Minimizing the flat stick shots is a surefire way to bring scores down and improve handicaps. It’s arguably the easiest part of the game to improve, since practice opportunities are so readily available. Apart from putting at home into cups or onto beer mats, or between sticks or tees, can mini-golf help?
There are a myriad of sophisticated practice gadgets such as Trueline Putting Coach or Putting Alley available to us. None of these home-spun or store-bought methods take up much space and will certainly bring positive results when used regularly. So this begs the question: can playing mini-golf improve putting to the same degree as other tried and tested methods? Does it improve putting at all? Will a round of mini-golf with the kids each week be the only putting practice required in order to see a noticeable improvement to your putting stats?
Several trips to the local mini-golf center, with and without children in tow, highlighted both the opportunities and perils that loom there for the amateur golfer who might be looking to improve putting performance. Let’s focus on the opportunities first.
The benefits of mini-golf
The good news is that mini-golf will force you to read and plan your putt carefully — no harm in that! The plan to ricochet the ball off three surfaces before weaving it around a spinning pink elephant to get within a gimme of the hole will never be repeated on any golf course. Nonetheless, the planning of the shot will engage our brain in thoughts about speed, tempo, direction and line.
Despite the need to dodge windmill blades and water hazards, the fact remains that the ball needs to be hit cleanly, no matter what line and direction are being taken. So, focusing on good central contact between ball and putter — easy back and forward strokes — must be beneficial. Any and all chances to swing a putter, pendulum-like, back and through the ball cleanly is an opportunity not to be missed or under-estimated.
The chance to take the kids out while practicing putting is mutually beneficial. Rather than slinking off to the club to practice, why not notch up brownie points by ensuring that everyone wins from the outing? It’s also a chance to introduce younger ones to one aspect of the glorious game and see how they fare. Many a touring pro had his or her interest piqued by a game of mini-golf at a young age!
The downside of mini-golf
It’s not all good news, though. The conditions of play at most mini-golf centers do not come anywhere close to replicating the putting conditions on course. A felt surface or AstroTurf over concrete makes for fast putting, but it cannot be compared with Augusta, folks!
The rock-hard surface might play havoc with pace and smooth swinging, and before you can say “ace” your natural putting rhythm has pulled back, as adjustments are made for the super fast and hard pitch. Also, the putters issued as rentals at the mini-golf center generally don’t have Scotty Cameron etched on the bottom. They are often heavy steel rods with a blade of iron at the bottom, pockmarked and chipped from the thousands of frustrated Dad’s or Mom’s crunching them into the concrete curbs after a poor stroke.
These blades are akin to something found at the back of granddad’s shed. In other words, nothing like the putter of choice in the bag at home. The risk here is that with a few games of mini-golf under the belt each week, there will also be necessary adjustments required for the differently weighted club. This has danger written all over it!
Similarly, calculating the shot at mini-golf more resembles billiards in the sense, generally speaking, that it is rarely a straight shot. Instead, high school trigonometry skills are required to calculate the angles and number of surfaces required to reach the hole. Again, the danger here is that it doesn’t remotely resemble either authentic practice or real putting conditions. Balls are often poor quality, unlike game day usage, and bobble along at varying speeds seemingly taking unexpected turns.
Does mini-golf help or harm?
The burning question is this: can playing mini-golf do any harm to your putting? On balance, the response is likely no, so long as it is not the only putting practice opportunity that is taken. It’s a fun outing for the family and will do your putting no harm at all, but the broader approach is to get home, return to the trusted aids and use tested equipment to ensure that the mini-golf does not alter your tempo, rhythm or read.
Better still, take your own putter and ball to the mini-golf center and bring a degree of authenticity to the experience. Golf is an enduring challenge that benefits from any practice — even mini-golf!
— N. Incoll