Miniature golf on the greens of Kavernputt.
Miniature golf on the greens of Kavernputt.

Laurel Caverns - Cave Mini Golf

Field review by the editors.

Hopwood, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's largest cave sits out in the middle of nowhere. We figured that we wouldn't have much company when we stopped by on a weekday afternoon. Imagine our shock to find the cave packed with people, probably more than we've seen in any cave, except Carlsbad Caverns or Mammoth Cave.

David Cale is the owner of and mastermind behind Laurel Caverns. He knew that even though he had a very long cave -- in goes down 46 stories -- length was pretty much all that he had. His cave didn't have any giant formations, Indian skeletons, hermit burrows, or lost waterfalls to brag about. He had to jazz it up a little.

Descent rope.
Descent rope.

Cale started by making his cave available to anyone who was interested: Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, summer camps, school trips, fossil hunts, clubs, churches, geology seminars. Boy Scouts can earn merit badges in geology and climbing here; Girl Scouts in geology, ecology, cave exploring, and sports.

He opened the bottom 29 stories of the cave to rough-and-tumble explorers, a gritty three-hours of shin-banging fun that requires all participants to sign a release waiver. "Injuries unavoidably occur from this kind of activity."

He opened the public part of the cave to rappelling (another release form), and built a second, rock-climbing wall as well -- blended with the natural wall to be invisible. As Laurel Caverns literature points out: "Since our cliff is in the cave, rain is never a problem."

He built a light show into one of the cave chambers, sequenced to the music of either Fanfare for the Common Man or the Hallelujah Chorus. Doreen, our tour guide, told us that, "We have a choice because we do have church groups that come in here."

The result of all of this diversity is that the main passages of Laurel Caverns are like an underground Grand Central Station: seniors on their way to the light show, Girl Scouts and teenage boys to the rock wall, spelunkers to the unlit depths below. If Cale could figure out a way to stage a rave in a cave without crippling most of its participants, Laurel Caverns would no doubt try it.

Mini golf course underground.

David Cale's most impressive accomplishment, however, isn't even in Laurel Caverns. It sits above the entrance, through a doorway off of the gift shop. It's Kavernputt, a 10,000-square-foot, 18-hole miniature golf course inside a fake cave.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, Cale thought about how one could make caving accessible to everyone. It's an impossible task, as even the easiest cave requires some stamina and agility, and there are slopes and pits and stairs to navigate. Then in 1996 Cale hit on the idea of building a flat cave outside of the cave -- and filling it with a mini-golf course. Three years later, at a cost of a half-million dollars, Kavernputt opened to the public.

Corridor.

Jack, who helped to build Kavernputt, tells us that Cale had no plans for its construction. "He'd come in in the morning and say, 'Let's put this here, and this here.'" Cale didn't skimp; he wanted a full 18 holes, and each hole had to convey something of what makes a cave special. While the "stalactite" and "bat" holes are certainly justified, Cale seems to have been pushing things with "the earthquake room" (hole #14) and "the strobe room" (hole #11). When we told Jack that the strobe room was pitch black, he replied, "We took the strobe light out. It didn't work too good."

Even though Kavernputt could use more hazards, it's obviously a labor of love. Cale could have skimped, but instead he built an impressively realistic fake commercial cave, with low ceilings, twisting passageways, and garish, primary-color lighting. It's even dank like a real cave, since Cale pumps in air from a real cave. And it's dark. Really dark. You'll have a hard time seeing your ball in Kavernputt, but that's part of its exotic appeal. We recommend playing it wearing a helmet with a light.

Laurel Caverns - Cave Mini Golf

Laurel Caverns Geological Park

Address:
Caverns Park Rd, Hopwood, PA
Directions:
Laurel Caverns Geological Park. US 40 three miles east of Uniontown. At the crest of Summit Mountain (look for the Summit Inn) turn right (south) onto Skyline Drive. You'll still have five miles to go; follow the Laurel Caverns signs.
Phone:
724-438-3003
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Muffler ManMuffler Man, Uniontown, PA - 8 mi.
60-Foot-Tall Steel Cross60-Foot-Tall Steel Cross, Hopwood, PA - 7 mi.
Giant Apple CoreGiant Apple Core, Dunbar, PA - 11 mi.
In the region:
Coal Country Miniature Golf, Fairmont, WV - 31 mi.

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January 23, 2018

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