Posting this on behalf of Justin Pelletier, a relatively new competitive minigolfer from Maine, USA.
Somewhere on the front nine of the second round of the Tabers Fall Classic in Auburn, Maine, on Oct. 11, I started thinking about prize payouts, late registrations and scoring updates. And live video. And photos.
My mind was everywhere but on the 14-inch putt in front of me. And I missed it. And another on the next hole. And another two holes later, and so on.
That second round was a mess. After a second-best 39 in the opening round — of my own tournament — I choked my way to a 46 in Round 2. While I recovered in the final round with a 41 to creep back into sixth place, it was disappointing.
I expect zero sympathy from any of my competitors on that day, nor anyone else reading this. Tournament mini golf is tough — tougher than every-day, play-with-your-pals or even practice-round mini golf — and everyone in the field is looking to achieve their own goal, whether to win or place at a certain level.
Hosting a tournament for the first time added a measure of difficulty for me, and I do honestly believe it cost me a few strokes over three rounds.
But was it worth it?
Early in the summer of 2015, an announcement popped up on Facebook for a new mini golf tournament at Tabers Lakeside Stand and Golf Center in Auburn, Maine.
As sports editor of the local newspaper at the time, it piqued my interest. As a competitive golfer, it really piqued my interest. But, first things first — I had to get the story. I interviewed Dan Hargreaves, owner of Tabers since 2008. I searched online for a few things about competitive mini golf, and came across The Putting Penguin. Either Pat or Mandy commented on Dan’s new tournament idea. So did Richard Gottfried in Great Britain. Anything new in tournament mini golf was a positive.
We ran a Sunday back page feature on the new venture at the end of July, one week before the inaugural event. Attendance was solid at that first tournament. I played. I did not win.
But I placed. And I wanted to come back and win the next year. And the next. In the first five years of the tournament, though, I finished in every money-place possible but first.
Despite the lack of winning, I was hooked. The problem was, we’re in Maine. Competitive mini golf doesn’t really happen in Maine.
Or so I thought.
Somewhere in the middle of 2018, I heard about this small gathering of mini golf professionals that happened every fall in Boothbay.
Boothbay? Boothbay, Maine?
Of course, I had just moved partially to Boston at that point, but I did some digging. I learned all about Lee Stoddard, and the amazing work he did building and promoting the game (and playing pretty well, too). His labor of love along Route 27 hosted the 2008 U.S. Open. And each autumn, the weekend after Labor Day, they hosted a sanctioned pro mini golf tournament.
I made the trip back to Maine in August for the re-branded Maine Mini Golf Open at Tabers, but I wasn’t able to take the time off to make it to Boothbay that year for the Dolphin Open.
And that is my loss. Lee passed away later that year. I never met him in person, but it made me steadfast in my resolve to finally play in that tournament the following season.
After a summer of nearly no practice, save for a few rounds and the requisite non-first-place finish at Tabers in the Maine Mini Golf Open, I showed up at Dolphin not knowing what to expect.
I was welcomed with open arms. I had known Pat Sheridan virtually for a few years, but the list of entrants was a who’s who of Northeastern U.S. pros: Pat, Randy Rice, Highlighter, Justin Seymour, Elmer Lawson. And then there was Lee’s family — literally and figuratively — who knew the course inside and out with their eyes closed.
I … did not. I muddled through the tournament over two days, got to know some folks and generally kept my distance. I also had to skip out as soon as it was over on Sunday morning to make it to Gillette Stadium in time for the Patriots game that night (yes, for work). But for a first true pro tournament effort? The experience was great. I was hooked before, but now the hook was set.
Before I even knew what I was doing, I signed up for another one — the following week, at the Matterhorn, just outside of Hartford, Connecticut.
The Connecticut pros had traveled for many years to Boothbay for the Dolphin Open. Now, here I am, an unseasoned wanna-be from Maine traveling to their home turf for a tournament on a course that is not only far tougher than Dolphin, but completely foreign to me.
Highlighter was extremely gracious when I arrived on the day of the tournament. We blazed through the course while he showed me some of the necessary shots to hit along the way.
I played, I didn’t embarrass myself, and had a blast. I zipped back to Boston that night, and along the way, started wondering why we couldn’t do something like this in Maine.
Enter 2020. What a nightmare for so many people, for so many different reasons, including me. In April, my job disappeared. I was already working remotely from Maine due to the early pandemic regulations, so on a personal level, it was just a matter of moving items and closing up living quarters.
On a professional and time-available level, helping my kids with their at-home Kindergarten was on the list, of course, but that wasn’t going to eat the 60-hours-plus per week I was working.
Time to think and work out plans bred the thought of a Maine Mini Golf Tour. And as businesses began to reopen around the state, among the first to do so, given their ability to keep people scheduled, at distance and outdoors, were mini golf courses.
So, I went to work.
With the extra time and a pair of very willing helpers — my six-year-old twin daughters — we navigated the mini golf courses across the state, from Wells to Bangor and everywhere in between. My very understanding wife, all-too-willing kids and I played nearly every single mini golf course in Maine over the summer.
I established social media accounts for the fledgling idea, and began to grow an audience.
And to test the idea of the average mini golfer being enticed to play competitively, I partnered with Dan at Tabers to form a league. The six-week effort culminated in his sixth annual Maine Mini Golf Open. I raised some local sponsorship for some prizes, and Dan allowed me to turn the entry fees back around into cash prizes, as well.
In all, more than 40 golfers joined us for the six-week league, including eight different junior players, who competed each week for their own prizes.
I didn’t make a dime. Dan’s on-site restaurant at Tabers got a little extra business, people got prizes and were generally very happy about being able to play for something each week while having fun.
We added a Fall League to the schedule, but, given the short time frame we work with weather-wise in Northern New England, that was a four-week effort. Still, we crowned a champion, and finished with a flourish, the inaugural Fall Classic. We partnered with new local radio station 105.5 WIGY for the prize money, and kept up a massive social media presence in the weeks leading to the tournament.
Given the uncertainty with travel, the fact that we were up against the USPMGA Masters this year didn’t hurt us, but we’ll definitely keep a close eye on that schedule for next fall.
So, where are we now?
For Maine mini golfers, we’ve hit what can only be described as the “long, cold offseason.” As I’m writing this it’s 45 degrees with a cold rain pelting the car roofs outside, and it won’t be long before those raindrops turn into billowy flakes of snow settling just so on windshields and browned-up lawns.
This summer, the very first indoor mini golf course in Maine opened in tourist hot-spot Old Orchard Beach, but announced that given the still-stringent health guidelines that they’d be closing for the winter months, with a target reopening in the spring.
That leaves us with about five months of down time to plan, make phone calls and line up sponsors for our most ambitious project yet: A statewide Maine Mini Golf Tour.
The goal is to secure at least 10 events across the state throughout the summer, play them at less-than-peak times on a variety of courses to give people from various corners of the map the chance to play and win. Preliminary plans include a season-long points system for those who want to travel to the different courses and play all of the events, or even for those who can make only a handful.
We’re also hopeful to add a second “major” to the schedule, beyond the Maine Mini Golf Open at Tabers, at a different location in Maine. This is in addition to continuing to build up the weekly league at Tabers, and at adding a league at any other course that would like to partner up with us to bring fun, competitive mini golf to their corner of Maine.
Organizing and building the base of players and courses in Maine is a labor of love. It’s a blast.
And it’s exhausting.
Physically, not so much, perhaps. But on Hole 1 of the second round of the Fall Classic, a hole I’ve aced plenty and more often than not record a deuce, I slid my second putt past the hole. I couldn’t even blame the metal cup. I missed it entirely.
As golfers made the turn to Round 2 behind me, I started looking to take photos. I watched the scoring area to make sure everyone’s scorecards were being handed in properly. Another putt on Hole 3 slid by. And on Hole 4. Treys on 6, 8 and 9 followed. Well, so much for contending at the top.
My poor play continued through Round 2 and onto the front nine of Round 3, as well, where I carded five more 3s. But I dialed it in on the back, scored an 18 to finish with a 41 and creep back into the money in sixth place.
More than two dozen people had a blast, though. Dan was awesome to deal with and was happy. The multiple prize winners were happy. And it really feels like this is just the start of some pretty awesome things for Maine mini golf.
So, sixth place? Yeah, that’s a win in my book!