A Hole In One ... For Art

As people nearby waited for the bus, Dolores Ceritto tapped the ball once. A copper tube sent it back to the tee-off pad. She hit it with more authority; this time it flew through a web of strings to drop onto a patch of artificial turf. Then she walked around a helicoid to finish hole five in a par three.

This was mini-golf. And this was art.

Public art merged with sport for Ceritto and other players/viewers as New Haven’s first-ever artists-designed mini-golf course teed off to delighted kid calls of “I got it!,” balloons, strawberries, and fanfare at Artspace’s public lot at 812 Chapel St. near Orange. Nine different artists created the nine holes of spectacle.

The public park area behind the bus stop on Chapel has been the scene of many Artspace projects over the years. Artspace chief Helen Kauder challenges artists to create work that tries to interacts with the public instead of hiding in gallery space.

Well, New Haven loves public art if the measure is the 25 people who already had lined up for their clubs, ball, score card and waiver form when the course opened at 4 p.m. on Friday.

It will remain open during Artspace‘s usual hours [that’s where you rent the gear for a mere five bucks] through Nov. 8, weather permitting.

I joined the group trying out the course. I paired up with precociously coordinated Justin Antigua (when I could catch up to him) and his dad Brad Conant, a co-designer of the wicked Hole 5.

In addition to focusing on my game, I wanted to see whether art-conceived mini-golf holes make our athletic performance on them easier, nobler, or distracted.

Project coordinator Mike Galvin said that while several other arts organizations such as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis have created mini-golf installations, those have usually been within their exhibition spaces. Apparently, New Haven’s is the first temporary artistic course plunked out in the city, and in the case of ours, right behind a major bus stop. Not to worry any longer about being bored while waiting.

The course starts you off with an easy traditional “Home Life.” That’s Hole One designed by steampunkish sculptor Silas Finch. It’s pretty much a straight shot through a curlicue metal chute and into a wooden house. Finch has dispensed with the artificial surface; your ball must travel all through Life—Life Magazine that is, issues from the 1960s that line the entire approach.

Perhaps because I was partnering with an athletic 4-year-old, I tried to remember the last game of miniature golf I played. Was it with my nieces in California when I was in my 40s? Or way further back, near Carthay Elementary School in Los Angeles on a sixth-grade “date” with beautiful Judy DeVore.

Mmmm, I do remember that miniature golf is a great date. You can suddenly be a hero, or suddenly look foolish. A little bit like life to come.

Justin and I both made par three.

Just when you think you can relax, Hole Two, designed by Devil’s Gear bike shop owner Matt Feiner, looms up. He calls it “Flach Wie Ein Pfannkuchen,” which is German for “Flat as a Pancake.”

It’s a par five, the toughest by that measure in the course. You putt uphill. Your ball, when it curves around, must negotiate a gridded green declivity that is also a minefield of upright pedals, gears, and other bicycle parts before it meanders down to find the cup.

“I thought of art first,”  not utility or workability, Feiner said. He had all the parts around, and assembled the devilish construction, he said; it worked only with the help of a friend who knows physics and offered some engineering and design advice.

“Art should be everywhere. Every adult is walking around with a kid inside waiting to do this. More public art every day,” he declared before he returned to work.

The first public official to play the public art course was Downtown Alderman Doug Hauslanden. He said Feiner’s array reminded him of Plinko, from The Price Is Right TV game show.

I forgot to tell Feiner that I scored a brilliant two on his hole. That German talk didn’t daunt me. Nor did I fall prey to his sand and water traps, devilishly surrounding the hole and having the appearance of painted bicycle chains (pictured).

I whooped with newfound confidence as I beat par on this hole. I think Justin was off having a strawberry and chocolate with his dad.

Next up was Heather Bizon’s “The Green Acre.” If scuttlebutt already percolating about the course were a measure, this was the most dreaded of the nine holes, and also one of the most beautiful. Artistically speaking, it looks like a flattened-out crystal with alternating yellow and green facets in the pattern, but all going down. You’ve got to putt up and down a half dozen valleys before you get even a shot at the cup. 

Full disclosure: I lost it here, especially as Justin was in in 6. I made it in 13; Justin used his hand, and I, when no one was looking, the heel of my shoe.

At the mid-course “Jasper Smiles,” designed by Linda Lindroth, Craig Newick, and Jeff Carter, I did all right. I found this one also to be traditional, of the kind you might still see in small town mini-golf courses: a shot through a doorway of a building, and then your ball plinks out in a dogleg into the cup in the backyard. I did this one in 4, double the par.

A pattern emerged: easy to start, easy in the middle, with each easy hole followed by a big challenge.

For the next installation, “Helicoid In One,” it helped if you had not only finesse in your touch, but an advanced math degree in your back pocket.

It was designed by the creative folks over at the cooperative workspace MakeHaven (Brad Conant, Elise DeVito, and Karen Bliss). It came complete with explanatory drawings that a “helicoid,” into which you were shooting your ball via a copper tube, is a ruled surface that looks curvy but is actually straight lines.

Conant said they fashioned the whole piece at their workspace, with its two 3-D printers. “It was a challenge to merge abstract math with entertainment of mini-golf,” said Conant, whose day work includes sculpting prostheses.

At this point Justin and Brad just started having fun and forgot about the score card. I made a par 3, but that was after Conant adjusted the angle of the entry tube and then knocked the recalcitrant yellow ball in for me. I think that violated about all the course rules printed on the back of lime-yellow score card.

At the risk of showing bias, Mike Galvin pronounced Helicoid in One “fantastic.” He said it showed how the artists’ interpretations of the usual water, sand, and other traditional golf hazards put art first. He said you wouldn’t see this kind of hole, especially with its freestanding mathematical modeling come to life, in any other roadside mini-golf, unless that road happens to run through the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton or M.I.T.

Dana Scinto’s “Malfunction Junction,” aka Hole Six, with its boldly yellow IKEA signage, was the only piece of recognizably New Haven geography. I enjoyed the satirical take on the chutes and lanes of I-95 as it passes the big store.

As Justin tried to pry his ball out from under the new “flyover” at the former Route 34, I had one of those dawning-of-the-obvious moments. I realized part of the imaginary pleasures of miniature golf lies in the perspective shift that miniatureness provides.

Bestriding Ikea and the whole highway system, we are momentarily like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. We rule. No matter that my five strokes exceeded par by 2. Oh well. On to holes seven and eight.

I did well at Ian Applegate’s “Olde Analog Pinball Minigolf.” Even before he hooked up two old alarm-system batteries that operated the pinball flipper to tap your receding first shot into the cup. I Iooked the other way, as it were, and tapped in a 2 on this par-3 hole.

You operate the flipper by hitting a button from a display. It tells you only to break the glass enclosing it in case of fire or emergency. All the kids went to town on hitting the button, as if in Applegate’s art they discovered a way to misbehave, be transgressive, tilt at windmills, all within the safe world of the mini-golf course.

Applegate said all his materials are recycled, some from stuff dumped by the folks at the Clinton Crossing mall, and created with the help of John Day, whom he called an “electro-mechanical restorationist.”

Well, I won’t reveal full details of the last two holes. Those would be “Skeeballminigolf,” designed by Rocko Gallipoli, and the last “Piedmont by Willie Hoffman.” Half the fun of a mini-golf course is to wonder what they’ll dream up next. That’s not dissimilar to what goes through the mind in the theater during intermission: How’s the playwright going to pick it up and finish what been started? How will they surprise me next?

A similar process in involved in going the nine holes of this artistic course. You may not learn as much about your powers of self-denial as you do attending a performance of Oedipus, but you could also draw some lessons about yourself from how many times you take that extra tap.

That’s true in your garden-variety roadside mini-golf course. It’s even truer on the Lot’s course, where you could give yourself a high handicap due to art appreciation.

I came in at 37, which is 1- over par for the course. With about 10 points of penalty for cheating and help I got from Justin and his dad, I’d say 47 is more like it.

Matt Feiner said he hopes the powers that be will make the installation permanent.

That would please Dolores Cerrito, who had grown up on Wooster Street, and came in from West Haven to play with her sons. “You mix art and golf. That’s fine with me,” she said, after acing the Helicoid in One.

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posted by: Elizabethaiken on September 12, 2013  12:12pm

This is fantastic! CONGRATULATIONS to the artists and to Artspace!

posted by: LuvNewHaven on September 12, 2013  12:37pm


A shot from across the street would be nice, so people can see how it looks installed in the space, besides these close-ups.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 12, 2013  12:57pm

Finally!  An exhibit in The Lot that is worthy of calling the space a ‘public sculpture park’.

Now if we can just nix the $5 Green Fees, we will really be getting somewhere.  Isn’t that a little insulting—I can ride the bus 4 times for that price.

posted by: HewNaven on September 12, 2013  5:22pm

“Art should be everywhere. Every adult is walking around with a kid inside waiting to do this. More public art every day,”

Yes! Great quote. More public art!

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 12, 2013  6:37pm

Yes Hew Naven.

As long as it is free for everybody to enjoy and interact with.