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 Claycord.com. 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)