Arts & Culture

Pop-Up Art Putt brings minigolf to Tacoma Art Museum starting June 18

Think there isn’t much in common between golf and art? Think again. Next week, the Tacoma art community — spearheaded by Tacoma Art Museum and the city’s Arts Commission, and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts — will celebrate the U.S. Open in artistic style by opening its own course of 10 artist-designed minigolf holes. Pop-Up Art Putt will run June 18-21, offering minigolf enthusiasts the chance to play for free all over the museum’s plaza, Tollefson Plaza and the Prairie Line Trail, newly opened for pedestrians next door.

“We’re delighted to bring this playful activity to the public in celebration of the U.S. Open coming to town,” Tacoma Art Museum director Stephanie Stebich said in a news release. “As a golfer, I can’t wait to play.”

Stebich may be a golfer, but not all of the participating artists are. Among the holes is one designed around a railway by an artist who prefers hiking, one or two imitating pinball machines and one that doubles as a skateboard ramp. There’s also a hole built in the shape of a giant Pacific octopus, one shaped like a tiger, one a tropical jungle with Rube Goldberg-type obstacles, and two that are city models of Tacoma itself. All are competing for an audience-voted prize of $500.

The pop-up putt-putt course doesn’t just coincide with the U.S. Open — it also falls on a weekend that includes Art Walk (June 18, with food trucks, live music and beer), Go Skateboarding Day (June 20, with skateboard clinics and competitions) and the museum’s Summer Solstice Sculpture Festival (June 21, with free museum entry and activities). Add in some sunny weather and you’ve got plenty to amuse the folks who aren’t spending the day at Chambers Bay.

But of course, the holes themselves are the real draw. We pinned down five of the 10 artists to ask them: What’s your hole? How are you building it? And do you even like golf?


What: “I wanted to make a whale theme, so I’m doing an orca. It’ll be a bit bigger than a garbage can, with the putting green about 4 by 12 feet in an L-shape.”

How: “I’m using salvaged building materials: old tile, quarter-inch plywood.”

Golf? “I’ve been to Tower (Lanes Entertainment Center) indoor golf. It’s not my favorite activity, but it’s fun.”


What: “The challenge is to build a functioning three-dimensional sculpture that people can actually walk on. It’s less an aesthetic thing than an engineering problem — you have to know how to build decking. I’m building this incredibly elaborate thing based on a skeeball game, where you shoot the ball up a ramp. It’s a 3-D version of Tacoma with bridges and landmarks that you can hit the ball through, like the 11th Street Bridge, the Tacoma Dome, the Museum of Glass, the LeMay, and Stanley and Seafort’s.”

How: “It’ll be about 10 by 5 feet, with a normal decking floor and wood components built to go on top. It all breaks down to fit in my car. The city model has an abstract feel, painted flat black. And it has some trick shots in it.”

Golf? “I grew up in a seaside summertime touristy community where there were a number of miniature golf courses. I have fond memories of minigolf. But to be honest, actual golf was boring to me. As I got older, though, I realized that everyone is drinking booze out there — they’re loaded.”


What: “It’s called ‘Tiger in the Woods’ — a cheap riff. There’s a wooden tiger, a bit bigger than life size, and you hit the ball through its mouth. I got the idea because golf is kind of boring, so on TV they cut to local things and places. I wanted to make something that would appeal to the PGA.”

How: “It’s more geometric than realistic, and I’m hoping to paint it Mexican folk-art style.”

Golf? “I love golf. It’s a bad habit, and I try to keep it to three or five times a year. It’s a nasty game that takes a lot of time. But it’s fun.”


What: “I’m calling it ‘Lunar Tilt Maze,’ and it’s based on the hand device where you tilt handles to move a marble through a maze. You putt up a rainbow ramp that becomes tighter into a prism, and the ball has to drop down into the surface of the moon.”

How: “Plywood and plaster, with a sculpted, painted moonscape, craggly and gray.”

Golf? “I grew up golfing, and I think it’s one of the most ridiculously wasteful sports even created by humans. I’m actually pretty good at it. But I’m a huge fan of minigolf.”


What: “I’ve actually done this before — we put nine minigolf holes in (the building we own next to our house). And for the Northwest AIDS Foundation event in 1996, I created a two-block street course. This one’s just 10 feet long and inspired by the Northern Pacific Railway, with a big 8-foot-high crossing sign and Tacoma at the end — the Terminus of Destiny. I also wanted to have something fun to hit through, like a Pachinko game. You shoot the ball and it clinks down and it’s all luck from there. One of my team is actually a former pinball game designer.”

How: “We’re basing the color scheme on the Northern Pacific logo, which is black and red with a yin-yang sign.”

Golf? “No, I don’t play. It’s nice being outside, but I’d rather go hiking.”