There are different types of minigolf courses. In USA and United Kingdom the minigolf courses typically use similar designs as the greens (putting areas) of golf, having an oddly-shaped green area (made of felt rather than grass), and obstacles made of stone and sand. Many minigolf courses in these countries also include fantasy obstacles such as wind-mills, dinosaurs, and just about anything imaginable, hence the UK term:' crazy golf'.
As in golf, courses usually have nine or eighteen holes (or less commonly twelve), and the object is to hit the minigolf ball into the hole with as few strokes as possible. The distance to the hole from the starting area is rarely more than 10 meters in minigolf (while in regular golf the hole is up to 200 meters (656 feet) away from the starting area, or tee). Due to the short distance, minigolfers rarely use other golf clubs than the putter. Iron chippers are used on hole number 7 in the standardized beton courses (used in international competitions), which has a 30m long fairway of natural grass, and a round green made of beton.
Minigolf is less expensive and much easier than golf, and is therefore a popular pastime for adults and children of all ages. The costs of building a minigolf course are less than 10% of the costs of a golf course. Also the admission tickets to minigolf courses are remarkably cheaper than the admission tickets to golf courses. For these economical reasons, the number of minigolf courses and occasional players of minigolf is many times greater than the number of golf courses and golf players. In Germany alone there are several thousand minigolf courses, and 15 million Germans play at least one round of minigolf during each year.
There are also portable minigolf courses. These are usually set up temporarily for competitions, summer family events, product launches and corporate team-building events. Swedish felt and eternite courses are semi-portable and often used for seasonal use outdoors, but custom-built portable courses such as those designed and built by special minigolf companies are used indoors and outdoors throughout the year. They are extremely popular with people of all ages and skills.
A few decades later it became customary for many American and British hotels to offer their guests a miniature-sized golf course, using the same designs as actual golf courses, but at one tenth the scale. The game was played with a golf putter and a short driver, and was called "garden golf", "pitch and putt golf", "clock golf" or "par 3 golf".
Geometrically-shaped minigolf courses made of fake materials began to emerge during the early 20th century. The earliest documented mention of such a course is in the 8 June 1912 edition of The Illustrated London News, which introduces a minigolf course called Gofstacle.
The first standardized minigolf courses to enter commercial mass-production were the Thistle Dhu ("This'll Do") course 1916 in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and the 1927 Tom Thumb patent of Garnet Carter from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Thomas McCulloch Fairbairn, a golf fanatic, revolutionized the game in 1922 with his formulation of a suitable artificial green—a mixture of cottonseed hulls, sand, oil, and dye. With this discovery, miniature golf became accessible everywhere; by the late 1920s there were over 150 rooftop courses in New York City alone, and tens of thousands across the United States. This American minigolf boom of early 20th century came to an end during the economic depression in the late 1930s. Nearly all minigolf courses in the United States were closed and demolished before the end of 1930s.
One of the first documented minigolf courses in mainland Europe was built in 1926 by Fr. Schröder in Hamburg, Germany. Mr. Schröder had been inspired by his visit to the United States, where he had seen minigolf courses spreading across the country.
In 1930 the gentlemen Edwin O. Norrman and Eskil Norman returned to Sweden from the United States, where they had stayed for several years and witnessed the golden days of the American minigolf boom. In 1931 they founded a company "Norman och Norrmans Miniatyrgolf", and began manufacturing standardized minigolf courses for the Swedish market. During the following years they spread this new leisure activity across Sweden, by installing minigolf courses in public parks and other suitable locations.
Swedish minigolf courses typically had a rectangular wooden frame surrounding the playing area made of tennis field sand (while the American manufacturers used newly-developed and patented felt as the surface of their minigolf courses). Felt did not become popular as a surface material in Sweden until in the mid-1960s – but since then it has become practically the only surface material used in Scandinavia and Britain, due to its favourable playing qualities in wet weather. (Minigolf courses with a felt surface can be played also in rainy weather, because water is absorbed through the felt into the ground. The other commonly used surface materials, beton and eternite, cannot be used in rainy weather, because the rainwater collects into large pools on them, stopping the ball from rolling.)
The Swedish Minigolf Federation (Svenska Bangolfförbundet) was founded in 1937, being the oldest minigolf sport organization in the world. National Swedish championships in minigolf have been played yearly since 1939. In other countries minigolf sport federations were not founded until the late 1950s, due to the post-war economical depression (from which Sweden was largely spared due to its successful neutral non-militant policy during the World Wars).
In 1938 Joseph and Robert Taylor from Binghamton, New York started building and operating their own miniature golf courses. These courses differed from the ones in the late 20s and early 30s; they were no longer just rolls, banks, and curves, with an occasional pipe thrown in. Their courses not only had landscaping, but also obstacles, including windmills, castles, and wishing wells.
Impressed by the quality of the courses, many customers asked if the Taylors would build a course for them. By the early 1940s, Joe and Bob formed Taylor Brothers, and were in the business of building miniature golf courses and supplying obstacles to the industry. During both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, many a G.I. played on a Taylor Brothers prefabricated course that the U.S. Military had contracted to be built and shipped overseas.
By the late 50s most—if not all—supply catalogs carried Taylor Brothers' obstacles. In 1961 Bob Taylor, Don Clayton of Putt-Putt, and Frank Abramoff of Arnold Palmer Miniature Golf organized the first miniature golf association known as NAPCOMS (or the "National Association of Putting Course Operators, Manufacturers, and Suppliers"). Their first meeting was held in New York City. Though this organization only lasted a few years it was the first attempt to bring miniature golf operators together to promote miniature golf.
In 1955, Lomma Enterprises, Inc., founded by Al Lomma and his brother Ralph Lomma, led the revival of wacky, animated trick hazards. These hazards required both accurately aimed shots and split-second timing to avoid spinning windmill blades, revolving statuary, and other careening obstacles.
The book Tilting At Windmills (How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Sport) by Andy Miller tells the story of the formerly sports-hating author attempting to change by competing in miniature golf, including events in Denmark and Latvia.
In the United States, National Miniature Golf Day is held every second Saturday of May. The event had its inaugural celebration on May 12, 2007, and will be officially recognized and published in 2008's edition of Chase's Calendar of Events. Chase's is published by McGraw-Hill.
Minigolf has so far not reached wide popularity outside Europe and North America. The reason is probably economical, at least to some extent: the less wealthy countries invest their limited sports funds into such forms of sports that enjoy widest public attention and media coverage, leaving the less popular sports with little or no funding at all. (Minigolf is one of the most popular outdoor games in Europe and America, though, but only as an occasional leisure activity, not as a competitive sport.)
Already in the 1950s the American Putt-Putt company exported their minigolf courses to South Africa, Australia, Japan, India, Italy, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil and the Eastern Bloc. Minigolf courses are found in all parts of the world, but their popularity is by far highest in USA, UK, New Zealand, Scandinavia and central Europe.
Nearly all European countries have an official national federation for promoting minigolf as a competition sport. The bi-annual European Championships attract competitors from more than twenty European countries. Outside Europe the only countries that have participated in international minigolf competitions are USA, Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. A national minigolf federation exists also in Moldova, Mexico, India, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, but none of these countries have ever participated in international competitions, and probably are not arranging many domestic competitions either.
World Minigolfsport Federation represents some 40,000 registered competition players from 37 countries. The national minigolf federation of Germany has 11,000 members with a competing license, and the Swedish federation has 8,000 registered competition players. Other strong minigolf countries include Austria and Switzerland, each having a few thousand licensed competition players. Also Italy, Czech Republic and Netherlands have traditionally been able to send a strong team to international championships, even if they cannot count their licensed players in thousands.
The sceptre of competitive minigolf rests quite firmly in mainland Europe: no player from other countries (such as UK, USA, Japan et cetera) has ever reached even the top 50 in World Championships (in men's category). Nearly all national federations outside Europe were founded only quite recently (within the last 10 years), and it will take time before the players of these countries learn all secrets of the game. USA has a longer history of minigolf competitions, but the standardized European competition courses are practically unknown in USA, and therefore the American players have been unable to learn the secrets of European minigolf. On the traditional American courses the best American players are able to challenge the European top players into a tough and exciting competition.
The British Minigolf Association (BMGA) has an additional – and quite surprising – problem on their way to greater success in competitive minigolf. While the minigolf federations in mainland Europe receive annual funding from the government, in Britain the national sports organisation Sports England has refused to accept BMGA as its member – which means that BMGA is left without the public funding that other forms of sports enjoy. The rules of Sports England declare that only one variant of each sport can be accepted as member – and minigolf is interpreted as a variant of golf.
No person is known to be earning his living by competing in minigolf (although David "Doc" O'Connor has come close. His temper has reduced his earning capacity), so "professional" minigolf players do not exist in the full meaning of the concept. Many course owners and employees naturally earn their living by working at minigolf courses, and some of the best minigolf players earn their living from minigolf-related work, such as giving putting lessons to golf players.
The highest money prizes are paid in USA, where the winner of a major competition may earn up to 5,000 US dollars. In mainland Europe the money prizes are generally quite low, and in many cases honour is the only thing at stake in the competition. International championships usually award no money prizes at all.
In the US there are two organizations offering national tournaments: the Professional Putters Association and the US Pro Mini-Golf Association (USPMGA) The latter of these represents USA in the World Minigolfsport Federation, having been an active member since 1995. USPMGA President Robert Detwiler is also the WMF representative for North and South America.
The world record on one round of minigolf is 18 strokes on 18 holes. More than a thousand players have officially achieved this score on eternite. On other playing systems a perfect round of 18 hole-in-ones is extremely rare, and has never been scored in an official national or international tournament. Unofficial 18-rounds on beton and felt courses have been reported in Sweden.
World Minigolfsport Federation (WMF), a member of AGFIS, organises World Championships bi-annually (on odd-numbered years), while the continental championships in Europe and Asia are organized on even-numbered years. Many of these competitions are arranged for three age groups: juniors (under 20 years), adults (no age limit), and seniors (over 45 years). Men and women compete separately in their own categories, except in some team competitions and pair competitions. The difference in the playing skills of men and women is very small on top level, however: it is not unheard-of that the best player in a major international tournament is female. Typically the winner in women's category would be very close to medals also in men's category.
The reigning minigolf world champion (2007) in men's category is Marco Templin of Germany, and in women's category Elisabeth Gruber of Austria. In team competition the reigning world champion (2007) is Germany in men's category and in women's category.
The reigning European champion (2006) in men's category is Harald Erlbruch of Germany, and in women's category Bianca Zodrow of Germany. In team competition the reigning European champion (2006) is Sweden in men's category, and Germany in women's category.
The most renowned annual minigolf tournament for club teams is the European Cup. The reigning champion of European Cup 2007 is Uppsala BGK (of Sweden), both in men's category and women's category.
World and European Championships have so far never been arranged on MOS courses (which are popular in USA and UK, and were approved by WMF for competition use only a few years ago). International competitions are typically arranged on two courses of 18 holes, of which one course is eternite, and the other course is usually beton, less commonly felt. In the future the WMF is expected to use also MOS courses in international championships – which will give American and British players a chance to show their skills on their own traditional course types.
The most prestigious MOS minigolf competitions in the world are US Masters, US Open, British Open, Irish Open, and World Crazy Golf Championships. The reigning champions are;
Another miniature golf tournament is the Harris Cup in the United States. The Harris Cup, which is run by the Harris Miniature Golf Company, hands out $10,000 USD in prizes at their annual tournament. The 2007 event was held at Lahey Family Fun Park in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, and was won by Rod Miller from Columbus, Ohio.