Around the Globe in 18 Holes: Phoenix’s Classic Miniature Golf Courses
Who got the ball rolling by creating the Valley's first miniature golf course is open to debate, but we know that Phoenix businessman Reed Eugene Price had a significant impact on the industry. Price played “goofy golf” while on vacation in California in the late 1940s. Intrigued by the possibilities of this emerging entertainment formula, he worked with his brother-in-law and business partner Nephi Allen to open Green Gables Miniature Golf at 24th Street and Thomas Road in 1951.
Designed with a medieval theme that blended into the adjacent Green Gables Restaurant, the course came replete with feudal castles, gothic churches, armored knights, and fair maidens. Just one year later, Price and Allen opened Westwood Acres, a second course at 24th Avenue and Thomas Road with a Wild West motif. Both courses prospered.
Prompted by their early success, in 1956, Price and Allen formed Western Recreation Inc. to "engage in the ownership, development, management, and operation of miniature golf courses and all types of commercial recreation projects and properties," according to its incorporation articles. Western Recreation would ultimately expand into California too.
Constantly mulling new ideas, Price decided to revisit the concept behind Westwood Acres in the mid-1960s, transforming the course into a veritable Hawaiian village called Hono Lea. “It had bamboo huts and a sort of Pacific flavor,” remembers Phoenix native Sam Ferguson, who worked for Western Recreation in the 1970s. “Reed Price had his office in a building behind Hono Lea. It had some cool antique golf clubs on the wall, stuff like that. Reed was a nice fellow and very smart - it was a well-run business.”
The Western Recreation courses were primarily designed and built by Vern E. Fetz, a Globe native who spent 30 years working for the company. Fetz graduated from Arizona State University with a Master's Degree in Education specializing in Industrial Arts. But his passion was woodworking and carving, which informed his creations on the various miniature golf designs. “This one guy, Vern, built all the houses and layouts for every course,” Ferguson says. “He would just show up at a course, tear down a feature, and then rebuild it into something completely different. A very talented guy.”
Fetz’s work culminated in arguably the most memorable local course: Alpine Valley, which opened on 27th Avenue north of Northern Avenue in 1960. The Tyrolean theme featured a re-creation of the Alps, an ornate Swiss church nestled in the mountains, the requisite turning windmill hole, and a challenging par-4 Swiss chalet that involved up to three separate descending greens, depending on the accuracy of the tee shot.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jan/Feb 2022 issue, Vol. 11, No. 1.