For a miniature-golf entrepreneur, Jeremy Franklin-Ross has a unique aversion to concepts like points and pars.
Since 2009, he and a team of fellow artists, woodworkers, and hackers have organized Smash Putt, an adult-only, self-proclaimed "miniature golf apocalypse" that pops up for a few weeks every year.
Putt-putt courses don't need to have a point; he believes they can be art. Instead of offering a score, holes can show how cruel people can be or how people find meaning in life. "We think about the social-experiment aspects of putt-putt a lot around here," he says.
Smash Putt has been hosted in a former plumbing store, government building, and walnut storage facility, among other locales. It's currently inside a former Mexican restaurant in Post Alley until April 30, when its creators will retire it permanently.
On a bustling Saturday night, Franklin-Ross, a slim fortysomething with a short beard, is sipping bourbon in his makeshift office, speaking with preemptive nostalgia for the putt-putt holes now on their final display. There's the Mission Impossible hole, a dark, foggy little room packed with red lasers that trigger alarms. There's the hole that lets you sabotage your friends, offering a button that closes the hole just as their ball is rolling toward it. There's the final hole, which chews your ball up with a buzz saw.
Smash Putt's 18 holes change every year; some get retired and some get added. Many of the retired holes have been of the "social experiment" variety, lacking specific directions. Many people, he says, will "get vocally angry when they're not provided an experience with a clear goal."
Outside his office door, thundering booms can be overheard from what he calls the event's "must-have hole" and its most defiantly pointless creation.
Called the Driving Range, the hole consists of a long metal cage with an air-powered cannon at one end. Patrons use the cannon to shoot high-velocity golf balls at objects inside the cage, which range from propane tanks to circular blades. That's it—there are no rules or scoring criteria.
The Driving Range, a hole requiring no putter, is quintessential Smash Putt—total anarchy. In the event's early years, the hole confused and upset people so much that they eventually hired someone to stand next to it, assigning random points and goals on the fly.
"For people not ready to create their own games, the person tells them to shoot at this object, shoot at that object," says Franklin-Ross. "You get a million points, you get a hole in one, fuck you."
There's also the primal destructive bliss the hole provides, somewhat diminished this year. For the first time in the event's history, there are no upright pianos to destroy. Due to the new venue's size, the Driving Range must be suspended above patrons, on the restaurant's second floor, to fit.
Objects can't be breakable now, for fear of small materials raining down on people's heads through the cage.
"As much as people are coming here at their own peril, we try to make things as safe as we can, within our means," he says, while admitting he finds it "odd" that the golf-ball cannon isn't pulverizing things. Pianos tended to last four days in the cage before they were reduced to shards and a new one had to be wheeled in.
Franklin-Ross estimates that roughly 100,000 people have attended Smash Putt since its inception. At one point, its creators considered turning it into a full-fledged business and taking their show on the road. They organized a Smash Putt in Denver to test the concept. But, he says, "being a carnie is a heartbreaking life, and we don't want to do it."
Nor do they want to be miniature-golf-course proprietors. Franklin-Ross leans back in his chair as he explains why they're closing the doors on Smash Putt for good, how its creators want to focus on art that's less goal-driven. But he wonders if a similarly popular "anthropological" project will happen again for him. Smash Putt taught him a lot about people: Many have a deep craving for rules, structure, and ways to impose order on the world. But people have a better time when they stop making sense.