Monday, August 23, 2010

Master Links Miniature Golf - Concord, California

We miss mini-golf around here. There was a spectacular course on Clayton Road when I was growing up called Master Links. But we all just called it miniature golf; as in, "Let's go miniature golfing." It was run by one old guy and every few years he'd repaint everything in wild, crazy colors. There were blue-tinted fountains and copious landscaping throughout. This was the creme de la creme of miniature golf courses.

There were two courses initially, the Castle Course and the Volcano Course, and yes, each contained respectably, a pink castle on a hill, and a volcano topped with lit plasticine flames. But that was the extent of the theme concepts. The rest of the holes were a hodgepodge of off-kilter houses seemingly built for a Buster Keaton gag, a pastel spaceship, the ubiquitous molehills, ramps and water traps, and apropos of nothing, a life-sized polar bear. At some point during my childhood, a third course was added, the difficult Dragon Course. This is what made Master Links so great--it was a random mix of insanity and golf. The owners were good about upgrading the putting "greens" (and reds, blues and oranges) too, so we looked forward to lush, spongy and colorful adventures every time we played.

We didn't know it at the time, but we were also partaking in what's now known as vintage pinball in the pointy-roofed arcade. The bing-bonging of the ball hitting the bumpers is such a nostalgic sound to me now. We took this whole place for granted. It was already there when we arrived in town in 1969 and it stuck around well after I left for college.

I even went back after I graduated and shot a Barbara Manning music video there (and watched in amazement as a busload of elders showed up on shooting day, completely dressed in white, playing really good golf like putt-putt aliens looking for their pastel spaceship). One day, poof, it was gone. The owner retired, sold the kit and caboodle and it's now the site of a retirement home. How appropriate. A salute to Master Links--the Bay Area is less without your presence.

Look at this attention to detail. Once in a while the plaster would crumble off the chicken wire and you could see the frame-work underneath--like our own Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco. It would be quickly repaired and repainted pink. No matter what changes were made at the course, this castle was always pink.

The roof of the arcade where many an ice cream sandwich was bought. You could also buy these business cards from vending machines that said "Where did you learn to park, asshole?" You were supposed to leave them on car windshields of bad drivers. A very useful service.

Folks who grew up in the area fondly remember Master Links and log in their comments on Eye-opening, behind-the-scenes information, people. Like so many entrepreneurs in 70s-era Contra Costa County, the owner, Cal, had his dark secrets when it came to employing teen help; adds a touch of mystique to miniature golf. Thanks to "The Mayor" for publishing the photos on his site.

Barbara Manning - "Still?" 1994 (featuring scenes from Master Links)


Patrick Murtha said...

It may seem weird to comment on a blog post five years later. But I just discovered your reminiscence of Master Links Miniature Golf and couldn't resist commenting. I lived in San Francisco from 1985 to 1989, and when my 30th birthday rolled around in August 1988, I decided to hold a miniature golf tournament because hey, if Bob Hope and Bing Crosby could have golf tournaments, why not me? We held the tournament at Master Links; 60 friends came from all over the Bay Area. Each put $5 into the "pot," and each played all three Master Links courses. The 54-hole winner got 75% of the pot, or $225, and the runner-up got 25%, or $75. It was the best social event I ever ran in my life. I am so sorry that the complex is closed!

Miss Lisa said...

That's a great story, Patrick. Thank you for commenting! I feel lucky I got to live around such a magically surreal fun zone and I'm glad you and your friends sought out its rich legacy.

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled across this blog post and was overwhelmed by nostalgia. I lived in Concord from 1981 to 1987 and frequently played at Master Links. The Bay Area was a great place to be a kid, and I often think how fortunate I was to live there when I did. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

Miss Lisa said...

Anonymous, so sorry for the late reply to your comment. I'm glad I could help bring back some good memories. There was much to do for kids in the area, ice rink, movies, roller rink, mini golf, go-karts, bumper cars--all were available and nearby when we were growing up in Concord. It was KID TOWN. Take care.

Unknown said...

As I was cleaning out a bedroom nightstand, I came across a free game I won years ago at Master Links. Curious to see if the business still existed, I came across your blog and learned of it's demise. I have fond memories of the playing the courses with some friends from the Walnut Creek and Concord areas. That was 35 years ago! Sure miss those days. Nice story.

Rob Sausedo

Angelina Vargas said...

Can someone help me settle a debate. When was the golf course torn down? Was it replaced with the montecito hotel? Wasn’t the golf course next to the Chinese food restaurant and across from the liquor store on Clayton road!!?

Miss Lisa said...

Angelina, I believe the course was torn down in the early 90s. It was located at 4766 Clayton Road, where the Montecito is today. The restuarant next door was an A&W for many years before it became a Chinese restaurant.

Jim Taylor said...

Wow thank you so much for this post and pics about Master Links Mini Golf! I would never have remembered the name and I have such happy memories of being a kid there in the early 70s. We lived a few blocks away in the Kenwal Apartments and often went to the A&W for Papa Burgers and ice cold root beer and also played mini golf regularly. I remember the pink castle and the UFO and the dragon. The pics are wonderful as I never took any pictures there. And thank you for the video too! Made me super happy. I just randomly thought to look it up just now and found your blog post. Thanks a million!

Miss Lisa said...

You're welcome Jim. I'm glad you found the post and it brought back some good memories. I'm glad I took photos too--which only happened because I was scouting location ideas for the music video I was making at the time. Otherwise--no photo record of what I think was probably the greatest mini-golf attraction of that era. Having seen others over the years, this one stands out for creativity, imagination, campiness and fun.