Even in miniature, golf is a challenging game

Looking down the length of the Athens Country Club's challenging No. 9 fairway, I'm gripped with doubt. Not only is there water to clear with my first shot but the green also is hemmed in by a set of intimidating bunkers.

With nobody behind me, I take the time to walk off the hole. Club selection, I feel, will be essential. Taking measured steps, I estimate that the distance between tee box and the hole is somewhere close to nine feet. I choose the putter.

The Athens hole is a local putting enthusiast's introduction to a new attraction, the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame's Signature Mini Course. The course features 18 miniature golf holes modeled after actual fairways and greens from Georgia golf courses.

Initially, I feared that scaling down the holes and removing much of the topography - the mini holes are decidedly flat - might sap some of the challenge. After a couple of pars, I managed to go birdie, eagle, birdie, eagle, eagle without much difficulty.

Then, as I approached the turn, the wheels began to wobble. My tee shot on eight ended up in the carefully carpeted drink, and although I managed to play it out of the lovely azure turf and preserve a par, I was clearly starting to stagger.

A few holes later, on a hole modeled after the Doublegate Country Club's 18th, I ran into real trouble. Popping my carefully selected SpongeBob ball into the sand, which is actually a sort of shaggy tan turf that looks a lot like deep-ply, wall-to-wall carpet circa 1975, I knocked it into the rough, then past the hole and then short before finally posting a less-than-inspiring double bogey.

My next shot went into the water. Of course, as I was playing by mini golf rules, and by myself, I decided that if I could see my bright-yellow ball, I could play it. No drop required.

Over the next several holes, that strategy served me well as I consistently putted into faux bunkers, bodies of water and, on occasion, off the perfect plastic fairways altogether.

Wrapping up my round on an Augusta hole, the long No. 8 at Augusta Country Club, I carded a bogey for a final score of 58. Although the Signature course is officially rated as a par-72, there's little in my 14-under to be proud of. I didn't take a penalty when I hit into water or out-of-bounds (a practice I believe is officially considered cheating), and I was putting on flat surfaces where each stroke sent the ball on a perfectly straight path. I can only imagine what a few hills or, even worse, a well-placed windmill might have done to my score.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

PUTTERING ABOUT

WHAT: Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Signature Mini Course

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 7 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: The Georgia Golf Hall of Fame's Botanical Gardens, 11th and Reynolds

COST: Mini golf costs: $7 adults; $6 seniors, military and students; $5 children 4-12 to play only; for other garden activities, $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, pupils and military, $5 for ages 4-12; free for ages 3 and younger; $5 for groups of 15 or more; Sunday admission buy one, get one free with coupon at www.gghf.org; (706) 724-4443.

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