The decline of Detroit is often blamed, at least in part, on the exodus of its population, jobs, and capital from the urban core to the suburbs. Fittingly, those involved in the city’s rebirth often reappropriate that history toward a positive end, playing with the juxtaposition of urban and suburban by converting abandoned lots and underused spaces into urban farms, a memorial to tract housing, or a city-wide hopscotch course, for example.
Now a group of designers and artists are bringing one of the most quintessentially suburban activities—mini golf—into the heart of Detroit, only with an aesthetic sensibility to reflect its unique surroundings. Rather than run-of-the-mill windmills or dinosaurs, the obstacles that challenge Urban Put Put’s golfers will include a wrecked car, a burnt out house, and an abandoned toilet, ripped from its plumbing. And golfers will be treated to prime views of the iconic, and iconically empty, Michigan Central Station, once the world’s tallest train station (and a prime destination for ruin porn enthusiasts).
The group behind the project, which already raised $3,000 for construction costs on Kickstarter, is a team of students at local college Lawrence Technological University, led by artist and professor Steven Coy. The land comes courtesy of the Imagination Station, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating blight in the vicinity of the train station. The 17-hole (or possibly 18-hole, if they can finish on time) course entrusts each student with the concept and design of a hole, meant to "mimic things that we see and are surrounded by in Detroit, but just reinventing it in a playful way," Coy says. It’s a mission that’s reflected in the construction materials as well, including wood culled from abandoned homes and recycled metal scavenged from scrap yards.
Another feature that makes the course distinct is the business model. Given the location, "we couldn’t really put up a fence and post and charge people to get in," Coy says. "We’ve designed it to the aesthetic where it can be vandalized and it would only add to the look of it," which means the graffiti will come pre-applied.
Coy and his students have only been at work on the semester-long project since early September, but are hustling to finish construction by the end of this month. On December 1, a polar bear mini-golf tournament will serve as a ribbon-cutting celebration. Coy sees the golf course as only the beginning: "This is something that may eventually even grow into a ‘Detroit Urban Country Club,'" he says. "We were thinking about setting up some Ping Pong tables, and then we can host golf and tennis at our club."