Putt-putt on steroids.
That’s how some people describe park golf, the region’s newest sport.
Thirty years after its inaugural game in Japan, park golf has made its United States debut in Akron, where two nine-hole courses sit on nine acres next to the home of Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, the man whose idea it was to bring the game here.
A retired professional wrestler whose international celebrity grew so large that he also became a television star in Japan, Beyer first admired the condensed version of golf while in Asahikawa, Japan, for an appearance in 1995.
“It was more of a fun game than regular golf,” said Beyer, who will celebrate his 83rd birthday Wednesday.
With a nine-hole course limited to 500 meters or less, a single club and a hard plastic ball, park golf is a cross between mini golf and America’s traditional game of golf. The maximum length for each of the nine holes on the course is 100 meters.
“I would hit the regular golf ball or slice it or hook it and swear a little bit," Beyer said. “But a good shot in park golf is down the fairway 30, 40, 50 yards. I liked it.”
Beyer liked it so much that for years he had two holes set up in his own backyard.
His daughter Kris Jones and her husband took The Destroyer’s idea and ran with it, pitching the idea of a full park golf course to Akron-Newstead town officials in 2011.
“I took it to the township and to my surprise they said OK,” said Kris Beyer. “I grabbed the bull by the horns, and my husband thought it was a great idea.”
After two years of construction and maintenance, the course opened June 22 as the first park golf course in North America to be certified by the NIPON Park Golf Association. The grand opening is today at 7065 Sandhill Road in Akron.
Players – or parkers, as they are referred to – use a club that looks similar to a driver, but with a thicker, shorter shaft and a putter face. With a flat face, the brightly colored ball usually has zero to minimum loft.
The 8-inch diameter hole on the green is almost double the size of a traditional golf hole. Where a golf green is usually cut to one-quarter inch or lower, the park green at Destroyer Park Golf is kept at one inch.
“Japan’s park golf association is very official,” she said. “The NPGA is like the PGA here. Honest to goodness, they take it that serious.”
NIPON Park Golf Association representatives will be on site today during the grand opening to do the ribbon cutting and be available for game demonstrations and lessons.
The rules are the same as regular golf, and one game typically takes between one-and-a-half to two hours to complete. With shorter playing time and a less strenuous swing (usually) the game puts less physical strain on the body than traditional golf.
“All ages can play and elderly who may not be able to swing a full golf swing,” said Jones.
At $8 per game, it’s usually cheaper than catching a movie, and the celebrity is included.
Every morning at 7 a.m., Jones said you can find her father sitting in his chair outside the clubhouse, which doubles as The Destroyer Museum with wrestling memorabilia covering the inside walls.
“It’s been a couple days when it was raining,” she said. “I told him the night before, ‘Dad, if it’s raining, I won’t be there right at 7 a.m. because nobody is going to play.’
“He called me at 7:05 a.m. and said, ‘I’m waiting here for somebody to pick me up.’ I got up and went downstairs and made coffee and picked him up.”
“I open the place up at 7 a.m.,” Beyer said. “It’s my name on it, and I sit there in my chair and I wave to people who go by and hopefully I’ll attract somebody. I wear my mask sometimes. Sometimes I don’t wear my mask.”
Beyer isn’t always in the chair though. Despite being diagnosed with neuropathy, which causes numbness in his hands and feet, if challenged, The Destroyer will likely trade his seat for a club.
“I don’t have the balance that I used to have,” said Beyer. “I’m healthy. I get around with a walker alright. I’ve had two hips replaced, a knee replaced, a shoulder replaced. So I’ve been chewed up in wrestling but I’d do it all over again. I can still play park golf. And you can play it too. You might be able to beat me.”