It’s funny the things that we carry with us.
When I was a kid in Northern Indiana, mini golf was all the rage. In fact, Putt-Putt specifically was so ubiquitous that the brand name became the generic term for the activity.
Even today, not having seen a Putt-Putt course in years, when I want to take the kids mini golfing, I say, “Let’s go play some Putt-Putt.”
I even sing the little theme song that occupies a special corner of my mind right next to the Oscar Meyer Weiner theme.
Putt-Putt for the fun of it – Putt-Putt for the fun of it – Putt-Putt makes it fun.
Being in marketing in the 70s and 80s was just a license to print money. We were all captive to three TV stations and whatever we heard on local radio. Mad Men were geniuses? Get out of here with that noise.
The truth is, friends, I never Putt-Putted for the fun of it.
As a child – even as a younger man – I was a hyper-competitive little rage monster. If things were going well? The birds would sing, the air filled with rainbows, I’d flit from hole to hole like a Shakespearean fairy. The world was, in fact, sunshine and lollipops.
But let a ball lip out? Let a ball deflect off the windmill or carom the wrong way off a bunker? Oh, it was dark then. Anger. Happy Gilmore at his worst. And if – God forbid – I lost? I was a sullen little man.
I’m better now. Years of covering – and then coaching – youth sports helped me see that I didn’t want to be like that anymore.
But I have been blessed with competitive children. My oldest daughter has never been as bad as I was. But we’ve worked a lot learning to be able to graciously accept defeat.
Really, Sofia only struggles when competing with her little brother – who may be more like I was. When the two of them compete, it can be a swirling vortex of poisonous competition.
Even the littlest one is careful to check strokes. So far, I’ve been able to assure her that she has the most strokes and that satisfies her.
“Am I winning?” she’ll ask.
“You’ve got more strokes than anybody,” I’ll reply as she taps the ball 15 times in eight feet, gently course-correcting the ball as it rolls towards the hole. “Maybe the most strokes of anybody who’s ever played here.”
But God help us all if she ever learns how golf scoring actually works.
I’ve found a lot of places have started using mini golf as an add-on. Set up a small, outdoor course without a lot of gimmicks next to an arcade or a go-kart track.
For example, instead of elaborate themes, they use subtle changes in elevation of the green and tricky angles to make the courses tougher.
We played one like that recently. And on the first hole, I didn’t realize a “sand trap” was actually indented into the course and stepped on the edge. I twisted my ankle and fell hard, greeting the Earth with my face.
At any rate, I prefer the old-fashioned courses, fun places where the whole family can play and where I can use the promise of ice cream afterward to force an uneasy truce amongst my children.
For the record, the best places not in Gatlinburg are Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf in Pigeon Forge and Ripley’s Old Macdonald’s Farm course in Sevierville.
We also love Crave and Toy Box Mini Golf in Pigeon Forge. You can save $3 when you purchase two courses online with promo code CGCTSC at Crave Golf Club mini golf.
But in Gatlinburg? Here are the best places to mini golf when you’re right next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
6. Ripley’s Super Fun Zone
Just kind of an add-on to all the other stuff going on in the Super Fun Zone.
It’s an 18-hole indoor miniature golf course, your $19.99 ticket gets you mini golf and laser tag. Be sure to check out combo passes on additional Ripley’s attractions.
5. Treasure Quest Miniature Golf
This 18-hole indoor course is perfect for a rainy day.
Although I’m not sure it would be my first mini golf destination if the sun was shining. I prefer the outdoor miniature golf courses most of the time. However, it’s better than sitting around the hotel room waiting for the sky to clear.
The theming is a little bit knockoff Indiana Jones, a little bit knockoff Jurassic Park. They’ve added five holes in “amazing blacklight” which is nice.
I saw someone refer to this as a great course for a beginner mini golfer, which sounds about right.
4. Amazing Mirror Maze & Circus Golf
According to the Mirror Maze website, Circus Golf is “Special FX blacklight mini golf, 1/2 circus funhouse, 1/2 golf, equals 18 holes of 100% fun.” I’ve checked the math. It adds up.
The website special for the Circus Mini Golf is $5.95 for all ages. There are also combo prices available. In fact, if you’re looking for blacklight miniature golf courses, this is one of the best.
3. Hillbilly Golf
Mini golf on the side of a mountain.
This Gatlinburg icon is still a fun and challenging pair of 18-hole courses located before you get into downtown Gatlinburg. It’s hillbilly themed with outhouses and moonshine stills.
There’s a little funicular to take you up to the top of the course.
It’s $13.50 per adult for the first round and $5.99 to play again. Children 4-12 are $9.50 and three years and younger can play for free.
It’s one of the few places I’ve been to in Gatlinburg where they tell you to call them if you see a bear.
2. Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini Golf
Most people would probably tell you they prefer Hillbilly Golf to Crockett. However, once the novelty of playing down a mountain wears off, Ripley’s Davy Crockett mini golf offers two different courses with theming around the Tennessee hero.
Indeed, it’s the right balance of challenge, novelty and fun. You can also win a free game on each course with a hole-in-one.
For adults 12 and up, 36 holes of golf will cost $16.99. For kids 3 to 11, it’s $11.99.
Remember, if you try a Ripley’s attraction, check out the combo passes to save money on each attraction.
1. Gatlin’s Mini Golf
Advertised as award-winning, apparently for the landscaping, Gatlin’s Mini Golf is one of the newest and best courses in Gatlinburg.
In fact, with “two award-winning” outdoor miniature courses, both set on a unique, serene hillside, Gatlin’s mini golf promises 45 holes of fun.
I assume the extra 9 holes come from the third – non-award winning – blacklight course but when people start throwing around terms like holes of fun, I tend to tread carefully.
Both of the 18-hole courses are historically themed. One is set in the time of the old days of the Cherokee and the other in the early days of Gatlinburg’s history when it was still known as White Oak Flats. Every hole tells the story of the area.
Certainly, it’s the perfect place for the family to have a great time.
Single activity tickets – which include golf, laser tag, blacklight golf, bumper cars, laser maze or atomic rush are $16. Combo pricing, which includes four activities, is $21.99.
Gatlin’s Unlimited Golf package, which is 18 outdoor holes per day and 9 black light holes for the length of your vacation, is $21.99. That’s a lot of entertainment value per dollar when you do the vacation math.
Remember, all prices are subject to change.
Do you have a favorite mini golf course in Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments!