Putter's Primer

Castles 'n' Coasters
9445 North Metro Parkway East
(at Metrocenter)

When it opened in the early 1980s, Castles 'n' Coasters (nee Golf 'n' Stuff) forever changed the face of the Valley funscape.

In terms of escapism, CnC's four 18-hole courses--nestled into an Astroturf-and-concrete depression of roughly the same dimensions as Meteor Crater--are without peer. Architectural and cultural trappings ranging from Mission Revival to Oriental pagodas to Native American funerary pyres have been condensed to quarter scale and pressed into service.

Hole 12 on Course Three--the "Castle Hole"--is easily the park's most inspiring. Here, a player must putt up a steep ramp enveloped on both sides by the castle's flying buttresses. The effect is magnified by the castle's stunning level of detail.

The courses, which have the formal air of an English country garden, look as good as the day the park opened, thanks in part to a synthetic-turf budget that must rival the Astrodome's.

The park rewards the skilled player with ample opportunities for aces. Thankfully, novelties such as the swinging pendulum, which remove putting prowess from the equation, are employed with restraint.

The only downside to the links are their proximity to Interstate 17. On some holes, the roar of traffic on the other side of the chain-link fence shatters the idyllic setting--not to mention the concentration of any serious putter.

Outer Limits Family Fun Park
8850 East Indian Bend

Whether the motive was aesthetic or budgetary, the embellishments that cloak other Valley miniature links were held in check by designers here.

The restrained application of pirate ships, haunted houses and Old West storefronts only serves to reinforce the maxim that less is more.

At Outer Limits, the playing surfaces, not the set pieces, are the real attention grabbers. Here, holes show an uncommon flourish and attention to detail.

The park's marquee hole is No. 8 on the "Castle Cove" course. Easily 40 feet from tee box to tin cup, the fairway doglegs around a stand of hedges that obscures the view of the cup.

With its natural undulations, the effect is one of a "real" golf fairway rendered in miniature. That feeling is enhanced with the addition of dun-colored Astroturf "bunkers." While they won't trap a ball, they are quite capable of deflecting a putt.

Other holes on both courses also present water hazards in the form of small, shallow concrete ponds that jut into fairways.

155 West Hampton

Looming over the Superstition Freeway near Country Club Drive, Golfland is to Mesa what Castles 'n' Coasters is to Phoenix. In addition to three miniature-golf courses, the park offers fun-seeking East Valley denizens all they could hope for, including water slides.

Yet for a park that incorporates the word "golf" into its name, Golfland fails to make par.

The courses have all the subtlety and grace of a stretch of the nearby freeway. Clad in blue and red Astroturf, the layout seems to have been executed more with an eye toward speeding volumes of golfers along than with providing a pleasant respite.

The fairways exhibit broad, angular geometries more evocative of military earthworks than of miniature golf. The set pieces adorning many of the holes show an equal lack of refinement, many of them shellacked under thick coats of glossy enamel, giving them a '50s kitschiness.

There are bright spots, however. An overhead sluiceway of the type once found in mining operations is a nice touch.

The park's unique--and challenging--shot lies on hole No. 9 on the "Lost Dutchman" course. Here, players must putt through a metal loop; hit the ball too softly, and it succumbs to gravity before reaching the top of the loop; hit it too hard and it caroms off the course entirely.

Unfortunately, such flourishes are too few to offset the overall impression that Golfland's courses are more monuments to gratuitous engineering than putting paradise.

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Howard Stansfield