The city of Detroit could soon enjoy a sport normally considered a hallmark of suburbia -- miniature golf.
But don’t expect the giant plastic animals or windmills that are part of most American putt-putt courses. There’s no fence or wall to box it in. And there’s nowhere to pay a fee in exchange for your putter.
At this Detroit location, you shoot the ball through a salvaged car wreck, burned-out house and abandoned toilet. The putter is chained to the ground at every hole, and you play for free.
It’s all being putt together by graphic design and architecture students from a Lawrence Tech University sculpture class.
“Urban Put-Put,” as they spell it, sits across 14th Street from the Michigan Central Station in Corktown. The students hope to complete the mini-golf course before winter.
Although Associate Professor Steven Coy originally proposed the idea, his students are responsible for the branding, marketing, fundraising, design and implementation of the course. Integral to their plan is the idea of urbanizing miniature golf, both for artistic touch and viability.
“We wanted to make it somewhat vandal-proof, so even if it was vandalized, it would play into the design of it,” said Coy. “We don’t need to babysit it.”
The bicycle obstacles golfers putt through, for example, are sunk in cement so they can survive beatings, spray paint and errant golf balls. Most of the course is built with cement, metal, and other tough materials that won’t deteriorate quickly.
It’s not a business that needs upkeep, like most miniature golf locations.
“We want it to be more of a resource for the community,” said Coy. “Everyone from the neighborhood kid to the business executive could come play.”
Mini-golf is the latest addition to Corktown, Detroit's oldest surviving neighborhood, which sits on the western edge of downtown and features some of the city's extremes -- the ghostly train station and other abandoned buildings as well as refurbished 19th-Century homes, hip young residents and thriving new bars and restaurants.
Coy and his students are hoping to finance most of the project with sponsorships from Corktown businesses. Other funds will come from mini-golf tournaments. In the meantime, students are spending personal money on materials.
And they don’t seem to mind. Student Jake Bresinski recalls the moment Coy propsed Urban Put-Put like a scene in “The Matrix” when the protagonist, Neo, is asked to choose between the status-quo and a new experience.
“Do you want to take the blue pill or the red pill?” Bresinksi said. “And we all sort of jumped at it.”
Coy recalls saying, “Here’s the syllabus of the class I did last year. Or, we can build a putt-putt course.”
Coy has a track record of doing original artwork in Detroit.
He and his wife, Dorota Coy, founded the Hygienic Dress League, a corporation and art movement that plays off the city’s street art and abandonment. They were featured in the documentary "Detropia," and are known for murals of themselves wearing golden gas masks. They also created the neon “No Vacancy” billboard on the empty hotel next to Urban Put-Put.
So Coy is not surprised at the curveballs Detroit has thrown them. He hoped Urban Put-Put could be open last week, but takes the setbacks as just par for the course.
Early in the semester, the students had 2,000 pounds of scrap materials stolen, or, as they put it, “re-scrapped.”
On a more recent morning, the class discovered someone had put their abandoned toilet to use. It was not pretty. They laughed, cleaned it out, and redesigned the hole so the toilet could be sealed shut.
“I love how Detroit changed your plan,” Coy told them.
The students are very clear – they are happy to do the heavy lifting, but Detroit dictates the design.