9 great places for mini-golf in Pittsburgh and beyond
This is an updated version (with reporting by Meg St.-Esprit) of a story we ran last summer, written by NEXTpittsburgh. Photo above courtesy of Sunset Mini-Golf.
From bumper cars and bowling balls to rocketships and gigantic roosters, mini-golf in Pittsburgh goes way beyond the usual windmills and ponds. Local courses are a fun and affordable way to spend an evening outdoors, and they’re full of puzzling challenges and surprising quirks.
The best courses are tricky enough that some combination of skill, luck and concentration is required — and everybody has a chance to win, even younger kids. Here are some of our favorites:
Kniess (say it out loud) is really nice. This course — which features a pleasant creek on one side and a busy stretch of Babcock Boulevard on the other — opened in 1930 as Tom Thumb Miniature Golf, making it one of the oldest spots for mini-golf in Pittsburgh. But although it’s been around for generations, most holes in Kniess’s two 18-hole courses come with a theme, which is often taken to extremes. In one, there are actual bumper cars as obstacles; in another, bowling balls. In the nautical-themed hole, there’s a giant fiberglass shark; in an aerial-themed hole, a World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane. For the pirate-themed hole, there’s an entire scene of pirate skeletons (but they’re not too scary) marooned with their hoard of gold doubloons.
If you want a mini-golf course that’s perfectly Pittsburgh, you can’t skip this spot in Carnegie. It’s carved into the side of a hill and takes full advantage of its challenging topography. There’s one hole that goes “off the grid” entirely, where you just have to hit the ball down a rough hillside and hope it hits the green. This course is great for kids with a competitive streak (or folks who really don’t mind ending up with high scores): Most courses have one “hole of doom” which wrecks your score. Forsythe has more of those than it has regular holes. However, even those who don’t win can cheer themselves up afterward with sweets — candy and ice cream sandwiches — from the shop out front. This is a pretty place for night-time family fun, because in the evenings it’s illuminated by strings of tiny lights threaded through the trees.
City families will need to trek out to South Park for this one. But that’s the only drawback. Sunset is filled with quirky mischief and it’s pretty incredible. One hole has you putting through the Penguins’ goalie’s pads. Several others have secret squirt guns that blast you with water while you’re trying to putt. There’s also a giant pirate ship that you climb aboard for a few holes and a Wild West-themed hole that propels your ball through a maze of mineshafts with rushing water. The challenge level here ranges from easy to “just be lucky.” So even if it’s far from where you live, consider making a day trip.
This is a nice little, inexpensive course that happens to have two remarkable features. One is that it’s attached to Glen’s Frozen Custard, which is a must-visit place for anyone embarking upon a summer ice cream tour of western Pennsylvania. (Seriously, try the banana custard and the limoncello ice cream cookie sandwiches). The second bonus is that the course is easy and quick, with two sections separated by a hill and a parking lot. If you go, don’t forget to pick up a few pints of custard (try Georgia Peach) to go. Quirky detail: Glen’s sits literally in the shadow of the staggeringly massive Cheswick Power Plant, which is now closed. It’s a startling juxtaposition between the tiny mini-golf course and the massive reminder of Pittsburgh’s industrial past.
If you’re out east, this classic mini-golf course is a great one for all ages. There are some ramps where your ball will jump over ponds, and there’s a lighthouse hole and a rocket ship hole. This course can be played fast, but there’s no need to hurry: Willowbrook’s minigolf doesn’t seem to attract large crowds, so you can take your time. Keep in mind that there’s not a lot of shade on this course, so it’s great to wear hats, stay hydrated and bring sunscreen.
Another spot that has a lot more going on than just mini-golf, including batting cages, a par-3 course, a golf shop and golf lessons. They even offer a night game with glow-in-the-dark balls on the par-3 “pitch & putt” course. This mini-golf course is classic and simple, with lots of giant fiberglass statues — a grizzly bear, Pinocchio, a gigantic rooster and well-kept water features, including a waterfall. So there’s plenty here to keep the whole family busy.
An effective strategy for a warm-weather game like mini-golf seems to be packaging it with an arcade, go-karts, bumper cars and batting cages. This course has a wild animal theme, with giant fiberglass elephants and giraffes on faux rock outcroppings. The holes themselves are fairly standard — lighthouses, caves, etc. All this adds up to a good, not-too-frustrating course for kids and beginners. If you’re considering night-time golf with older kids, keep in mind that 9:30 p.m. is the last tee-off time.
Cool Springs has revamped their mini-golf course, which has been a popular destination for decades. It looks pretty great, with large water features and lots of varied, rocky terrain. This course comes highly recommended, and it’s part of a sports complex that includes everything from a driving range and indoor golf simulators to a giant indoor soccer field.
Just like it says in the title, there’s a lot going on here. The batting cages, located right across the road, are actually the main draw. But while the mini-golf course isn’t terribly original (Hey! there’s Humpty Dumpty, sitting on a wall!), it can be a lot of fun on a nice summer day. So if your whole family wants to do a few fun things at once, this is a good option. Adults can try the par-3 at North Park, an easy 9-hole real golf course that’s great for beginners and putting practice. And the park itself, with it’s beautiful lake, has plenty of picnic pavilions. You can end the day with a frosty treat from nearby Kool Cones.