Miniature golf was developed as a children’s version of golf, with obstacles such as bridges, alleyways, and tunnels that are not seen on ordinary courses.
In 1867, Scotland invented a variant of the game for women, who did not play conventional golf due to social conventions.
At least one miniature golf course has been created in the United States as early as 1916. In Pinehurst, North Carolina, it was known as the Thistle Dhu (This’ll Do) course.
Tennessee, on the other hand, may claim to be the “birthplace of miniature golf,” thanks to one of its most renowned citizens being the first to patent the game.
Garnet Carter, born in Sweetwater, Tenn., on February 9,1883, patented Tom Thumb Golf in 1927 and built a course atop Lookout Mountain to draw traffic to a hotel he owned with his wife, Frieda. Frieda designed the obstacles, giving them a fairyland theme.
Garnet, who developed the game out of his own love of golf, had no idea it would become an adult phenomenon.
He devised a method for producing courses that could be shipped across the country while still including elves and gnomes as obstacles.
By 1930, there were up to 25,000 miniature golf courses open across the country.
A 1931 article in Modern Mechanics and Inventions magazine, said it’s “more than a game – it’s a gigantic new amusement industry which is coining millions of dollars for the men back of it.”
Author Roland Gray asked: “Who started driving the country goofy over golf? …Who are the men behind this 1930 Gold Rush, that has sent real estate values skyrocketing and banks hiring extra tellers?
“And just one more question, if you please: Who are the inventors and the engineers responsible for the Department of Commerce’s report the other day that there is exactly $125,000,000 plunged into 50,000 dwarfed golf courses throughout the country, one of the nation’s ranking industries?…
“And here’s the answer. Down in Chattanooga, Tenn., Garnet Carter, as genial a host as ever epitomized the hospitality of the South, began fancying a system whereby the guests at his Lookout Mountain hotel might get a little compact diversion.”
The Garnets decided to sell the patent rights in 1932 because they had another project in mind, this time an idea of Frieda’s.
They utilised the earnings to open Rock City Gardens, an attraction on Lookout Mountain.
Garnet is credited with devising one of history’s most ingenious marketing strategies to promote the attraction: painting See Rock City on the tops of barns throughout the South.
Garnet died on July 21, 1954, at his Lookout Mountain residence. He was laid to rest in Chattanooga’s Forest Hills Cemetery.