Putt Putt vs Mini Golf, Is There a Difference?

Hillbilly golf course in Gatlinburg

Mini golf courses have obstacles on the green, whereas Putt-Putt does not. Pictured: Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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The story of Putt-Putt mini golf courses begins, for me, with a jingle. 

There used to be a lot of jingles when I was young. Marketing earworms that burrowed into your brain and stayed with you for life. 

For life? Yes, for life. 

For example, watch this:

“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”

“My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R. My bologna has a second name it’s M-A-Y-E-R … I love to eat it every day … because Oscar Meyer has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A.”

I also remember:

“I’m a pepper. He’s a pepper. She’s a pepper. We’re a pepper wouldn’t you like to be a pepper, too?”

I haven’t had to use Google yet. 

Pieces of dozens of others are floating around there somewhere. 

The famous Putt-Putt jingle

And that brings us to this:

“Putt-Putt for the fun of it. Putt-Putt for the fun of it. Putt-Putt for the fun of it, Putt-Putt for the fun of it.” 

I can still do it note for note. 

By the time I became aware of the Putt-Putt company, it had been around for 30ish years. Its market share in the miniature golf courses game was so ubiquitous that the brand name (Putt-Putt) for the specific type of mini golf course became the general noun for all miniature golf locations. 

For example, we didn’t go to play mini golf, we went to putt-putt. But we called it that no matter what the name of the actual franchise was, even though Putt-Putt is a registered name.

It’s similar to how Xerox became the general word for any kind of copy machine. Or Kleenex became the name for any kind of facial tissue.

Crazy golf, mini golf, Putt-Putt Fun Center or whatever you want to call it, it was all the same to me.

And so I was shocked as an adult when I found out there are stark differences between a Putt-Putt course and other mini golf courses.

Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots at Toy Box Mini Golf
Mini golf courses traditionally have more obstacles and are considered to be fun for the whole family (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

The history of Putt-Putt

Putt-Putt was founded by a man who just wanted to show off his sweet putting skills without having to complete a dang obstacle course filled with pirate ships and different things. 

In 1954 a man named Don Clayton – frustrated with low-quality mini golf courses – opened Putt-Putt.

This concept was a “no frills, all skills” version of mini golf. Designed to be par 2, with a hole-in-one possible with a skilled putt, Putt-Putt courses were made to reward skilled players. 

Personally, I get the feeling Mr. Clayton may have been wound a little tight. As a North Carolina insurance executive on orders from his doctor to get a little rest, Clayton’s idea of rest was founding Putt-Putt. He even formed the Professional Putters Association which only competes on franchised courses. 

Certainly, I can remember playing on the old Spartan golf courses that Clayton designed. They sported orange and white facilities and nary a dinosaur or volcano to be found. 

Putt-Putt vs mini golf, what is the difference?

In short, Putt-Putt is a registered name that is made for players who are interested in the fewest strokes. Mini golf can be fun for the whole family and is more likely to feature obstacles and larger-than-life decorations.

Well, that seems a little unfair.

Putt-Putt is fun, too. It’s just a little more serious version of fun than Prof. J. Quakenbush’s mini golf adventure and gem mining emporium. 

In 1986, Putt-Putt changed the rules to allow decorative animals and other features to liven the place up, but only as decorations, never on the regular golf course.

Putt-Putt does allow for elevation changes and very rarely, minor water hazards. Maybe there’s even a slight change in the speed of the greens, but mostly it’s just you and your ability to ricochet your ball off the piping. 

The standard is an 18-hole course – just like regular golf – but some facilities may have multiple Putt-Putt courses. 

In the 1990s, Putt-Putt recognized the opportunity to upsell and realized that most of their franchises were in perfect spots to add to their offerings. Therefore, Putt-Putt Fun Centers added arcades, bumper cars, go karts and more. 

Read Also: Best mini golf in Gatlinburg: 6 top attractions, ranked [2022]

Crave Golf Club in Pigeon Forge
Crave Golf Club in Pigeon Forge offers an indoor and rooftop mini golf course (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Is there Putt-Putt in Sevier County?

There is not.

However, there are dozens upon dozens of mini golf options in Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.

There are two Putt-Putt courses in upper East Tennessee, one in Bristol and one in Kingsport.

There’s another course in Middle Tennessee in Mt. Juliet and one way over in Memphis, a six-hour drive or about the same amount of time as it takes to fly to England.

Gatlin's Mini Golf store front
Gatlin’s Mini Golf in Gatlinburg also offers mini golf in a great location along the strip (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What is mini golf called in the UK?

In the UK, it is minigolf, with no space or dash or hyphen.

The game, like regular golf, began in Europe with the first courses being located in Scotland or Germany, depending on who you believe. 

Read Also: Best mini golf in Pigeon Forge, ranked with coupons [2022]

An incline cart at Hillbilly golf
You can ride in this unique incline cart to Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg and play on top of a mountain (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Are golf balls and mini golf balls the same? 

No. Not really. In fact, normal golf balls have far more bounce in them and I’m not just talking about the high-test, competitive balls. Real golf involves distance, you want the ball to jump off the club face.

Golf putters in mini golf – especially those new to the game – tend to put too much oomph into their shots. If they were using ordinary golf balls, they’d be shooting chili peppers all over the place.

A round of golf would take hours and people would be chasing the bouncing ball everywhere. 

Read Also: Is there golf in Gatlinburg? These are the best Gatlinburg golf courses

A closeup of Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg
Hillbilly Golf is a mini golf course with several Appalachian-themed obstacles (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What is the difference between Putt-Putt and golf?

I mean aside from the distance, equipment and skill level required?

Regular golf doesn’t come with a stroke limit. If you’re dropping Titleist after Titleist into a creek or off a ravine, you just keep hacking away until shame or lack of golf balls drives you from the game.

Putt-Putt comes with a stroke limit of five strokes per hole. Can’t get it in the hole in 5? Shove off and let somebody else have a go. In both cases, a round of golf is 18 holes and the goal is to have the lowest number of strokes.

Regular golf allows you 14 clubs in your bag, although most non-pros I know carry quite a few more.

Putt-Putt? You get one club, pal – a cheap hunk of a metal putter – and you’ll like it.

Finally, Putt-Putt is a skills competition, not a competition to see who can buy the best equipment. 

Did you know there was a difference between Putt-Putt and mini golf? Let us know in the comments below.

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

1 thought on “Putt Putt vs Mini Golf, Is There a Difference?”

  1. I remember a miniature golf course just in the edge of Gatlinburg called Jolly Golf. It sat where Davy Crockett mini golf is now. It had huge figures, dinosaurs, bears, crabs, you name it. We played there every year on vacation, walking there from the center of town. (I think our parents planned that to make sure we kids slept through the night.) There were two 18 hole courses, and if you got a hole in one on #18, you won a free game.

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