Remember mini-golf competitions on TV? The sport is back, and now you can bet on it
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Remember mini-golf competitions on TV? The sport is back, and now you can bet on it


If you're a child of the '80s and early '90s like I am, and you grew up watching the Deuce in the mornings before you went to school, there's a good chance you saw a whole ton of miniature golf on TV.

The Putt-Putt brand put on and filmed skins-type tournaments with master putters using sideboards, ramps, humps, bumps and angles to make aces galore. It was some of my first exposure to some form of golf, and to this day, I still get a kick out playing a round or two on vacation with my family.

However, it's been a long time since competitive miniature golf was featured in the same way it once was. Of course, there's been a dramatic overhaul in the ways we consume content, and there are lots of choices that go well beyond the Ocho sports that got play when the options were more limited. That doesn't mean there's not an audience for miniature golf.

In fact, with the advent and proliferation of legal sports betting, there might be a next generation of interested mini-golf viewer -- one with a financial motivation to watch.

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You may not be familiar with the World Putting League, but it's a tour with events that have been sanctioned by the US ProMiniGolf Association (USPMGA), the governing body for the pro mini-golf game. The WPL just put on its third event on June 26 in Myrtle Beach, which was also home to the first event in February and second in April. Later this week, the WPL will feature a match between Gary Hester, who won the first event, and Joel Graybeal, who took the subsequent two events, to determine the WPL champion.

The WPL one of many leagues created by Pro League Network, which started in 2022 as a company focused on developing sports-based competitions spanning a variety of sports and sporting derivatives that can gain regulatory approval for betting in various states around the country. Putting competitions are just one of the many events PLN has put on or intends to put on in the coming months and years. From paintball to carjitsu to slap-fighting to strongman competitions, PLN has 10 different leagues and is just getting started.

"We continue to see this gap in the market around underserved sports and under-utilized day parts on the betting calendar and the entertainment calendar overall," said Bill Yucatonis, co-founder of Pro League Network, when we spoke. "What we sought out to do and have been executing on is acquiring niche sports, reprogramming them to fit shorter formats, producing them on midweek time cards or other gaps in that schedule."

But why mini golf?

"Golf is an important vertical," Yucatonis said. "We're not looking to do another PGA, LIV alternative by any means. What we're more focused on is kind of deconstructing some of these sports -- whether that's shortening the time of play or taking some of the specific skills from a sport and really catering to that portion of it. There are a lot of people who are really good at putting and spend a lot of time practicing, and there are a lot of people who conversely can hit the ball 400 yards but may not be a good putter."

There are lot of skills to golf. Just ask Ben Hogan how he felt about putting compared to the rest of the game. And, yes, long-drive is next. Extreme Long Drive is set to launch sometime this summer.

OK, cool, you might be thinking, but what's the big deal here? How hard can it be to stage a putting competition?

As is turns out, it's not as simple as it seems. The biggest hurdles to overcome are in the regulatory world. For these competitions to be approved by state athletic commissions and wagering bodies, they have to meet certain standards of compliance. They have to be sanctioned by a recognized governing body. There are specific procedures to follow. For example, a contestant can't pay to enter these contests; they must be compensated. There are athlete-integrity programs to prevent collusion or other untoward comptetitve behavior.

The sports have to be officiated, meaning each group has someone walking with them to enforce the rules, like moving the ball away from side rails. You must just roll it out to whatever leaves a comfortable stroke, but WPL officials have an 8-inch measuring stick they use to solely determine where a ball is placed. Small rules changes like that were key to becoming a compliant competition.

"We do a lot of work before we put a sport forward," Yucatonis said, indicating nine states have approved these competitions, with three more expected to follow in July.

Yucatonis said he was surprised at the maturity of the pro mini-golf scene before jumping in, with many players competing for at least a decade, if not several decades, on the circuit.

The USPMGA has done a great job of cataloguing player performance and keeping detailed statistics -- not only on players but also on courses, which helped WPL in setting betting markets for these competitions.

Courses must meet certain design standards to host events. Those standards include the obstacles -- or lack thereof, as windmills and moving objects are not allowed -- on the course as well as the quality of the artificial turf surfaces, which have a significant impact on performance. As some surfaces get hotter over the course of a day, how fast they run and how much the ball breaks on them can change significantly. Players keep detailed notes akin to green books, indicating ideal angles and aim points at different times of day. There's a lot more that goes into putting than you might expect.

The WPL decided to start in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, because that's the home of the USPMGA, and there are plenty of courses in the area that already host competitions and have significant history and data pivotal to compliance. The WPL also wanted to learn how best to broadcast the events, which feature a commentary team and interviews. However, future competitions could go well beyond the Grand Strand to any of the nearly 100 USPMGA-approved courses. Maybe someday competitions are possible on natural grass surfaces and on different putting courses.

Yucatonis and the WPL are also looking to build out from their base of 150 or so pros, adding in qualifiers and other ways to expand the player pool.

As the WPL expands, there will be more ways to view the competitions. The most recent one was streamed on Action Network. The feeds are made available to sportsbooks. There's more expansion to come. But the goal is to give fans and bettors alike something to sweat when there's just not as much otherwise going on in the sporting day. Which, for a lot of people, sounds like a reason they'd go play mini golf in the first place.

As a participant or observer, though, the sport can surprise people in how fun it is, how much is going on that can't be seen and just how quickly you might feel like you're an expert. Make no mistake, though, the best putters in the world can absolutely smoke the best pro golfers in the world. Putting is a unique skill set, and it's one the WPL hopes will attract an audience.

About the author


Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for nearly 20 years. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He is a scratch golfer...sometimes.

Ballengee can be reached by email at ryan[at]

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