This is where the Boardwalk meets The Blade.
The golf putter, often called a blade, blends nicely with the heavily populated Ocean City Boardwalk. Crowded miniature golf courses anchor the famed city tourist attraction and form an annual renewal for my friends and family.
At The Shore’s Boardwalk edition propels us into the lighter side of the sport. A family member, nephew or friend generally accompanies me on this annual, tongue-in-cheek miniature golf outing.
This week, the regular ATS golf column is replaced by one describing the act of “bearing down” amid waterfalls, rocks, ridges, logs and funnels. Almost everything is a par-2.
Flexing imaginary muscle, I told friends we decided against fabled Pine Valley and Pebble Beach this week in favor of Congo Falls.
The establishment at 1132 Boardwalk has three 18-hole layouts: the Congo Queen, Solomon’s Mine and the Lost City.
This adventure unfolded with my forever pal Paulie DiDonato, who has shared numerous athletic adventures — horse racing road trips, 10 K-runs, concerts and miniature golf both here and in Saratoga — with me since 1981. Paulie D has lived in Ocean City for decades and is an expert on Boardwalk miniature golf.
Some courses have more gimmicks and great hole-in-one opportunities for kids, he says. Others demand more shot-making. Congo Falls fit the latter category for us, requiring more accuracy and precision. It also has visual appeal via waterfalls, caves, stairs and some pleasingly long holes, especially going downhill.
Congo Falls packs the “remnants of royalty” from a pair of apes in concert inside a helicopter (Bob and Marley), a dancing gorilla, the Congo Shower water spray, “money balls” with pictures of historical figures like Ben Franklin and an imaginative menu.
We played the Congo Queen and Solomon’s Mine and immediately felt the fate of fortune.
My first shot at Congo Queen was a mistake turned into gold. I tried to aim the ball between two rocks, but instead hit it off the one on the right. Should have been disaster, but for some crazy reason, it changed course and bounded into the cup.
“Let’s go to Delaware Park,” Paulie shouted, thinking this luck would convert well into one of our horse-racing trips. No way was I allowed to clear my throat, act nonchalant and pretend to have meant that shot.
He knows me too long. I was lucky.
And two holes later, he was wise. Paulie spotted a stream running downhill from the third tee and while I played the right side and settled for a two, he insisted the water had a purpose.
“They wouldn’t put it there, flowing like that, unless it was meant to help you,” he surmised.
Fearlessly, Professor Paulie angled his shot into the water. It cascaded downhill, seemingly disappeared for a second and took a sharp right — into the cup. Sometimes it pays to get wet.
In three holes, we had two aces and were on our way.
We found most of the holes entertaining. In most cases, we determined that going around obstacles had no disadvantage and that no funnel or option going between two objects led to a hole-in-one.
One back-nine hole is tricky with the cup placed down inside of a bowl shape. Just get the ball into the bowl area and you have an ace, but finding the right speed is difficult. Not enough and you can’t get over the first entry point. Too hard and your ball skips through. We saw a few people attempt this feat after us and nobody succeeded, but the possible award available on this hole is a nice challenge.
Another hole features the need to clear the water and a speed bump to reach the hole, but striking the ball too hard makes it come back over a ridge toward the tee.
Solomon’s Mine, meanwhile, was comforting in two ways. Some of it was inside, providing welcome cool air. We also had primed our putting stroke and started zeroing in.
Miniature golf appeals to the hand-to-eye coordination and the kid in all of us. One of the most cherished structures of my youth was a 30-hole layout in Belmar, complete with sand traps, water hazards, long shots through ships and inclines worthy of a skateboard. It actually had tournaments, entry fees and big fields. Had it not been torn down, it would still be, to my eyes, the eighth wonder of the world.
But what we have here is just fine.
The owners of Congo Falls added a new business alongside another of its holdings, Haunted Golf, across from the Music Pier. This is OC Escape Adventure Games, an experience taking about a half hour and accommodating up to eight people in either the Time Machine or Alien Encounter rooms. This reflects the escape-adventure craze that is part game, part theater and part team-building exercise. Escape rooms are taking off around the world.
Call 609-391-7777 for more information.