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
Journalist and novelist Andrew Martin is the author of the 'Jim Stringer' series of novels based around railways. He has written for the Independent on Sunday, the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times and the New Statesman among others.
Saturday 23 August 1997
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".
Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax
Life & Style blogs
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?
Black Friday: Best beauty deals
Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove 'stupid' sign suggesting superheroes are 'for boys'
Black Friday: best UK tech deals on iPads, Macs, PS4 and more
Black Friday: From Bicester Village to Amazon, best fashion deals
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Ukip mocked after mistaking Westminster Cathedral – for a mosque
Plebgate: Andrew Mitchell’s reputation in tatters as judge rules he used the word ‘pleb’
- 1 Shia LaBeouf claims he was raped during #IAMSORRY art installation performance
- 2 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
£25000 - £50000 per annum + £50,000 OTE + Car, Mobile, Benefits: h2 Recruit Lt...
£23200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...
Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: EAST ANGLIA - SENIOR SOLICITOR LEVEL ROLE** -...
£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continuing expansion, a ...