- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2001

There are undulating greens and water hazards. There are sand traps and a warm breeze. Beware of hole No. 5, which has a narrow green with a dogleg.

This is miniature golf, but without a windmill or clown in sight.

Many of the area's miniature golf courses provide golfers a chance to work on their skills without the kitsch. Some are scaled-down models of real courses, where executives and preteens alike can pretend only a few handicap points stand between them and the pros.

"We play at least once a month," says Heather Ellis, 10, of Sterling, Va. "Miniature golf is a good sport for anyone. Well, it's not even a sport; it is a hobby."

Heather recently was with her sister, Amanda, 12, and two other friends at Woody's Putt-n-Fun in Herndon. Woody's, part of a large complex that includes a driving range, putting green and pro shop, tries to mimic a championship course.

The girls say they like to play more serious courses such as Woody's, but they also enjoy the courses with windmills and dinosaurs that they played recently in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Putt-Putt Golf, Games and Skating in Rockville has been a Montgomery County hot spot for almost 40 years. Its cave and waterfalls give it a campy appeal, says assistant manager Ron Diehl.

Mr. Diehl says his course is as popular as it ever has been and attracts all types. Miniature golf can be a great diversion for the entire family provided preschoolers don't stand in the way of those taking a tee shot and don't get frustrated if they can't get to the hole in a half-dozen shots.

"We get families and kids until about 4 p.m.," he says. "Then there is a lull, After dinner, it is all teen-agers."

During the day, businesspeople often are mixed in with the small children.

"We always get people here during their lunch breaks," Mr. Diehl says. "A lot of companies will come in and get group rates for everyone to play."

After all, nothing builds self-esteem like the belief you play like Tiger Woods.

Most area miniature golf courses charge $3 to $5 for 18 holes, but often there are weekend specials and family rates. A course located in a county park is just one of many diversions, such as picnicking, boating and playgrounds. The more commercial courses often include other facilities, such as batting cages, arcades or go-karts.

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