L.A.'s Problems Have Been Turned Into This Echo Park Mini-Golf Course


A curious mini-golf course is opening up in Echo Park this weekend, with each obstacle exploring a different interpretation of terrain or territory in Los Angeles.

I didn't realize this until Courtney Coffman, communications director of Materials & Applications, said it, but it's true: Los Angeles really doesn't have very many mini-golf courses. According to an recent article by journalist Luke Kerr-Dineen in USA Today, that statement is true in many parts of the country. Mini-golf emerged in 1954 when Don Clayton's Putt-Putt Golf Corporation opened in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Clayton spent the next couple decades opening up numerous courses across the country, until, come the 90s, youth took up a preference for video games and other at-home activities. To net the profits needed to survive now, mini-golf has to offer something unique. Some are positioned in entertainment complexes complete with laser tag and go-karts, while others offer a more visually spectacular experience than your average roadside tourist trap.

Materials & Applications is a nonprofit founded in 2002 that seeks to get the public involved in experimental and alternative architecture, often developing installations, programs, workshops and other projects. Coffman says that for many years, they used the courtyard of a Silver Lake home that served as both M & A headquarters and founder Jenna Didier's residence to host various architecture installations. This year, however, they're opening TURF, a 9-hole mini-golf course at Echo Park and Park avenues in Echo Park. TURF is the first project from M & A under the leadership of Coffman and executive director Jia Gu. The nonprofit previously sent out an open call for anyone who was interested in designing an obstacle, with the idea that each would offer some insight regarding Los Angeles issues.

"The prompt was to look at turf as not just something that's artificial grass in the midst of our drought conversation, but the idea of territory in Los Angeles," Coffman says. "There's always discussion about gentrification and ideas of different neighborhoods, and who can go where…things like that. And so the open call was really to look at Los Angeles [either] through the lens of living here, or as an outsider."

Each of the nine selected entries offers a unique challenge. London-based Ordinary Architecture's Electric Palm Tree House features the traditional windmill obstacle, however, instead of a windmill, it's a spinning palm tree that employs fronds to block your shot. Ordinary Architecture describes their project as follows:

Part-wind turbine, part-palm tree and part-residential tower, the object addresses issues of densification + verticality, renewable technologies and sustainability and architectural symbolism. It plays with images of a future LA that is denser, taller and more environmentally responsible whilst also enjoying the city's historic iconography.

New York-based architect Kyle May entered SiNK. It appears to be a simple black square with a fairly obvious and unfettered goal. But, it's not.

At first glance, SiNK seems easy, even for a beginner; a seemingly flat roadway, free from any physical obstacles, assures a hole in one. But the field is actually fluid, and upon stepping on the surface, the player's weight displaces the topography and shifts the direction of the ball in unexpected turns. Two holes side-by-side allow two users to play at once, their movements affecting both their own course's topography as well as their neighbors' game. Finally, golf isn't a solo sport. To win, players must focus on their shot as well as the unseen, but critical, issue of groundwater depletion.

Perhaps the most difficult entry, titled Pie in the Sky, comes via Silver Lake's Heyday.

This hole represents the impossible dreams of having turf in this climate. The idea is that to maintain even a very small amount of green grass requires a set of conditions and resources—from clouds to wind to water—that LA simply does not have.

The course officially opens Saturday night with a kickoff party from 7 to 10 p.m. Various events will be held at the course, including a movie screening and tournaments. To follow the events, check out M & A's Facebook page here.

TURF is located at 1601 Park Ave. in Echo Park. The course opens with a kickoff party on Saturday, June 18 from 7 to 10 p.m. The course will then remain open through July 31. Hours are typically Thurs. & Fri., 4 to 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sun. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Hours may vary depending on events. Suggested $5 donation to play.