Putting at Windmills

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Tod ticks off the recipe for miniature-golf-design success. It is a short list. At the top is "theming," the collection of set pieces--windmills, storefronts, haunted houses--that lends the course personality.

"Good theming is very important," he says. "Pirates are all pretty cool these days, but I don't know how long they'll last . . ."

Thornton says the most unusual hole he's conceived was the 18th of a course in Baton Rouge that borrowed the Louisiana State University Tiger--the local college's mascot--as its theme.

While the themes may come and go, there is one constant in miniature golf that a designer ignores at his or her own peril: No one ever got rich overestimating the putting ability of the American people.

"A good hole must give the appearance of difficulty," he explains with finality, "but still give people a decent shot for a one- or a two-putt.

"People need that chance.

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Howard Stansfield