May 19, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Donna Terek: Donna's Detroit

Corktown course offers miniature golf with an urban twist

Roosevelt Par miniature golf
Roosevelt Par miniature golf: Detroit's free miniature golf course is next door to the Imagination Station on 14th St. at Dalzelle, near the train station. Steve Coy, and his Lawrence Inst. of Tech. students made it as a sculpture project.

At first glance, this empty lot looks like so many others in Detroit, strewn with odd objects like the shell of a dead car, orange safety cones and an abandoned camelback sofa.

But look closer. This Corktown lot - down the block from the vacant Roosevelt Hotel, next door to two burned-out houses -- actually is a miniature golf course known as "Roosevelt Par."

The course, the only one of its kind in the city, is marked by a sign that says "Urban Put-Put" with some wooden dowel mallets hanging from it and a handful of golf balls at its feet.

The name of the course took a bit of creativity. "Putt-Putt" is trademarked, and although artist Steve Coy, who conceived of the course, cleverly misspelled it, the franchise still deemed it an infringement.

Coy was pondering the dilemma when he got a little help from Jerry Paffendorf, co-founder of an art and music venue called "Imagination Station" that operates out of the two burned-out houses next door. The Imagination Station owns the mini golf site.

The two men looked at an old deed to the property. It spelled Roosevelt Park without the "k," making it "Roosevelt Par."

"It completely spoke to us," said Coy. The official name of the course became Roosevelt Par.

Roosevelt Par is free. It's kid-friendly. And if you want to play with a proper putter, it's BYOP.

An inspired class project

Coy, 34, teaches art at Lawrence Technological University. Last fall, he offered his sculpture class the choice between following a standard curriculum or designing and building a miniature golf course. The twelve students unanimously chose the latter.

The "course" had all the elements they would encounter in real-world projects. They were in charge of design, site management, procuring materials and building their holes.

With funds from an online Kickstarter campaign and donations from local businesses, they got started. Imagination Station gave them use of the land. Motor City Blight Busters donated reclaimed wood to build forms for the poured concrete slabs, Detroit Ready Mix gave them crushed concrete for the base layer and subsidized the first pouring of concrete.

Coy took the class on a field trip to Tri-City Scrap in Detroit, where they were turned on by the possibilities for items that would make good obstacles, or "hazards" as golfers call them, for their holes. The scrap sellers were so taken by the project they offered to deliver the selected pieces for free.

Being their first project of this kind, the class neglected to secure its first delivery of scrap metal, so it was stolen almost as soon as it was dropped off. "And probably taken back to the very same scrap yard we had just salvaged it from," Coy laughed.

One student wanted to work a toilet into his design. A neighbor of the project had one to donate. This time they did put their prize out of sight -- inside the Imagination Station, next door to the course.

"When we went back a week later to work on it," said Coy. "Someone had gotten inside and used the toilet" even though it obviously wasn't hooked up to plumbing, he said.

Coy said the course is challenging. Their test run in December shook out to par 70 or 75 for the complete course.

Not your traditional course

Oddly, the layout has 17 rather than the traditional 18 holes. That's no surprise from a bunch of artists led by the iconoclastic Coy who, with his wife Dorota Coy, is responsible for a neon "No Vacancy" sign on the empty Roosevelt Hotel down the block. The two conceptual artists call themselves the Hygienic Dress League, a continuing conceptual art project spoofing corporate culture and marketing.

"It's an untraditional course, and I think it's funny to have an untraditional amount [of holes]," Coy said. "We call it 'urban rules,' so we're creating our own style of course."

No pirate ships or fiberglass elephants as obstacles here. Roosevelt Par's holes have the ball jump through a steel drum, careen around chunks of broken cement, bounce off spray paint cans, One of the most challenging holes requires the golfer to whack the ball up a steep incline to get the ball rolling down long angled sections of metal gutter which, amazingly, haven't been stolen for scrap.

The look of all this reclaimed material prompted one Detroiter to write a note on the website saying that, having grown up around abandoned cars and charred buildings, she felt the links' reference to these (in her mind) urban eyesores was insensitive.

Coy said he wrote her a thoughtful response.

"It was more about reuse and making something unique and not necessarily making a Detroit-themed course per se. But at the same time I think it's really important to be able to look in the mirror and be comfortable with your image," Coy said.

"I think it's important to be able to laugh at yourself."

Steve Coy, street artist of Hygienic Dress League and art prof at Lawrence Inst. of Tech, challenged his students to design the holes. The result is a tongue-in-cheek, arty, take on putt-putt that is open to all. / Donna Terek/The Detroit News
Roosevelt Par, Detroit's miniature golf course is next door to the ... (Donna Terek/The Detroit News)
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