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The primal appeal of light bulb eyes.
The primal appeal of light bulb eyes.

Magic Carpet Golf

Field review by the editors.

Reno, Nevada

Reno has become a destination for fans of trendy public art thanks to imported Burning Man castoffs: everything from oversized dandelions to behemoth butterflies. But its visionary art credibility was established way back in 1974, with the opening of homegrown Magic Carpet Golf. This mini-golf mini-world offers the most holes (66) in Nevada, and is the last of over a dozen built by Bill Koplin (1911-1993), who was the first to realize that hitting a golf ball would be more enjoyable if you had to aim under a giant dinosaur or into a towering Easter Island Tiki head.

Turn at the onion dome and magic lamp.
Turn at the minaret and magic lamp.

"He was the one who started that," said Jeanne Arterburn, Magic Carpet owner and Bill's daughter. Koplin opened his first attraction, Pee Wee Golf, in 1948, only, according to Jeanne, because he was stuck with a strip of land and didn't know what else to do with it. "He didn't golf," Jeanne said, but he had a knack for turning odd scraps of wood and pipe into amusing golf ball hazards. "In the beginning it was pretty austere," said Jeanne of the first Koplin course, "but it was still fun."

Moai of Magic Carpet Golf.
Moai of Magic Carpet Golf.

Koplin was inspired to add his first rebar-and-cement sculpture, a dinosaur, when he saw one like this on a family road trip. "He said, 'I'm a welder; I can do that,'" Jeanne recalled, and so he built the internal framework while Jeanne helped with the wiring and cement. The Koplins later created an additional, more realistic dinosaur at Pee Wee Golf, but Jeanne said that visitors always preferred the lumpy original.

Cowboy Worm, or the pet snake of Pecos Bill?
Cowboy Worm, or the pet snake of Pecos Bill?

"He was always talking to people," said Jeanne of her father. "'Do you like this? What do you think about that?'"

By the time Magic Carpet Golf was built in Reno, Bill Koplin had been crafting sculptures for two decades, and had an assortment of tried-and-true ideas. The Reno course features scores of hand-made Koplin monsters, dinosaurs, pagan deities, a putt-thru pyramid with mummies, and a giant worm with a cowboy hat.

The Watz-Yerziz Mine (What's Yours is Mine) is a nod to Reno's silver rush heyday -- a one-of-a-kind creation complete with dummies who look like they've been underground too long.

"We built things that we thought would be neat," said Jeanne of the Koplin statue hazards. "And also things that would work for a golf course hole." Finding the sweet spot between attention-grabbing art and a navigable golf hazard, she said, took years. "A lot of trial and error."

Hideous mannequins toil in the Watz-Yerziz Mine.
Hideous mannequins toil in the Watz-Yerziz Mine.

According to Jeanne, her father was behind a number of mini-golf innovations. At first, magic "carpet golf" was literally that, with putting surfaces made from strips of wildly different rug scraps. Bill Koplin didn't invent artificial turf, but he did help standardize carpet to make play more fair. Jeanne said he was the first person to introduce a snack bar at a mini-golf. He invented the half-size score-keeping pencil after customers kept stealing his regular pencils -- by simply sawing them in half. And when he noticed that families would lose track of whose ball was whose, he dipped his golf balls in different paints, creating the easy-to-distinguish colored golf ball.

Enchanted frog hazard.
Enchanted frog hazard.

"People don't realize that all of those things weren't there before," said Jeanne. "My dad took it upon himself to figure that stuff out."

Outer Reno has continued to grow around Magic Carpet Golf -- the apartment building and self-storage business visible behind the giant moai only slightly mar the illusion you're the Golf God of Easter Island. Nudging your radiant ball through Magic Carpet's jumble of landmarks, magical beings, and ice cream palaces is the most zen thing tourists can do in this part of town.

We ran Jeanne's claims of her dad's accomplishments past Tim Hollis, curator of the Pop Culture Museum and author of The Minibook of Minigolf. His reaction was, "Sounds good to me!" Although the history of miniature golf is fogged with bad record-keeping and imperfect memories, and although many mini-golf visionaries probably had similar brainstorms at similar times, there's no question that Bill Koplin was among the sport's early innovators.

Also see: Pee Wee Golf - Guerneville, CA | Magic Carpet Golf - South Lake Tahoe, CA

Magic Carpet Golf

6925 S. Virginia St., Reno, NV
South end of the city. I-580 exit 62. Turn east onto Neil Rd, then a quick right at the stoplight onto S. Virginia St. Drive a third of a mile.You'll see Magic Carpet Golf on the right. of Neil Rd on S. Virginia St.
Su-Th 9:30-10, F-Sa 9:30-11. Closed in cold weather. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
19 holes $9; 28 holes $13.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Carpeteria GenieCarpeteria Genie, Reno, NV - < 1 mi.
Atlas StatueAtlas Statue, Reno, NV - 2 mi.
Junkee Clothing ExchangeJunkee Clothing Exchange, Reno, NV - 4 mi.
In the region:
The Way It Was Museum, Virginia City, NV - 13 mi.

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