Putt-Putt Plus: Washington’s Best Mini-Golf Courses

Mini-golf can be big-time fun—and nobody knows the area’s courses like architect Dwight McNeill. Here are his favorite places to channel his inner Phil Mickelson and try for that hole in one.
Mini-golf enthusiast McNeill thinks everyone should play Woody’s Perils once. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

On July 4, the National Building Museum (401 F
St., NW; 202-272-2448) unveiled an indoor mini-golf course, open through
Labor Day. The 12 holes are tributes to the world of design—one features a
labyrinth. It’s $5 a round, $3 with museum admission. There are other fun
and offbeat courses in the area, and Dwight McNeill, an
architect at Morris-Day (neither he nor his firm participated in the
Building Museum project), has played almost every one. He grew up in North
Carolina, and his aunt owned a course at Carolina Beach. A few years ago,
looking for a nostalgic way to celebrate his birthday, he got back into
mini-golf.

Classic Fun
Rocky Gorge 4 Seasons Golf Fairway

“This course, built in 1965, is so quirky,” McNeill says. “It’s
got a windmill, a Washington Monument, a man-eating Christmas tree—it
looks like that anyway.” (For the record, it’s a singing Christmas tree
but is broken.) “The course is a bit rundown, but the bones are intact and
it plays well. A 19th hole claims to be the longest mini-golf hole in the
US—all downhill.” Monday through Saturday before 6, unlimited play for
$4.50; evenings, Sundays, and holidays, $6.50 a game. 8445 Old Columbia
Rd., Laurel
; 301-725-0888.

Made in the Shade

The Magic Putting Place

Not just one old-school course but two. The Windmill Course
features, naturally, a windmill; the Magic Castle course has a turreted
castle and shady trees that, says McNeill, “make this course, with a busy
intersection on two sides and a parking lot on another, feel like an urban
oasis.” General admission $4 to $5 depending on day and time. 8902 Mathis
Ave., Manassas
; 703-257-7888.

Kitschiest Course

Woody’s Perils of the Lost Jungle

The area’s most unusual mini-golf, this course features a
gorilla crashing out of a bush, a venom-spitting snake, and monkeys
swinging in the trees. “It’s like putt-putt meets Disney,” McNeill says.
The line can be long, especially at night (it’s open until 10 in summer),
the pace can be slow, and most holes are easy par-twos. Still, McNeill
says, “It’s a course you’ve got to do one time at least.” Adults $10,
children ages 3 to 12 $9, seniors $9.50. 11801 Leesburg Pike, Herndon;
703-430-8337.

Best Surprise

Upton Hill Regional Park

This county course is one of McNeill’s favorites. “It’s a very
playable course, and it’s fun,” says McNeill, who especially loves the
waterfalls—when they’re working. “For the most part, it’s well maintained.
The most memorable hole is one that’s a long downhill—you can’t see where
your ball is going when you putt it. So you’re surprised.” Adults $6,
seniors and children ages 12 and under $5. 6060 Wilson Blvd., Arlington;
703-534-3437.

This article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Bikes and Hikes, Fairs and Festivals, Great Small Towns, and the Washington Bucket List. She lives in Arlington.