Junk meets art to play golfby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
This weekend, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis launches a summerlong celebration of the 20th anniversary of its sculpture garden. There will be exhibits, a huge "Rock the Garden" concert, and a brand new mini-golf course. Fourteen teams of designers, architects, painters, sculptors and other creative types each built green-themed holes. One team is making its hole out of junk.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Have you ever seen a group of young children engrossed in a really inventive game? Wide-eyed, they all talk at once, whipping themselves into a frenzy of crazed excitement.
You see that expression a lot on the faces of Chris Pennington, Eric Veldey and Nate Kulenkamp.
"Let's launch a golf ball!" Veldey said as he walked across the the Minnesota Opera scenery shop in the Minneapolis Warehouse district.
"We can launch a golf ball," replied Kulenkamp.
The workshop is festooned with bits and pieces of junk -- junk destined to become a mini-golf hole.
Kulenkamp stands by a metal frame mounted on a large wooden platform.
"This is an old exercise bike," he said. "And we have retrofitted it with an old -- or a newer -- bike tire."
He climbs aboard. Then Eric Veldey grabs an assembly of pipes and holds it near the front wheel.
"This is actually a floor drain that would be in a shower. This'll mount on here," he demonstrated. "This is our ball feeder. So you'll put your ball in here."
The ball will drop down, then roll in front of the spinning wheel, which grabs the ball and hurls it forward.
"This is what happens when you shoot it," Kulenkamp said. "It won't hit the van," he said reassuringly, looking at the pristine Minnesota Opera van on the other side of the room.
The wheel catches the ball and hurls it across the workshop. It misses the van by quite a distance, and Kulenkamp's face splits in a wide grin. In the finished hole, the ball will hurtle into a large pinball machine.
"You've got to imagine it's made from this thick plexiglass. It's like Barbarella," said Pennington. Now this is where the skill comes in. A player controls the pinball machine's flippers using the bike's brake handles.
"The brake thing was genius, how they got that thing going," said Pennington.
"That was Eric, that was all Eric," laughed Kulenkamp. "We just sat back and said we don't want to deal with it."
A successful player will flip the ball into a hole in the middle of the table. Veldey points to how it then drops through another drainpipe onto the green to the left of the player, and heads towards the cup.
"We are hoping that if we set it up right there, it's a possibility, via maybe a bankshot, that you might get a hole-in-one," said Veldey.
But if the ball slips past the flippers it drops into another drain. That dumps the ball out on another green to the right of the player. The only way to the cup is to grab a putter and tap the ball through a tunnel under the bike.
Pretty much all the materials they are using came out of dumpsters, or was traded for other junk.
There's about $2,000 worth of three-quarter-inch plexiglass bartered from the Jungle Theater. The bumpers in the pinball machine are salvaged superballs and worn skateboard wheels. And then there's the astroturf they're getting from the Atlanta Falcons.
"It's on an 18-wheeler headed this way," said Pennington. It's just the 20-yard-line, so it's just a big 20, six-foot letters, so that's what we are going to use for the turf."
Pennington, Veldey, and Kulenkamp are doing this in their spare time.
Eric Veldey's real job is building scenery for the Minnesota Opera, and as a stagehand at other theaters around town.
Nate Kulenkamp does stagehand work part of the year, and then works state fairs selling cheese curds.
But he's also training with a pyrotechnics company, learning about fireworks.
That gets Chris Pennington thinking about the mini-golf possibilities. That wild-eyed expression takes over his face.
"So 2.0 will be fire-enabled. BOOOSH!" he laughed. "I'd love to have a flamethrowing mini-golf hole!"
He pauses and the crazed look fades.
"Oh, and I'm a teacher," he said. "I teach at North High School."
There were other ideas shelved due to lack of time. The pedal-powered lights, the compressed air ball return. Pennington's eyes get wild again.
"We got enough gimmicks for a whole mini-golf course," he said.
"We're squeezing it all into one hole, but we have enough for a whole course," agreed Veldy.
"It's our first time," laughed Pennington. "We got excited."
Pennington, Kulenkamp, and Veldey say they are already planning their post-mini-golf venture. It'll be part of the Haunted House for Halloween at the Soap Factory gallery later this year. Just watch out for wild-eyed guys with fireworks.
- Morning Edition, 05/22/2008, 7:50 a.m.