On June 11, 1930, Rogue Valley embraced the country’s latest fad – what most called “miniature golf.”
The idea of miniature golf courses had been tried in various forms since the very beginning of outdoor play in the late 1800s; however, the public had never been more enthusiastic about hitting a small white ball into a hole than between 1929 and 1932.
Before the valley’s first resident sank his first putt, there were already 25,000 midget courses in the United States, and an unknown number in Europe and Australia. Even on ocean liners, courtyards have been installed on and under their decks, allowing passengers to spend pleasant hours on the high seas.
Robert Barker, a businessman from San Jose, California, had already installed miniature golf courses in a number of California towns, and in early 1930 he rented property at the corner of West Eighth Street and South Oakdale Avenue in Medford. In June, he opened his outdoor “Midget Golf Course” where you could “play this sporting game on this sporting 18-hole course”.
Open daily from 7 a.m. to midnight and lit by floodlights, adults paid 30 cents a game and children under 15 paid 15 cents. Children could only play in the morning, unless accompanied by adults.
Within days, weekly tournaments began with dozens of competitors vying for cash cups. In August, the Mail Tribune joined in the fun by offering $50 prizes to male and female entrants.
By then, Medford jeweler John Johnson had already drawn up plans in Los Angeles to convert his building at Eighth and Bartlett streets into an indoor miniature golf course, complete with an adjoining tea and refreshment room, a “high class music” and local scenes. views painted on the walls for an outdoor look.
There were rumors, soon to be confirmed, that another golf course would open on North Riverside in Medford.
Medford City Council members were already worried and receiving complaints.
‘So popular has the recently created miniature course proved,’ said a Mail Tribune reporter, ‘attracting hundreds of players and spectators, it is likely that the City Council will pass an ordinance charging a license fee for the operation of ‘a course, and possibly regulatory conditions.’
Hundreds of automobiles, if not just passing by, stopped on the street or parked erratically around the Oakdale course, especially at night. There were a few late-night drunks, fights, and annoying noises endured by nearby residents.
And yet there was an additional, as yet unwritten and embarrassing problem. There were no toilets nearby for those who wished to answer the call of nature in public.
The council imposed licensing fees and required that all miniature golf courses be sanitary.
Hearing their decision, Robert Barker announced that construction “would begin immediately on the toilet blocks which would be located on land adjoining the course”.
John Johnson’s course, ‘The Putt’, opened in October. The greens were covered with at least 700 pounds of Angora goat hair felt. The lighting system was identical to that used in actress Mary Pickford’s “$35,000 Midget Course in Beverly Hills”. Curious visitors would enjoy the view from the “spectator balcony” and enjoy “tasty sandwiches and drinks” in the oil-heated comfort.
By the summer of 1931, the year-long golf boom was over. Irvin Bowman, 19, one of the first players and winners of the tournament, now ran Robert Barker’s Oakdale course. Games are now 15 cents or two games for 25 cents.
The fashion had come to an end. ‘Midget Golf’ was lost in the Mail Tribune’s ‘On This Day’/’Flight O’ Time’ columns for decades.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “To Live and Die a WASP, 38 Women Pilots Who Died in WWII”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.