All I Need to Know I Learned from Mini Golf

What a great sport, mini golf. My son and I played at two different courses over vacation this July. I realized in playing this amusing but somewhat irritating sport that it carries a lot of life lessons. Sure, real 18-hole golf has life lessons of its own—but mini golf, because of its miniature nature and accessibility to all, is a true microcosm of life:

1) Carefully choose what color ball you want. Do you want to be neon orange, standing out in a crowd, all about vitality and endurance? Or do you prefer a fiery red, so everyone knows how passionate and confident you are? (A colleague of mine used to joke whenever I wore red to work, “Watch out—she’s got red on today!) Or do you gravitate toward a cool blue, all calm and peaceful? Perhaps you lean toward a sophisticated black, or the earthiness convention of a brown. You can go through life however you like—whichever way you go, you are your own color and you can stand out on the green if you want to.

2) It’s all about patience. Hit your ball too hard, and you will either rudely knock someone out of the way or overshoot your goal. Or, you might even miss the course completely, painfully bouncing off the course walls and then out of bounds. I played mini golf with my grandmother when she was in her late 80s—and she always won. Why? Because the rest of us hit the ball like the hole was 300 feet away, and she putted with the grace you have only after being on the planet almost 8 decades. All that gravity pulling on you over those years slows you down, and it can serve you if you know how to turn it into patience and use your wisdom toward good ends.

3) Sometimes, your ball will fall in the water. It’s inevitable—life is not perfect. Sometimes, when you aren’t even looking, you will bounce off a rock, get stuck in a crevice, or in some other way, roll into a river and float out to the open seas. You may find that some kind soul designed a net or fence to catch you, so you won’t travel far—but sometimes, you’ll have to go after your ball and dig it out with only a tiny putter to help you. Your ball may even be irretrievable, drifting off with the goldfish in a pond, and you will have to get a new ball and start over. But if you use these moments to learn something, you will avoid making the same mistake twice.

4) No matter what, don’t let other people get to you. During one of our games, a family of four was behind us. The two kids, who were probably about 10 and 11, were practically on top of us as we teed off at each hole—as we took our first shots, the two boys were standing behind us, sometimes on the green, commenting loudly, “Oh, I see where the hole is,” “That was a good shot,” or “Uh oh,” and all of these comments eventually teed us off. There are three rules in this one—first, watch your kids and teach them good manners (what were those parents thinking?). Second, don’t let others’ annoying behaviors get to you. And third, if you can’t help but be annoyed by those people, then move on. My son and I complained about how irritiating this group was for about 8 holes. We tried everything—hanging back so we could demonstrate proper mini golf etiquette, giving them dirty looks, and even asking them if they wanted to move ahead of us. Because none of these passive-aggressive behaviors worked, we finally skipped an entire hole so we could jump ahead and leave the annoying family behind to bother someone else. The rest of our game was much more pleasurable.

5) There are some things in life that are freesure, they might be stubby pencils, plastic flags, and pirate hats, but they are free if you want them. There are deals to be found everywhere—sometimes the stuff you can get for free has no value on ebay or craig’s list, but don’t say that nothing in life is free. Sometimes you have to spend something to get something, but if you go the right places, there are tiny gifts just for playing.

6) Beware of sharks, but don’t be overly paranoid. If you worry too much about what is in the water, you might miss the fun completely. Sure, there are sharks in some waters, but if you use a little common sense and don’t focus too much on potential predators, you will likely never be bothered by any. There are plenty of people who scuba dive near the Great Barrier Reef and just have fun doing it!

7) Your ball always disappears in the end. My friend’s daughter, who is six, became distressed when her ball disappeared down the 18th hole and was not in the cup waiting for her. She said, “Where’d my ball go? I lost it!” and almost started to cry. We had to explain to her how a long pipe connected to the hole was designed to collect the balls at the end. It’s good to remember that’s this is how it will end for all of us—you can’t take it with you. At some point, the game will be over. Hopefully, we have more to show for it than a sweaty score card with some random numbers written on it. Others on the course with us will ideally say we were a good person, we had some kind of manners, and that we somehow made a difference in the brief moment that was our life.