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Article

Why is Myrtle Beach Known as the Mini Golf Capital of the World?

  By  Kathryn Hedgepath
Myrtle Beach Mini Golf Balls

A Navy transport van barrels through a busy intersection, jumps the curb and inadvertently drives halfway up the side of a volcano. 

“Cut!,” yells famed actor/director Dennis Hopper.

He is on the set of the last feature film he ever directed — the only comedy — called Chasers, which was shot in 1994.

The volcano in question was not on a South Sea island, it was located right here in North Myrtle Beach on a mini golf course known as Hawaiian Rumble.

A New York Times review of "Chasers" describes the course as "yielding plenty of local color for a director who enjoys staging a fight scene on a miniature golf course.” In my book, Myrtle Beach Movies, the section on "Chasers" describes Hawaiian Rumble as being "to miniature golf what Augusta National is to the PGA."

Though visitors may not immediately recognize its impact on the sport locally, this long-running course has become one of the most important putt-putt places in a town filed with nearly a century worth of miniature golf history. 

Over the years, it's storied courses like this, plus the overall density of miniature golf options along the Grand Strand that have helped the Myrtle Beach area become known as "The Mini Golf Capital of the World."

mini golf course

The Home of US Pro Mini Golf

Named “one of the golfiest, must-see places in America” by Golf Magazine, Hawaiian Rumble has been featured by media outlets all over the world, including on Atlas Obscura, The Travel Channel and NBC’s Today Show to name a few.

The course’s centerpiece is a 40-foot volcano that erupts flames about every twenty minutes. 

Bob Detwiler is both the owner of Hawaiian Rumble and the President of the United States Pro Mini Golf Association (USPMGA) which hosts the annual Mini Golf Masters tournament of that organization annually at Hawaiian Rumble. 

According to Detwiler, mini golf brings in approximately $25 million in revenue to the Grand Strand annually with the Masters tournament being responsible for about $2 million worth of that income each year. There are currently 31 total mini golf courses in the area ranging from as far north as Little River south to Murrells Inlet. 

The USPMGA organizes tournaments throughout the country on a regular basis and is the only US member of the WMSF (World Minigolf Sports Federation) which includes 30 member nations from all over the globe.

Some of America’s best players who compete in the World Championships come from the USPMGA tour and The USPMGA’s Team USA Training Center is headquartered in North Myrtle Beach. 

Since the turn of the century, the WMSF has been a Provisional member of the General Association of the International Sports Federation (GAISF). 

That affiliation goes a long way towards potentially one day making mini golf an Olympic sport. 

The Early Days of Mini Golf

The beginnings of this now-beloved leisure activity are a bit foggy, but its birthplace seems to be the same as golf itself, St. Andrews, Scotland.

In the 1867, a Ladies Putting Club was constructed there to offer women a place to play golf, as the societal norms of the time often excluded them from the sport. The course was designed with shorter holes, paving the way for what would eventually evolve into modern mini-golf.

After several decades of being an accompaniment to traditional golf, the sport crossed the Atlantic in the early 20th century and began to develop its own identity.

The first patented mini-golf course in the U.S. was Thistle Dhu ("This'll Do"), created in 1916 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. This course was designed to mimic a miniature version of a full-scale golf course, featuring artificial greens made from a mixture of cottonseed hulls, sand, oil, and dye. This innovative approach allowed for the game to be accessible and enjoyable in a much smaller space, catering to the casual leisure market.

It was fully embraced in this country by the late 1920s and it is estimated that around 25,000 miniature golf courses existed nationwide by August of 1930. This was around the same time the first course was built here at the beach, on the corner of 9th Avenue North and Kings Highway.

Though the Great Depression slowed the sport's expansion, this era saw the proliferation of rooftop courses in urban areas, making efficient use of limited space and offering city dwellers an affordable form of entertainment.

Post-Depression, the sport's popularity was revived and this era was characterized by the rise of elaborate and fantastical course designs, featuring whimsical obstacles such as windmills, castles, and loop-the-loops. These features were not only entertaining but also challenged players' putting skills in creative ways.

Carpet Mini Golf at Gay Dolphin Amusement Park
An early Carpet Golf course in the Myrtle Beach area in the 1960s.

Growing up in the Mini Golf Capital

Growing up in Myrtle Beach in the late 1960s and 1970s miniature golf has always been part of my life. Until I wrote this article, I didn’t realize that someone could be a mini golf snob, but I suppose I am. 

Of all of the amusements that were available to my family growing up, mini golf was our go-to choice. 

Though I’ve never put my foot on an actual golf course,at a young age my dad took me to Divine’s Sporting Goods — the precursor to the big box sports suppliers of today— to get a putter that was just my size. 

We went putt putting often, exploring the area's many courses. Unlike the early courses mentioned above, the miniature golf experiences here weren't just windmills and castles, they were much more.

In my dad’s last decade, when his body was still strong but his memories were fading, we bonded over countless rounds of miniature golf with our annual passes to a collection of the area’s best courses. 

Part of what makes us the Mini Golf Capital of the World is the vast selection of unique experiences our courses offer — often transporting you to a different world that you have to traverse exciting terrain and climb multiple stairs to explore. 

The "Golf"-Father

Most, if not all, of the area's best courses during my childhood were designed by Myrtle Beach native James “Poddy” Bryan, whom Sports Illustrated magazine deemed as the Father of Modern Miniature Golf. 

He was the grandson of one of first leaders of the Myrtle Beach Farms Company now known as Burroughs and Chapin — the company behind every major tourist attraction in Myrtle Beach in the twentieth century.

A big part of that tourism empire included building lots of mini golf golf courses over the years. They were relatively economical to build, and they appealed to multiple generations of the families who vacationed and lived here. 

Throughout my lifetime, I was lucky to have experienced the Golden Age of Myrtle Beach Mini Golf — The Era of Poddy Bryan.

It was a magical time for many, both locals and visitors, who experienced the fun of courses with names like Tropical Village, Pelican Point, Rainbow Falls and many more. These multi-level mammoths were a big change from the era of "carpet golf" courses like the original one at the oceanfront Gay Dolphin amusement park along the boardwalk.

I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Bryan once when my dad introduced me to him as we stopped by a course that he was just about to complete in the 1970s. Even as a child, I considered myself a fan of his work and recall being very excited to try out his latest creation.

My recollection of him was that he was humble and hardworking man, though I had no idea at the time just how accomplished he was. 

Bryan's Crown Jewel

Bryan went on to design approximately twenty courses in the Myrtle Beach area and responsible for more than 200 nationwide, but of all his work, the crowning glory was his final design in Myrtle Beach, Mt. Atlanticus Minotaur Golf, which opened in 1998 and still stands today at the corner of 8th Avenue North and Kings Highway.

It was built on top of the former Chapin Department Store, a perfect location for his final project, as Mr. Chapin himself had once handpicked Poddy’s grandfather to run the store when it started in 1927. 

This magical, multi-level course features two 18-hole courses with putting greens five stories high and overlooking the ocean. It uses a unique, fantastical theme filled with magical characters including Minotaurs, mermaids and dragons, and provides a unique experience unlike any other in Myrtle Beach — of the world!

According to Poddy’s daughter, just before the course's completion in July 1998, he spent the night in a sleeping bag under a tiki hut at the top of Mt. Atlanticus during a minor hurricane to prove the safety of his design.

Has there been a more conscientious contractor in the history of miniature golf design?  I dare say not. 

PopStroke Myrtle Beach aerial of building and putting greens

The Future of Myrtle Beach Mini Golf

Since Bryan passed away in 2002, the landscape of the Mini Golf Captial of the World has continued to evolve, with new courses coming in to replace older ones on a regular basis. 

Mt. Alanticus lives on as a testament to his work, and the area still features several other classic courses from the Golden Era that extended throughout the 1980s and into the late 1990s including courses like Hawaiian Rumble, Rainbow Falls, Treasure Island, Jungle Safari and many more.

In recent years, the string of new courses had slowed, until the creation of Red Dragon Cove on the south end of Kings Highway, which opened in 2023. It appears that this, the first course built in Myrtle Beach in 13 years, may have sparked a new boom in course builds including new courses coming to Surfside Beach and Broadway at the Beach. 

At Broadway at the Beach, Dragon's Lair golf course (built in 1996) was torn down a few years back, though you can still see one of its holes floating atop of a Viking Ship in the lake.

In it's place is PopStroke, a new state-of-the-art course which opened in early 2024.

PopStroke, founded in 2018, is a self-described "technology-infused golf-entertainment concept featuring professionally designed putting courses and exceptional food and beverage.” This mini-golf and outdoor dining experience features a 10,000 square foot building, outdoor playground and a 36-hole miniature golf course designed by Tiger Woods himself. 

With the addition of this new wave concept our area now looks primed to continue its status as a premier miniature golf destination in the world, even having launched the Myrtle Beach Mini Golf Trail which highlights all of the area's courses — more than 30 in all!

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Explore the Trail Today!

Get ready to tee off with your passport to more than 30 of the most fun miniature golf experiences around. Immerse yourself in exciting themed landscapes, from swashbuckling pirate adventures and tropical oases to glowing inter-dimensional challenges and out of the world encounters. Get our digital pass to unlock great discounts and one-of-a-kind rewards that will make you the coolest putt putt patron in town. Sign up for the FREE Myrtle Beach Mini Golf Trail pass today or click here for more details .