If you’re a regular reader of Golf Magazine, you may have spotted this item: “there’s a new name in mini-golf and it is Materials and Applications.”
Materials & Applications is not a golf course designer. It’s a nonprofit in LA that supports architectural experimentation with materials and technology through the creation of public installations, typically built on a dime.
Their most recent project is at the northeast corner of Echo Park Lake. There, on a bed of wood chips, on an empty site at the corner of Park Ave and Echo Park Ave., you’ll find some tantalizing putting challenges.
There’s a palm tree-shaped wind turbine designed by Ordinary Architecture. The trick is to get the ball in the door between the spinning blades. There’s a course in which the player attempts to stand in the middle of a rubber waterbed, and hit a ball into one of two holes on either side, by Kyle May.
Turns out this mini-golf course, called TURF, has a theme: “to simply explore the idea of turf, which itself is kind of a delicate topic in Los Angeles with the history that we have in certain neighborhoods, especially Echo Park. In an effort at lightness and play, the idea was to explore notions of terrain and territory,” said Jia Gu, executive director of Materials & Applications.
One project that really caught our eye requires the mini-golfer to hit a ball up a steep bright-pink ramp. Then it needs to sail through the air and land on a patch of turf suspended by a super-sized helium balloon that bobs up and down with the wind, making the hole incredibly hard to reach.
“This is a project that speaks to both the inaccessibility of land ownership in Los Angeles, but also the impossibility of the American dream of the green lawn,” Gu said.
The architects of this floating obstacle, called “Pie in the Sky,” happened to be on hand. Kevin Wronske and Devyn Miska are with Heyday Partnership.
“It’s a lot harder to make a putt putt hole than you would think,” Wronske said with a laugh. “When we started, we were like, ‘this will be so easy, it’ll take a couple of days, no problem.’ And then the more we got into it, we were like, ‘oh, we have to figure out the physics of it, and how much weight can helium hold, and how big of a balloon do we need.’ But it was fun, the whole time it was a fun process.”
While we were visiting, a neighborhood resident, Danny Moynahan, stopped by with his two young daughters.
“We just came back from a YMCA camp in the Ozark Mountains, and the little mini-golf putt-putt was one of the things that everybody really bonded over. Everybody came together. This is a little more, or I should say a lot more creative,” Moynahan said.
Creative and fun it is, but for Jia Gu the project has what she calls a double agenda — design exploration and urban engagement.
“Well I think one of the most underestimated resources we have in LA is space,” Gu said. “And for us, I think it’s been a really interesting process to think about how you take these open lots, these vacant spaces that don’t have really specific use at the time, and convert it temporarily to a pocket park, to a space where the neighborhood and the local community can get together and use it as a space of leisure.”
The mini-golf course is open Thursday through Sunday until July 31st. Hours of operation vary. Check the website for details.
And surprisingly, there’s another socially-engaged mini-golf project in the works in Los Angeles, this time near LA’s Skid Row neighborhood. The nine-hole course will feature buildings and other symbols of zoning issues in the area. It’s a collaboration between the performance group Los Angeles Poverty Department and the artist Rosten Woo. That one is set to open early next year.