so this pipe was never even inspected or repaired. My ball got stuck inside pipe number 11 during the last round, the sweet 25, giving me 2 points when I would have rather seen a hole-in-one in my scorecard. Bad luck mate, insert another coin, this could be your lucky day.
For the sake of fairness, it would be nice to see these same guys doing the same laissez-faire politics towards USA, with whom WMF has effectively broken all ties in the last two years. Because of two or three small rules which WMF absolutely demands USA to follow, and USA absolutely refuses to follow them. Just coincidentally, those rules have an economical interest behind them: allowing the use of special minigolf balls in American competitions would be economically profitable for the persons who decided that WMF will break ties with USA if they refuse to accept the rule. It´s the economy, stupid.
Germans won the team competition of World Adventure Golf Masters 2011, but with a surprisingly small score difference to British team 1, only 23 points, which is less than 1 point per player and round. The minigolf course was quite friendly for top-class players, it was possible to win more than 5 points from others in a single round, if you played 18 good shots during the round. I imagine that the course record, which now was set at 24 by Oleg Klassen, could easily be as low as 21 or even better, if a hundred top-ranked world elite players played a competition of 8 rounds there in good weather, total 800 rounds, from which one or two would probably become very sweet dream rounds.
The score difference between Germany and Britain remained small, both in the team competition and in individual competition, because British players are becoming better in the skills which are required in these style of minigolf courses. Germans certainly have a better endurance of high stress levels, but that is not needed when the minigolf course does not have any dangerous narrow obstacles anywhere. Germans should also have a better finesse for force of the shots, but that will not help much when playing against the nap which randomizes the force of your shots a bit. But most importantly, British minigolfers are becoming better year by year. The new Scandinavian standard felt course in London is producing new talents like mushrooms after rainfall. In fifth place of the individual competition, right between the row of German national team candidates, landed James Rutherford of Great Britain, a new rising star who started playing minigolf at the London felt course just half a year ago, and he has been playing nearly daily ever since, as he is employed as worker at the minigolf course. James has three years experience of golf too, so he has done some putting before in his life. We will hear more about the players of London felt course in future, I give you two names who especially impressed me with the natural talent of their only half-year long minigolf career so far:
- James Rutherford (5th in general category)
- Seth Thomas (16 years of age, winner of juniors category, 12th in general category)
A few words about my own competition experience. I travelled to Hastings with a steel putter, without a rubber in the club-head, planning to play the competition with a golf ball only. After five hours of practice on Monday, it became clear to me that using a golf ball was not a realistic option at this minigolf course, if you want to win someone. So I went back to my hotel room, attached a rubber to my putter, and behaved like a normal person for the rest of the week, just with the difference that my putter is half a meter longer than some others use, no less than 120 cm.
I also took my minigolf balls to the course, all 10 balls that I own nowadays (plus a dozen golf balls). That set of balls would be enough to play nearly any felt course in the world, but it was not enough for this adventure golf course, which required surprisingly many carefully chosen and fine-tuned minigolf balls. Especially the two pipe lanes, which I played the first competition day with my own balls, without getting any hole-in-ones. On the second competition day I borrowed balls from the Germans for the pipe lanes, and got 4 hole-in-ones with 6 attempts, and one ball stuck inside the pipe, and only one missing the hole after rolling out of the pipe. The pipes are where I lost most of the 6 points that I lost to the winner.
I travelled to Hastings looking for a more simple version of minigolf, where a big selection of fine-tuned special balls would have a smaller role for deciding the results. I did not find what I was looking for. But I found many great people and many new friends, including the Germans. Scandinavian felt minigolf still ranks on top of my list as the simplest and purest form of minigolf as a competition sport. American Putt-Putt minigolf would probably rank high on my list too, I cannot say for sure because I have never tried it. Maybe I will one day, who knows.