Modern Times: Still crazy

Since its heyday, when it rivalled cinema to its present faded charm, crazy golf has caught the imagination of leisure-seekers and architects. Photographer Liam Bailey tours the cream of Europe's courses. Text by Andrew Martin

Almost everyone has played crazy golf, yet the game has received little formal recognition. There is no Association of Crazy Golfers (which is probably just as well), and newspaper coverage is rare. Although the tabloids couldn't believe their luck two years ago, when it was announced that a crazy golf course was being built at Broadmoor. "Obviously," a spokesman was reported as saying, "not all the patients are well enough to be given putters to play with."

The game - and this novelty spin-off from straight golf can hardly be called a sport - is rumoured to have British origins, but what is known for certain is that it achieved its zenith in Depression-era America. It was cheap entertainment, and provided levity at the time of Prohibition. Crazy golf became so popular, in fact, that it rivalled movie-going, and the big Hollywood studios banned their stars from being photographed as they addressed a ball before some mini switchback or little windmill with fiendishly positioned sails.

American Crazy Golf faded somewhat in the Fifties, when many courses were turned into car lots, and television began to take hold. But it has endured - in slightly reduced circumstances - on both sides of the Atlantic. Brighton has four courses, and there is one in every Butlin's. It has also made its mark all over the world, as Liam Bailey's pictures testify.

The game's popularity is not hard to fathom. It has an appealing absurdity. The slightest breeze can send the ball bobbling away before one has started one's backswing, and the obstacles often allow so little margin for error that a score of, say, 107 for a single hole is not unusual (purists say you should move on after six shots). It is a parody sport, in which nobody cares who wins, a valuable corrective to an increasingly competitive world. The only way you can make a fool of yourself whilst playing crazy golf is to resist being made a fool of.

"It's good fun," says Nigel Clarke, golf professional at Burgh Hill Valley Golf Club near Hereford, in an only slightly condescending tone. "And, let's face it, you've usually had a couple of drinks when you play. Of course, the equipment is the very worst available. The balls are out of shape and the clubs - well, if they were any good, people would steal them." Is he aware of any professional who's come up through crazy golf? "No," he says, suddenly severe. "I am not."

The other part of the game's appeal is the witty architecture of the courses. Traditionally, the first hole of the 18 will be fairly plain: just a keyhole-shaped area of concrete, say - hardly crazy at all. But thereafter the fun begins. Liam Bailey has photographed one hole, in Hemsby, East Anglia, in which the ball must pass through an ice-cream van; and another, in Margate, where the ball engages with a dry waterwheel. But that's nothing compared to some he's seen. "At the Sheraton Hotel, Cuncum, Mexico," he recalls, "there's a hole where you've got to get the ball up a Mayan god's bum."

Bailey particularly likes the Henry Moore-ish primitivism of a boulder- cluttered course in Grotte de Gargas on the Franco-Spanish border, and the stark, East European brutalism of a course in Bratislava, one hole of which is surrounded by a miniature, modernist Stonehenge. His particular favourite, though, is a course in Hove, which has the luminous hues of Pop Art.

Bailey has yet to encounter a course which is consciously created as art, he believes, but he intends to put that to rights. For next year's Photo '98 festival, he is proposing to supervise the building of a crazy golf course in York, which will refer to "the 12 organic systems of the human body. One hole, for example, will represent the digestive tract."

Bailey also recently proposed to Channel Four the idea of Pro-Celebrity Crazy Golf, and the suggestion came dangerously close to being accepted. "Lee Hurst was up for presenting it," says Bailey, "and, for the first game, we'd pencilled in Ian Wright against Lady Olga Maitland." But Bailey's concluding thought on the game is surprisingly sombre. "A nuclear wind," he says, "would erase everything above 10cm in height, which means that crazy golf might survive, and it could end up as the only pan-national evidence of our existence. Extra-terrestrial visitors might be confused".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
News
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

    Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line IT Support / Senior Engineer / Support Analyst

    £24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

    Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive - OTE £60,000

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recognised as one of the fastes...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - Refrigeration

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor