The guy taking tickets in the front issues a warning. "Get as drunk as you want. But it's dark back there, and if you die it's your fault."
What's going on behind him sounds like something between a pinball arcade and an active construction site: the clang of metal, sundry sirens from all directions, humans shouting in excitement or maybe fear, and what could be the angry billowing of a shop vac. Maybe he wasn't joking. Will a night of mini golf be how I shuffle off this mortal coil?
Seattleites may know Smash Putt from its various iterations over the past eight years, appearing like some deranged circus in abandoned or underused buildings in Capitol Hill, the International District, and now Pioneer Square. Its ephemeral nature adds to the mystery, maybe too weird and dangerous for a permanent home. And this year will be its last, with the party wrapping up sometime in April.
Do not mistake Smash Putt as simply "adult mini golf," a term that conjures images of manicured courses with amped-up obstacles and maybe the occasional pyrotechnic. This round of golf is at least as much DIY art installation as it is date-friendly sport. Go in feeling competitive and you're going to have a bad time. Go in wanting to navigate golf balls through a replica of a Reagan-era basement and you'll get your money's worth.
The Basement (a par 9, for what it's worth), is one of the more straight forward holes on the course, even though the hole itself is buried in a kitty litter box. Wandering around the two story setup—and wandering is encouraged—reveals Rube Goldberg oddities and misshapen wooden things meant to confuse and punish players. A ramp guarded by a team of automated foosball figures is pretty much hole-in-one proof. The shop vac sound, it turns out, is in fact a shop vac that thwarts incoming golf balls with unfair robotic diligence.
"What's that Catherine Zeta Jones movie?" a man shouts to his date as she crawls through a room of smoke and lasers. Entrapment, I answer, waiting my turn and thinking the exact same thing. None of us had seen the movie but we all remember the trailer in which Zeta Jones arches her way through a similar laser maze. An alarm sounds and lights flash. Touch a laser, deduct a stroke. Golf!
The hacker aesthetic is no better illustrated than in a hole that is actually just a spinning turntable covered in divots and connected to a snare, a kick drum, and a guitar. Arrange golf balls on the divots and when they pass under the "needle" the snare hits or the drum kicks or the guitar strums, depending on where the golf ball is placed. Compose a song to your liking, which will certainly sound like it's being played by a room full of excited toddlers, and then on to the next one.
To conclude the night you literally shoot your golf ball via something akin to a gatling gun at field of suspended metal plates.
Needless to say, Smash Putt is not something you do sober, or at least in a sober state of mind. I lost my golf ball like eight times. Once I sent it rolling directly into the bar, and the bartender looked completely at ease about it, as if aiming for him was par for the course. I think I shot a 50? Go bowling if you want to keep score.