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Chris Gay: Old Putt-Putt location brings back memories

Posted: March 12, 2017 - 2:18am

I stopped Friday morning. I finally stopped.

I've been wanting to stop for years. Several times, I passed by the place that felt like a second home during my youth. On every occasion, I would take a brief glance, reminisce for a few seconds and continue driving. But not Friday.

I stopped adjacent to the old Putt-Putt Golf and Games on Gordon Highway a few days ago. I had a reason to be on that part of town. I ordered trophies for my Upward basketball team from a place that does fantastic work at a reasonable price. I talked for a few minutes with the man who runs the business. We chatted about how Gordon Highway used to be something, with the Regency Mall and the numerous car dealerships, the bowling alley and Putt-Putt. Now, Gordon Highway looks more like a setting for a Mad Max sequel.

After picking up the trophies, I finally decided to next go to Putt-Putt on the way back. That location was the playground of my youth. Mom would drop me off there on Saturdays while she went shopping. I would play unlimited golf from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then go inside and play video games. It was during my youth games like Street Fighter came out and you had to punch that big pad with your right hand. Or you could play NBA Jam and listen to "Boomshakalaka!!!" for the rest of the day. I could go on and on.

The most fun I had, though, was outside on one of the three 18-hole courses. I enjoyed putting and gradually improved to the point I became the best junior there. I represented the Gordon Highway course three times in a regional junior putting competition, besting the local competition. Three times, I tried to win a college scholarship through this event in places like Martinez, Chamblee, Ga., and Doraville, Ga. Three times, I failed.

The memories have faded over time. I don't remember everything about Putt-Putt three decades ago. I can recall certain holes and how they played. Some, I have no recollection. All I know is it used to be highly competitive. There used to be weekly tournaments at that location and also at the "new" location just off Washington and Baston roads - a Putt-Putt location still in existence thanks to the hard work put in by owner Mark Ross.

There were professionals like Frank Warren and Bobby Ward, guys who worked regular jobs and then would come to Putt-Putt and blister the competition. They played on the Professional Putters Association (PPA) circuit, traveling around the Southeast, if not the nation, for various tournaments. Putt-Putt was in its heyday back in the 1980s and 1990s, and courses and tournaments were easy to find. There was some serious money to be made then, too.

In 1993, Ross played in the National Skins Tournament on television at the Martinez location. The purse was $18,000, a $1,000 skin per hole. Ross ran into bad luck - his opponent that day made 14 holes-in-one and took home $17,000.

I never took that next step to becoming a professional. I was a good junior and a good novice. I was never as dedicated as those guys.

I still enjoyed Putt-Putt, though, and got my first job at the Gordon Highway location. It was a lot of fun seeing the different angles of the business - the golf side, the food side, the birthday side. The worst part of the job was having to dress up as the Putt-Putt clown for birthday parties, wearing makeup and an orange wig. I never experienced college fraternity hazing. I experienced Putt-Putt birthday parties - sometimes as many as three on a Saturday.

If the clown outfit wasn't bad enough, I sometimes had to help with birthday parties in Martinez. The Putt-Putt golf ball outfit reeked of old sweat. That's because when you wear that ball on a 90-degree day, it felt like walking into a sauna. If you were fortunate enough to survive heat stroke, you had to deal with small children trying to look up into the ball to see if a "real person" was inside of it. The joy of birthday parties.

Sometime in the 1990s, while I attended college, the Gordon Highway corridor just fell apart. The mall lost its luster, while places like the Corky Bell's restaurant went out of business. Eventually, Putt-Putt went defunct. Today, there's no green carpet or orange rails. Instead, there's overgrowth and debris. It looks like the end of a Mad Max movie.

While there are fewer Putt-Putt locations today - there are just two in Georgia - the PPA lives on. There are five big events on the circuit this year, including the national championship in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Sometimes, I want to recapture the fun. I want to play in one of the Monday night tournaments. I want to see what it's like competing again. Maybe it'll happen.

On Friday, I took a few photos for nostalgia. I want to remember the good times I had there many years ago. As the old slogan went, I played Putt-Putt for the fun of it. In my memories, it was an enjoyable time.

 

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