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Flight O’ Time

On June 11, 1930, the Rogue Valley adopted the nation’s latest fad — what most were calling “midget golf.”

The idea of miniature golf courses had been tried in various forms from the very beginning of the outdoor game in the late 1800s; however, the public had never become so excited about hitting a tiny white ball into a hole than it did between 1929 and 1932.

Before the first valley resident sank their first putt, there were already 25,000 midget courses in the United States, and an unknown number in Europe and Australia. Even on ocean liners, courses were installed on and under their decks, allowing passengers an enjoyable way to pass the hours while on the high seas.

Robert Barker, a San Jose, California, businessman, had already set up miniature golf courses in a number of California cities and, early in 1930, he leased property on the corner of Medford’s West Eighth Street and South Oakdale Avenue. By June, he opened his outdoor “Midget Golf Course,” where one could “play this sporty game on this sporty 18-hole course.”

Open every day from 7 a.m. to midnight, and illuminated by floodlights, adults paid 30 cents a game and children under 15 were charged 15 cents. Children could play only in the morning, unless accompanied by adults.

Within days, weekly tournaments began with dozens of contestants vying for silver cups. By August, the Mail Tribune joined in the fun, offering $50 prizes to men and women participants.

By then, Medford jeweler John Johnson was already having plans drawn up in Los Angeles to convert his building at Eighth and Bartlett streets into an indoor midget golf course, featuring an attached tea and refreshment room, “high-class music,” and local scenic views painted on the walls for an outdoor appearance.

There were rumors, soon to be confirmed, that another golf course would be opening on North Riverside in Medford.

Medford City Council members were already concerned and receiving complaints.

“So popular has proven the recently established miniature course,” said a Mail Tribune reporter, “attracting hundreds of players and onlookers, it is likely that the city council will pass an ordinance charging a license fee for operation of a course, and possibly regulatory conditions.”

Hundreds of automobiles, if not just passing by, were stopping in the street, or parking erratically around the Oakdale course, especially at night. There were a few drunks, fights and annoying late-night noise endured by nearby residents.

And yet, there was an additional, as yet unwritten and embarrassing problem. There were no nearby restroom facilities for those willing to relieve nature’s call in public.

The council imposed a license fee and required all midget golf courses be sanitary.

Hearing their decision, Robert Barker announced that construction would “begin immediately on comfort stations to be located on grounds adjoining the course.”

John Johnson’s course, “The Putt,” opened in October. Greens were covered in at least 700 pounds of Angora goat hair felt. The lighting system was identical to that used in actor Mary Pickford’s “$35,000 Midget Course in Beverly Hills.” Curious visitors would enjoy the view from the “spectators’ balcony,” and enjoy “tasty sandwiches and drinks” in oil-heated comfort.

By summer 1931, the one-year golf boom was over. Nineteen-year-old Irvin Bowman, one of the first players and tournament winners, now managed Robert Barker’s Oakdale course. Games now cost 15 cents or two games for 25 cents.

The fad had come to an end. “Midget Golf” was lost in the Mail Tribune’s “On This Day”/ “Flight O’ Time” columns for decades to come.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “To Live and Die a WASP, 38 Women Pilots Who Died in WWII.” Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.