Art Beat: Putt-putt in the sculpture garden

Playing the Walker's artist-designed mini-golf course

"18 Holes in One," inspired by the greens of Augusta National Golf Course, is one of 18 artist-designed mini golf holes at the Walker Credit: Dylan Thomas

LOWRY HILL — It is no secret that the Walker Art Center’s artist-designed mini golf course prizes form and fun over function.

That’s the point, really, and we would expect nothing less when sport, such as it is, enters the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. A golf ball-launching gap in the artificial turf — the cause of an out-of-bounds penalty on one devilish hole — might have eliminated the course from consideration for mini golf’s pro-am tour, but we forgive the fabricators and play on.

Here’s something unexpected: The “artists” who’ve designed these putt-putt sculptures? Several of them are engineers by day.

Paul Hedlund, who works at Houston Engineering in Maple Grove, saw on KARE 11 the Walker was seeking submissions for this iteration of the 18-hole course, the second since the summer tradition was revived last year. Hedlund used 3-D modeling software to develop his design for Hole 1; based on a curling sheet, it includes brooms and stones for obstacles.

“Actually, this is the first time I’ve seen it,” Hedlund said during an afternoon preview of this year’s course, held on May 21. Unlike previous years, when artists both designed and built the winning submissions, this year the Walker handled the fabrication of new holes.

(Hedlund’s hole, like some others, could’ve used some leveling. Balls putted across its ice-smooth surface rolled inevitably to the right.)

Freed of the responsibility to actually construct their hole, artists Cami Applequist and Brian Fewell of St. Paul submitted their first design this year and got in. Hole 5’s egg-shaped green (Fewell’s idea) featured a fox-in-the-hen house theme (Applequist’s).

Neither is much of a golfer, but Applequist said her father is, “so he’s super-excited.”

“I’m a nanny part-time, so I’ll bring some of my kids,” she added.

Ken Steinbach was another first-time mini-golf artist.

“Most of my ideas find expression in three dimensions,” said Steinbach, a sculptor.

Hole 8, designed with Dave Denninger, includes one of those putt-putt features where a ball drops through a hole, disappears into a chute and then rolls out onto another part of the course, seemingly at random. Inspired by Werner Heisenberg’s work on quantum mechanics, it’s meant to evoke the uncertainty of subatomic particles and of life.

Steinbach said the mash-up of such heady philosophizing with “a goofy low-brow sport seemed very fun to me.”

There were more engineers at the start of the back 9. Hole 1 on Course B, titled “Tilt-a-Putt,” was designed and built by non-golfers David Wulfman and Dave Hultman with help from Hultman’s son Tyler and Britta Olson.

“It’s the kind of stuff we do for fun,” Hultman said.

Wulfman is a mechanical engineer at Boston Scientific. Hultman, a turbine engineer with General Electric, said their design was based on the classic marble maze skill game.

“I always wanted one when I was a kid, but I never got one,” he said. “This was my chance.”

At this hole, golfers use a lever to tilt the playing surface, guiding a ball through the maze and into the hole. It’s just like the marble game, but much, much larger.

“It’s about 1,500 pounds of metal, so it’s not going to blow away,” Hultman remarked.

Sometime last season, what Wulfman suspects was a group of rambunctious teenagers climbed atop the golf hole-slash-sculpture, causing minor damage. One imagines a boy surfing the tilting surface as the others tried to knock him off.

Wulfman and Hultman made some repairs and, after a winter in storage, the massive piece seemed to be holding up OK.

Back on Course A, Hole 2 designers David Lefkowitz and Stephen Mohring, putters in hand, were enjoying their contribution to the annals of mini-golf design. They took the contours of every green found at Augusta National Golf Course, where the Master’s Tournament is played each April, and combined them into “18 Holes in One.”

Anyone ever frustrated on a real putting green will find relief in the Swiss-cheese layout. But golfers first have to putt through (hint: or over) a tiny fairway.

“I love how this hole plays,” enthused Mohring.

Lefkowitz may be one of the few mini-golf hole designers whose work also appears in the Walker’s collection. Both he and Mohring, a fellow member of the Carleton College art department faculty, seemed to have mastered Hole 2’s strategy.

“I think we’re the only two who’ve gotten holes-in-one,” Lefkowitz said.

Artist-designed mini golf

WHEN: Through Sept. 1

WHERE: Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 725 Vineland Place

INFO:, 375-7600