Massive Arctic icebergs crop up to form a nearly impenetrable blockade.

Deep orange sandstone canyons need to be navigated to have any success. And don’t underestimate the scourge of out-of-control squirrels.

The newest artwork at the Indianapolis Museum of Art brings nature and ecological issues, such as the disappearance of Indiana’s prairies and the fragile state of our rivers, to life.

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But it’s hard to be too serious when you’re literally putting around the issues.

The world of high-brow art intersects with backyard entertainment when the Indianapolis Museum of Art opens its mini golf course this summer. Local and national artists have been recruited to create whimsical holes inspired by the natural world.

People will be able to tackle all 18 holes, playing around uniquely designed sculptures that for once people are encouraged to touch.

“The interactivity and playfulness of it, while still being artwork, is really the key thing for us,” said Jeremy Shubrook, director of festivals, performance and public programs at the museum. “So many times, you come to an art museum and just look at the artwork. You’re not going to engage with it much. In this case, you get to play with somebody’s vision.”

This will be the second year for mini golf at the museum. The idea originally came from a similar exhibition done at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

More than 30,000 people came to the museum last year to play the course, which had a bicentennial theme and included holes such as a recreation of author Kurt Vonnegut’s office and one that implemented longtime Indiana icon Willie the Whale.

The course was packed with people on weekends and during special events being held at the museum. That made it an easy decision to come back again with another design in 2017, Shubrook said.

The course will again be held on the museum’s Alliance Sculpture Court, a wide open patio surrounded by gardens and trees.

It is a fitting location, considering the theme of the course this time around.

“One of the things to remember is, not only do we have the museum, but we have these beautiful grounds all around it,” Shubrook said. “The theme this year is ‘The Natural World,’ tying into the park, the gardens and all of that.”

Callouts for designs were sent out last year, and more than 50 proposals came in for the course. Artists such as southsider William Denton Ray and Greenwood resident Quincy Owens, as well as Luke Crowley and Alan Goffinski, returned to create new holes this time around.

Owens and Crowley teamed up to build “2058: the first mini golf hole without ice,” which imagines the impact of climate change on the world.

Goffinski created a replica of the White River and its tributaries in “White River Putt.”

But new artists also contributed their ideas for the design. Kevin Bielicki, a sculptor at student at Herron School of Art and Design, created a Japanese garden complete with soft hills, pale stones and a traditional pagoda. The goal was to give players a moment of Zen, he said.

Museum officials also carried over three of the most popular holes from 2016 to include this time, while still keeping the natural theme, Shubrook said.

“We thought that those were fun,” he said. “They got a lot of attention and they were easily playable. Plus, they fit the theme, so we were able to build off of those.”

“Poplar Mechanics” is an abstract walk through the forests of Brown County. “Shadow-Tailed Scourge,” created by Beth and Chad Eby, commemorates the Great Squirrel Invasion of 1822, when migrating squirrels decimated crops throughout the state.

“Cardinal 200” was Ray’s vision playing off Indiana’s state bird, its agricultural heritage and the love of auto racing.

“It’s fun and different. It’s a more interactive experience,” Ray said of the work in 2016. “What I really like about it is there are so many local artists. If you go to the museum, you see the Picasso or a Robert Indiana or a Van Gogh. It’s good to be connected to that, but what’s also good about this is the public is getting connected to artists who work here in town.”

In addition to new holes, museum officials have also tweaked the setup and playing grounds of the course, Shubrook said.

Foremost is the addition of some coverings and umbrellas to provide shade to areas that were out in the sun.

“We got a lot of feedback from folks who were on the ground running it and people who came to play it. One of main things was that it’s a pretty exposed area, and during the afternoon, it can get pretty hot,” Shubrook said.

Half of the course has been adapted to be wheelchair-accessible, so that players with special needs can take part as well, he said.

Mini golf opens Sunday, and will be open during the museum’s regular hours through Labor Day. The course is included in museum admission, while members get in for free. Snacks and refreshments will be available to purchase, Shubrook said.

If you go

Mini Golf at the IMA

What: A putt-putt course laid out on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with holes designed by local and national artists.

When: Sunday through Sept. 3

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: 4000 Michigan Road, Indianapolis

Cost: Play is included in museum admission, $18 for adults and $10 for youth ages 5 to 17. Kids under 5 are free. During special free admission days, the public can play the course for $8. Mini golf is free to members.


At a glance

Navigating Mini Golf at the IMA

This year’s mini golf course at the Indianapolis Museum of Art will feature themes playing off the natural world. Here’s what players can expect from each hole as they tee off:

To Bee or Not to Bee

Artists: Tom Loftus and Robin Schwartzman

What: The hole explores nature’s greatest pollinator, the honeybee, and brings attention to the frightening decline bee populations have seen in recent years. Players will have to navigate their golf balls through a beehive in order to find the honeycomb hole.

Stroll Gardens

Artist: Kevin Bielicki

What: Brings the “miniature” to mini golf with a fun play on Japanese gardens, which are famous for appearing bigger than they are thanks to the careful landscape design. This hole draws on those same ideas to create a larger feeling of place.

A Forest of Sound

Artist: Luke Crawley

What: Crawley invites you to putt with your ears as well as your hands in this sonically interesting experience — a take on humans’ earliest attempts at creating musical instruments.

Jungle PARadise

Artist: William Denton Ray

What: Players are taken on a whimsical jungle journey where they will encounter a geometric giraffe, an elephant in a top hat and a playful monkey. The hole itself is carefully guarded by the king of the jungle.

Shadow-Tailed Scourge

Artists: Beth and Chad Eby

What: A returning feature from last year’s course, the hole hearkens back to the “Great Squirrel Invasion” of 1822 when a westward migration of squirrels decimated crops in Indiana. Golfers will have to putt around five giant squirrels in order to find the hole.


Artist: Sam Welch

What: This course pays homage to the rich red-orange sandstone featured in most of Utah’s state parks. Will players try to traverse the canyon ridge path, or take their chances in the river below?


Artists: Jason Wolfe and Veronica Vela

What: Designed to look like an Indiana wetland, this course has an undulating playing surface littered with fish, cattails, and rocks. Golfers who manage to putt through those obstacles will have to deal with a beaver lodge in order to find the hole.

Geology of Indiana

Artist: Brent Aldrich

What: This hole derives its inspiration from the Geologic Record in Indiana, represented in the bedrock geology and fossil record. Golf balls will roll over a hand-drawn cutout depicting millennia in both bedrock geology and surficial topography, and players will have to navigate past a mastodon skeleton before putting into a limestone cave.


Artist: Colin Tuis Nesbit

What: Prairielands used to cover 15 percent of Indiana, but that number has since been reduced to just 1 percent. Learn more about prairies and the grasses indigenous to Indiana and see what is being done to conserve what prairieland is left in the Hoosier state while playing this hole.


Artists: Students of Noblesville High School’s Sculpture II class

What: This hole shows that a tree can provide life to its surrounding ecosystem even after it dies and begins decomposing. While standing, trees are usually a bane of golfers; this hole will give participants a new appreciation for trees.

2058: The first mini golf hole without ice

Artists: Luke Crawley and Quincy Owens

What: A journey to what the future might look like if glaciers continue to melt as a result of climate change. Golfers will have to navigate past several icebergs full of mirrors and transparent panels that will show how changing conditions have affected our world.

Pond Life

Artists: Beth and Chad Eby

What: The hole features a replica of Paramecium caudatum, an extremely common single-celled organism found in fresh and salt water, including in the pond at the museum’s 100 Acres art and nature park.

White River Putt

Artist: Alan Goffinski

What: Goffinski has created a hole replicating the White River watershed and players will move their golf balls down the various tributaries that make up the Indianapolis-area river and stream network.

The Carpet is Hot Lava

Artist: Martin Kuntz

What: The hole depicts a giant Triceratops being submerged by lava with an erupting volcano in the background. Kuntz said the hole design hearkens back to his childhood and tries to capture the destruction and chaos in a lighthearted way.

Cardinal 200

Artist: William Denton Ray

What: A mashup of Indiana’s state bird, its agricultural heritage and the iconic Greatest Spectacle in Racing, this hole celebrates all things Hoosier.

Poplar Mechanics

Artist: Gautam Rao

What: Take a quaint, shaded stroll through a forest inspired by Indiana’s state tree, the tulip poplar. This hole celebrates Indiana’s woodlands and attempts to recreate the experience of walking through the forests of Brown County.

Putting Around Africa

Artist: Scott Shoemaker

What: This hole serves as a tiny tour of Africa and features some of the animals, pictographs and signage someone might see in the African bush.

Reflections in the Forest

Artist: Suzy Slater

What: Enjoy a little bit of shade thanks to carefully placed tree canopies as players navigate past tree stumps and limbs. Inspired by acreage from Slater’s own family farm, this course recreates the feel of the forest on a golf course.

— Information from the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.