OKALOOSA COUNTY — Sporting a backwards cap, baseball T-shirt and faded Levi's, Daily News reporter Tom McLaughlin oozed confidence as he approached the reportedly "toughest" hole at Goofy Golf.
The blue ramp ahead showed a hungry Pac-Man in hot pursuit of Blinky. Pac-Man scoring the meal, however, seemed more likely than McLaughlin getting a hole-in-one.
Putt-putt golfers on the Emerald Coast — spoiled rotten by a treasure trove of courses — can feel his pain. These are the area’s toughest holes – ramps, immovable obstacles, bad bounces, rough hazards and impossible angles, according to course managers.
The Daily News sent out six reporters to take on some of the hardest putt-putt holes in Northwest Florida.
Snowbird or local, proceed at your own peril.
Wild Willy's Adventure Zone
1306 Miracle Strip Pkwy S.E., Fort Walton Beach
It's a treacherous journey up Mount Chachimbiro among prehistoric species to get to hole No. 10.
It's said to be more likely for the animatronic dinosaurs to come to life than it is for a player to get a hole-in-one. Education reporter Alicia Adams was up for the challenge, immediately conceiving a tactical plan.
Dinosaurs be damned.
The hole is bi-level. Players have to hit the ball into the first, upper-level hole, which drops into a pipe leading to a second green. The only obstacles in the way of the first shot are a wavy fairway and a sand pit to the left.
Alicia over-judged the length of the hole, however, and hit the ball a bit too hard. It bounced backward, leaving her a long birdie putt.
This time she went for a gentle approach. Her birdie attempt glided down slowly, bouncing off the back-most wall and, again, well shy of the hole.
Alicia changed her game plan to damage control.
Three more shots and the ball was in. Final score: 5, double bogey.
Destin Laser Tag and Black Light Mini Golf
20011 Emerald Coast Pkwy, Destin
Hole No. 18 at the black light mini-golf course is known to be a graveyard for broken and abandoned golf clubs left behind by frustrated players.
It's said that only one person each year claims a hole-in-one. Having bragging rights for life for those who complete the nearly impossible task just doesn't seem enough.
Nathan Cobb with the Walton Sun was the unfortunate soul assigned to hole No. 18.
First he tackled hole No. 10, also said to be one of the toughest holes. He shot par on that one and moved onto No. 18.
He never thought it would be so unforgiving.
The putting surface was lit only by the dim glow of paint reflecting off the black lights. A traffic cone, barely even visible while teeing off, is the first obstacle placed at the center.
Make it past the cone and you'll face three uphill ramps, each narrowing as they near the top of the structure.
Hit the ball too hard, and it rolls back down to the cone. Hit it too lightly, it also comes back down.
Nathan experienced both.
Course rules say that after six strokes, players are supposed to call it quits. Employees say that's when many will yell in frustration, leaving their clubs behind as they storm out of the building.
Not Nathan. After round one, which included kicking his golf ball in frustration, he begged for a mulligan for the hole.
Nathan's second go was much more successful. Nathan quickly learned a soft, short stroke was key.
Slow and steady wins the race? It definitely wins a game of mini golf, if you ask Nathan.
In the end, a double bogey didn't seem too shabby. No clubs were left behind, at least this time.
The Track Destin
1125 US-98, Destin
The pressure was on immediately as Sports Editor Seth Stringer stepped up to hole No. 13 at The Track's elevated Mountain Course.
Seth is no stranger to a green, priding himself on being good with a putter.
The course before him was simple in design, but complex in execution.
To the right of the starting point was a large, indented rough blocking a straight path to the ace. The only hope for a player to get a hole-in-one is to putt straight toward a steep hill, with several obstacles threatening to bounce the ball into oblivion.
If players avoid the obstacles and the ball rolls up the hill at just the right angle, it will roll straight east toward the ace.
Seth watched in awe as a young boy stepped up and casually buried the hole-in-one.
Seth attempted to replicate the boy's technique, putting the ball straight up the hill. He avoided all of the obstructions, but Seth's ball had a mind of its own. It veered too far right, avoiding the hole by an inch and bounced straight off the brick exterior of the course.
The ball nearly fell straight into the indented rough, but by some force of nature — only explainable as Voodoo magic — it rolled back onto the green.
What would have been a knee buckler for anyone else was nothing to Seth, who buried the birdie with a confident stroke.
Rainforest Black Light Golf & Arcade
11394 US-98 Unit D, Miramar Beach
Public Safety Reporter Kaylin Parker stepped into the dimly lit rain forest to try her hand at hellish hole No. 15 at the blacklight course.
Surrounded by Tiki statues and a monkey or two, Kaylin made a quick decision of how she'd score herself a hole-in-one.
The owner says the proper way to handle the course is to go straight over a bridge. The catch, you may ask?
It wouldn't be mini golf unless the bridge was decorated with several obstacles likely to bounce the ball right back to her feet.
Kaylin used momentum to her advantage and catapulted the ball clear through the bridge. It came to rest just shy of the hole.
Unfortunately, Kaylin's ball wasn't as compliant during her second putt. Her aim was on point, but the ball bounced right out of the hole at the last second.
Kaylin made par.
The Golf Gardens of Destin
12958 US-98, Miramar Beach
It would be an understatement to say that hole No. 15 at the Golf Gardens' putt-putt course is "intimidating."
Frightening? Menacing? No word in the Oxford English Dictionary seems to quite give the course the respect, the fear it deserves.
The size of the green, leading one to question why it's even called mini golf, is a beast in itself.
Who better to tackle No. 15 with a positive attitude than jolly and oh so optimistic Military Reporter Jim Thompson? The answer is simple, no one.
Jim was all smiles as he stepped up to the hole, even though he couldn't even see the green. He would have to go on instinct, which told him to shoot the ball straight toward the wall in front of him, hoping it would bounce left toward where the hole might be.
Jim's ball bounced just as he hoped it would, leading toward three rock pillars that created a natural crossroad.
Jim was forced to make a game-altering decision.
Right or left? Right or wrong? Jim always does the "right" thing, and so he did.
With a hard stroke to the right of the rock barricades, Jim's ball headed straight down the long green toward the hole.
The ball glided effortlessly, but took a quick turn backwards after hitting a rock on the exterior of the course.
Jim completed the hardest course with an eagle.
401 Eglin Pkwy NE, Fort Walton Beach
It's time to take a look back at Tom, who just made a stroke straight toward Pac-Man's open and inviting mouth.
Tom's ball glided flawlessly over the blue ramp, flirting with the ace before cutting a sharp right turn to the northwest.
Tom's worst fear for the game had become reality — the ball had lodged itself against the wall. The birdie he longed for was no longer in his reach.
A defeated Tom took his second stroke, then third. Each shot, the ball seemed to turn away from the hole at the last minute.
At the fourth stroke, Tom was determined to make it his last. He slowly braced his feet, eyed the shot and ... it was in.