Par-King: The Recognized Taj Mahal of Miniature Golf Courses

(Photo by par-king.com)

That Greek-Americans are the creators of what is now recognized as “Mini golf’s Taj Mahal” should come as no surprise. Since the arrival of Greeks to North America, virtually every form of public entertainment has had its Hellenic owners and innovators. Clearly there is a public amusement spectrum beginning with George Pangalos’ (d. 1921) creation and management of the 1893 Chicago World Exposition through all the subsequent Greek-owned sideshows, midways, carnivals, circuses, horse shows, resorts, lake park pavilions, rodeos and amusement parks/theme parks. I have heard various titles given to these collective forms of entertainment venues. The “amusement business” seems the best overarching title for this spectrum of popular entertainments.

The Par-King Skill Golf in Lincolnshire, IL is not just yet another of these Greek-owned public amusements but one that since its inception has been a national leader in miniature golf. For those who do not follow the rise and fall of American public entertainment forms, the New York Times has reported that by August, 1930 there were over 25,000 mini-golf courses in the country while there were only about 6,000 regular golf courses in the entire nation.

As one would suspect, the Par-King Skill Golf course did not just spring up overnight. Its origins, creative vision and sustained energy are all due to the ongoing efforts of one extended Greek-American family. But with each such Greek-American story there is always a founder from which all else follows.

On July 22, 1913, George Nicholas Boznos (1896-1991) arrived from Greece. By 1920, Boznos lived above a grocery store with his uncle Gustave at 3958 Grand Avenue in Chicago. At some point in the 1920s, Boznos married his wife Demetra and fathered four sons. In 1923, George Boznos moved his family to a 30 acre piece of property located at the southeast corner of Waukegan and Dempster in Morton Grove, Illinois. This Chicago suburban piece of property and the family businesses it inspired began first with the Dempster Vegetable Farm. Next Boznos opened the Dempster Cafe. So, enterprising were the extended members of the Boznos clan that I must turn from the various businesses these individuals managed to create and simultaneously maintain on this property and jump immediately to the establishment of what was, in time, to become the Par-King Skill Golf course.

In 1951, the Boznos clan opened a driving range on their property called (at first) Gorgeous George’s Golfing Garden. Dates differ but sometime between 1955 and 1956 the range’s name was changed to 4G- Practise Fairways. It was during the 1950s, that Boznos and his sons altered their 30 acres of mixed produce production by adding a landscaping dimension to the business. Which morphed gradually into an “impressive array of unique trees and topiary, but also 10,000 flowers planted annually throughout the (future mini-golf range) grounds. Unintentionally, perhaps, but nonetheless each such business addition or alteration eventually dovetailed into elevating the driving range into something entirely new. By the 1960s, the driving range had morphed into a full-blown mini-golf course.

The original Par-King “was designed and its construction supervised by (then) 20 year old Sam Boznos…each of the 8 holes is identified by a replica, meticulously made by hand and painted in beautiful colors, of some famous landmark. You get an idea of what the holes look like, and what they represent, from their names. The holes on the front nine are called: ‘Liberty Bell,’ ‘Alligator,’ ‘Toll Road,’ ‘Statue,’ ‘Mount Rushmore,’ ‘Grandfather’s Clock,’ ‘Turtle,’ and ‘Prudential.’ On the last nine: ‘The Shoe (an 11-foot tall copy of the one the old gal lived in with all her kids),’ ‘Indian Tepee,’ ‘Humpty Dumpty,’ ‘Sweetheart,’ ‘Three Bears,’ ‘Roller Coaster,’ ‘Old Mill,’ ‘Clown’ and ‘Roulette.’

It took almost two years and about $80,000 to complete the course. The ‘Prudential’ building took the longest to make. It is 11 feet high, has 41 floors like the one on the lakefront, 2,500 tiny plastic windows, each one inch square and a quarter inch thick. Mount Rushmore is a reproduction of the monument in South Dakota with the faces of four Presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt in clay (gradyent.blogspot.com).”

Then, on August 28, 1965, Amusement Business magazine crowned the Boznos clan’s course as “mini-golf’s Taj Mahal,” emphasizing that it was “noted to be the most elaborate (and highest-grossing course) 18-hole mini-golf in the nation.” Each putting-green was custom made, hand painted and featured a unique theme or construct. In 1977, ‘4G-Fairways…George’s Gorgeous Golfing Garden’ moved to 21711 North Milwaukee Road in Lincolnshire IL–some thirty miles north of Chicago. With this move the range became known as Par-King Skill Golf with the Boznos clan adding proudly the claim none deny The World’s Most Unusual Miniature Golf. This version of the course opened with ‘two 18-hole courses, 19 moving obstacles and 7 water holes (par.-king.com).” In its current location, the Course is owned and managed by George Boznos’ grandchildren.

Be advised that none of these putting-greens are the same. As reported in Men’s Journal, “Par-King in Lincolnshire, Illinois, calls itself ‘The World’s Most Unusual Miniature Golf,’ and it may be right. The highlight is a roller coaster hole in which patrons hit balls onto the Super Looper, a track with an upside-down element. Par-King’s two 18-hole courses have a wacky assortment of features, like a gorgeous hand-carved carousel with colorful horses at one hole and the Statue of Liberty at another. On the rocket hole, golfers hit balls up a ramp and onto a track that runs in and down the rocket. You’ll also find Mount Rushmore.”

This in no way is the limit of Par-King creations. A replica of the Sears (now Willis) Tower, elephants, dinosaurs, Mount Rushmore, scary clowns and even an elevator hole are all individual greens. Every winter these fiberglass creations must be dismantled, refurbished and placed in storage. Still, given the drive and creative nature of the Boznos clan at least one hole a year is replaced by a new one, hand-crafted designed in-house.

Here we must stress that while the Boznos clan is following creatively on the mini-golf course ‘form’ much much more is at work. Writing for Smithsonian Magazine, Matt Blitz reported that ‘until the mid-1920s, mini-golf courses were mostly miniaturized, putting-only versions of regular golf courses. That changed in the late 1920s, when Garnet Carter built and patented his Tom Thumb course in the resort town of Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Taking the “putting-only” course a step further, he added rock tunnels and hollowed-out logs as obstacles and soon found that his miniature golf course was far more profitable than his standard one.

Mini-golf has come far from the days of hollowed-out logs; today’s courses feature obstacles such as replicas of national landmarks, subway stations and laughing clowns. While there are only about 5,000 mini-golf courses still in America, there is a real art to the elaborate design of many of them…in the early 2000s, a steel “Super Looper” coaster (was introduced) that carries the ball upside-down. They are the only two like them in the world (smithsonian.com August 19, 2015). And here is where the Boznos clan demonstrates, once again, their innate creativity across generations.

Today, this multi-generational family-owned business is still thriving. But don’t take my word for it. Various videos on YouTube show different putting-greens at the Par King Miniature Golf course and their individually elaborate sites. Without a doubt, Par King Skill Golf remains a putt-putt paradise.

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