Miniature golf is one of life’s great equalizers. Even a single-digit handicap can be vanquished by a ‘tween with some dumb luck. The gentle slopes of well-manicured greens are completely different from the harsh angles, ramps, and windmills of mini-golf courses. But, these kinds of courses are few and far in between. Still, Austin has an iconic mini-golf business right in the middle of town that has stood the test of time. After 67 years in business, Peter Pan Mini Golf continues to hold a special place in the community because of its laid-back atmosphere, cast of sculpted characters, and reasonable prices.
But, what is it that really makes this place so loved by Austinites and so longstanding in the community? We talked to co-owner Mike Dismukes to find out.
While Peter Pan caters to kids of all ages, Dismukes told Austin.com that running a mini-golf place is just like running any other small business. “You’ve got to deal with personnel, infrastructure, equipment, bookkeeping,” he explained. “There are issues you have to work through.”
In other words, he handles the tough and mundane stuff so his customers can kick back and have fun. “People are pretty happy here,” Dismukes continued. “Kids love it. We cater a lot to kids but not only kids.”
Peter Pan has been owned and operated by the same family since Dismukes’ uncle started it in 1948. The business was originally called Varsity Links, but the moniker didn’t last long. After all, links are known for their long distances from tee to green, and mini-golf courses don’t have 550-yard par-5’s. But that’s why Peter Pan makes for a such a memorable experience.
The giant statue of playwright J.M. Barrie’s creation was not erected until years after the company’s founding. Once Peter Pan was finally built and the business recommissioned, the family filled their course with dozens of other whimsical sculptures all over the 36-hole property. Over the past few years, Dismukes has been building on all of that progress, commissioning local sculptor Cheryl Latimer to revitalize existing characters and create new ones.
It helps that Latimer grew up playing at Peter Pan. About four years ago, she left a note at the front desk proposing to refurbish the sculptures. A few months after the brief handwritten offer, they brought her in to start tinkering with the whale character.
And now? “I’ve painted every square inch of that place,” she told Austin.com. So, you can thank Latimer for brightening up the color palette and changing the figures to more accurately reflect modern Austin’s sensibilities. For instance, she turned an alligator head into a horned frog. And that’s the sort of thing that she calls a labor of love. “Peter Pan has a good place in my heart,” she said.
One of the best things about Peter Pan is that on any given Saturday, you’re just as likely to see a child’s birthday party as you are a foursome of college students with a cooler in tow. But if playing behind a group of drinking college students sounds awful, don’t worry: Mike’s got your back. The place is BYOB, but he requires his customers to be respectful of one another. “I want to provide customers a safe environment, the course to be clean and it to play fairly,” he said. “I don’t want to have too many rules. We’re not a corporation.”
He’s right; they’re not a stodgy, structured corporation. They’re a community-oriented, safe, welcoming playground where you can spend a few hours competing with friends and admiring the work of a brilliant local artist. That’s exactly why we love them so much.
Never been? Head on over to 1207 Barton Springs Road anytime from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. and find out for yourself.
Photos by Katherine Malm.