National Building Museum’s Mini-Golf Course: Harder Than It Looks


So how hard could a mini-golf course designed by architects, landscape architects, and building contractors actually be? Turns out kind of hard. All 12 holes at the National Building Museum’s mini-golf course offer unique challenges this summer, even for mini-golf pros (if those exist).

Holes range from par 1 to 4, but, unfortunately, your two mini-golfers went way over, scoring a gutting 45 and 38, zooming far past the par for the course: 30. Clearly, the holes were either designed by some devilish masterminds to be excessively difficult, or by an accident of materials, ended up being so.

Let’s start with the pleasant mini-golf experiences. The hole, Take Back the Streets!, which was designed by landscape architecture graduate students at Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architectural Center and sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), can be played in 3 strokes or less. In this educational hole, ASLA and the students show how green complete streets can transform communities. The stormwater management systems — the swales — function as traps. Golfers can play through the wood laser cut-trolley or bounce off the bicyclist. Our players scored a 3 and a 2. Not bad, we were at par or below.


Canal PARk, another hole involving landscape architects — this one by OLIN and Studios architects, the creators of the upcoming Canal Park in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Washington, D.C. — was a great playing experience. While the design calls to mind the grand Modernist landscapes of the late 50s, we were just happy the ball actually went where it was supposed to. Not sure this was a par 1 though. We scored a 2 and a 3.


Another landscape architect, Jonathan Fitch, ASLA, at Capitol Hill-based Landscape Architecture Bureau, took full advantage of the 7 feet height limit the museum set. Using a set of helium-filled balloons and a zig-zag floor pattern, he created a tricky yet ultimately playable hole. We both scored 2s, making par.  


Architecture mega-firm SOM‘s Confluence, which maps out the underlying topography of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, is beautiful to behold but a bumpy play. We got a 3 and a 4, over the par of 2. The glowing river floor must have been distracting.


Now for the challenging ones: Ball on the Mall by E/L Studio offers what seems like an easy shot straight through to two different holes from three different tees. But the texture of the grooves in this terror of a hole shot our ball right off the course (twice). Argh. We scored a 5 and a 6 on a par 2. Debacle.


Grizform Design Architect‘s Hole in 1s and os, which has undulating forms and lighting set within a black box, proved to be too much. Balls went flying out the back end of the hole, bypassing the cup by yards. Scoring 4s, we thought they needed some barriers at the end.


Another hole entitled Mulligans on the Mall by Wiencek + Associates Architects + Planners almost requires a protractor to plot out the appropriate angle of attack. Oh so tricky astroturf also proved a challenge. Your blogger scored a 6 on that one, giving up just before throwing the putter at the hole, while our associate got a 2, but then he may have had beginner’s luck.


Now for the absurdly difficult: Hargrove‘s half-pipe has taken down most mini-golfers (we’ve heard), who either manage to make it in the first shot or don’t make it at all. We proved our merit, scoring a 2 and a 3 for a par 4. Probably not a score either of us could repeat though.


Go to the NBM before September 3 to see how you do. It’s hard to imagine how you could spend $5 elsewhere to get the same amount of fun (and stress).

Image credits: (1) Score card / Alison Dunn Photography, (2) Take Back the Streets / Alison Dunn Photography, (3) OLIN and Studios Architecture / copyright Deane Madsen, Architecture Magazine, (4) LAB / Jared Green, (5) Confluence / Jared Green, (6) Ball on the Mall / Alison Dunn Photography, (7) Holes in 1s and 0s / Alison Dunn Photography, (8) Mulligans on the Mall / copyright Deane Madsen, Architecture Magazine, (9) Half-pipe / copyright Deane Madsen, Architecture Magazine

3 thoughts on “National Building Museum’s Mini-Golf Course: Harder Than It Looks

  1. Hmmmmm 07/10/2012 / 1:50 pm

    Thanks for the review. I am going to bring my kids down to give it a try. Love the creativity!

  2. Susan 07/10/2012 / 2:40 pm

    Looks like an amazing course. It would be great if this spawned more architect- and landscape architect-designed creative mini courses across the U.S.

  3. Michael Murray 07/11/2012 / 10:22 am

    PLEASE don’t make this a part of LARE! It’s hard enough already…

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