Winter Carnival Invention: Arctic Golf
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What requires no skill, no scoring, and only a sense of fun?

Arctic Golf.

In times past, many northern communities had a Winter Carnival. Avid Carnival goers would hit balls for distance out on the frozen lakes, despite them being covered with snow. It was called Arctic Golf. This lives on with Tupper Lake's Fire and Ice event, which includes a golf tournament on the snowy golf course.

But Saranac Lake's unique Winter Carnival version, which combined winter sculpture with the creative obstacles of mini-golf, did not use these for inspiration. According to the inventor:

I came up with the idea of mini golf as something that could be wacky and fun.  Then when I had to actually put the idea into action and start planning logistics, I did research to see if anything else like it already existed.  I found that some past Saranac Lake Winter Carnival's had an Arctic Golf event, but the description sounded like a driving range on the frozen lake.  I couldn't find any evidence of a mini golf event made of snow and ice anywhere, so I started my planning from scratch.

The Winter Carnival Court visit the course, as part of their Royal Duties. (photo Mark Kurtz)

In 2014's Carnival, we unveiled the world’s first miniature golf course made of ice and snow. It was an immediate hit, drawing hundreds of spectators and players each year. It's never the same course twice.

For Carnival of 2017, it will be better than ever. We've turned building the course into a contest, with different civic groups competing to create the most impressive challenges yet.

arctic golf pioneer

Yes, this is my claim to fame. I am the first person in the entire world to play Arctic Mini-Golf.

I just played the first hole of Arctic Golf -- in history! Future scholars will easily date this as 2014, because the theme was Celtic that year. Thus, my hat.

It's not like I am a professional miniature golfer. (At least, not yet.) I was so intrigued by watching the art taking shape on the course that I scheduled an outing with friends for that specific purpose. We arrived early.

I am known for unbridled enthusiasm.

We had the most fantastic time. But then, we always do. Carnival is a time when everyone gets a license to be playful. For 2014, with its Celtic Theme, I got a Glengarry winter hat. My husband and a good friend who shares his Celtic heritage finally got the kilts they have been threatening to get for a few years.

It's all in the spirit of Carnival.

The hat I was wearing is called a Glengarry hat, invented in Scotland. The fancier version is seen worn by Duke (the "Doonesbury" character) in the official 2014 Winter Carnival button.

Speaking of getting in the spirit - let's take just a moment to pause from the course and discuss our cool memorabilia:

“Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau has been the poster and button designer since 1981. He was raised in Saranac Lake and this is his contribution to benefit the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. Buttons are on sale all over the village and forms part of the fundraising which covers expenses. This cool carnival is an entirely volunteer effort which involves the entire town.

His great-grandfather was the famous Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, who brought Alpine Sanitarium curing culture, and cutting edge infectious disease science, to Saranac Lake in 1894. This calling shaped the village for decades, all the way through World War II.

Winter Carnival itself began as activities for patients and townspeople to share during the winter, as early as 1897. It was so much fun it led to more and more activities, and ever more interesting and complicated Ice Palaces.

The theme of the 2017 Winter Carnival is Adirondack Wildlife -- we are going to have a lot of fun with that.

For 2017, the Winter Carnival’s designated theme is “Adirondack Wildlife.” Inspired by classic United States Department of the Interior poster designs, Trudeau’s illustration shows “Doonesbury” character Zonker holding a canoe paddle with a wildlife scene in the background.

Many folks won't consider attending Carnival without their button (or collection of buttons) on display!

Now, back to the game...

meet the inventor

I was delighted to interview Colleen O’Neill, the person who invented Arctic Mini-Golf. She is a writer and artist who joined the committee for the first time in 2013. They told her they were looking for a new event for the 2014 Carnival.

My first thoughts were mini golf and bowling because they are family friendly and just about anyone can play them. I settled on mini golf mainly because it's so much cooler to imagine it made of snow and the creative possibilities! I proposed the idea and the committee said as long as you make it happen you can do it! So I started planning it all out in my head and then on paper, and then gathering volunteers and supplies to help me carry it out.

Until we spoke, I had been certain it was inspired by Scotland inventing golf.

No relation to the Celtic history, it mainly just came from the idea that it would be fun for all ages and something no one has ever done in winter outdoors before! I like the idea that very small children can do it too since many of our sports are for older ages. We even have short plastic baby golf putters! So cute!  :)

We have little putters for little putters. (photo Mark Kurtz)

It is sponsored by our own Blue Line Brewery, a craft brewery with creative pub food. A nice match for such a creative event.

Blue Line Brewery approached the carnival about sponsoring for the 2014 carnival and many events were already taken by sponsors so they proposed my new Arctic Golf event and they agreed. They have been sponsor ever since.

I asked if she had a favorite part.

My favorite part of the project is looking out on the course full of people and seeing them laughing and having fun. Arctic Golf brings out the silly in people because it's so hard to get that dang ball in the hole most times! It's snow after all! I also love hearing the great feedback players give us on the event after they've played and seeing them walk away with a smile and still talking about it.

Considering a single team put all of this together the first year, there was a lot of variety and clever themes.

I can testify: the sunken tuna cans which comprise the course holes can be tricky to reach. While builders try to smooth the paths around their creations, snowe33w and ice subtly change even as the course is played.

The most challenging part is the weather. We never know what we'll get each year. Some years it has been perfect packed snow and just enough. Other years we had lots of snow, but it was so cold and dry it couldn't be packed well to sculpt things. Then last year we had no snow! So I had to have it trucked in by Trudeau Sand and Gravel from piles of leftover snow at the Olympic Skating Oval.

This hole was inspired by our local Lake Champlain Monster, Champy.

No matter what happens, Carnival goes on. These challenges are just part of what makes it different year to year.

accept no imitations

This year, we discovered its fame has spread to New York City, where it is planned as a part of their Central Park Winter Jam.

Foreground -- tricky bunch of terrain. Background -- Icehenge, one of the most popular holes on the course that year.

Colleen was consulted for her expertise.

I was excited that Central Park expressed interest in our Arctic Golf event to share with their residents and visitors. To think that Arctic Golf is going from far north in Upstate New York, in a small village in the Adirondack Mountains to the far south to one of the most populated cities in the state, the nation and the world! Though we’re far away and different in many ways from each other, we both have the same goal; to provide our community and visitors with enjoyment and the unique recreational activities that our great state has to offer.

Consulting on the surface and the angle -- the club selection is made for us.

Since Saranac Lake is so full of creative people, it's no surprise that now, it is our ideas which are infectious.

Find out more about the history of the Ice Palace. Discover all of Winter Carnival. Don't miss the 2017 Arctic Golf!

We'll see you there.

Author:Pamela Merritt
Categories:Events, Winter
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