On most summer days, Stampede Miniature Golf Course is swarming with 10-15 kids of all ages, practicing their putt or playing video games.
The surprising thing is, it's usually the same kids.
In a town of 13,000, there are few activities for youth besides seeing a movie, or, well, seeing a movie. Stampede is a kid-haven packed with pool tables, video games, snack bar, stereo system, party room and air hockey table, but the resources are often under-used.
Stampede is owned by Robert and Alice Ellis, who opened the course in March. Robert said business was really slow at first, but is starting to pick up.
Ellis does have one of the most important ingredients in establishing a popular local hangout, however: a loyal crowd. It's a small crowd, but definitely loyal.
Nineteen-year-old Chris Loeper is one of the four teens (two guys and two girls) who hang out at Stampede nearly every day.
"We put a lot of money in those pool tables," Loeper said. His group offers a lot more to Robert than a steady flow of coins.
"We help out whenever we can," Loeper said. "We'll do anything for Bob, because he's the man. He's really good with people and he's cool."
Loeper's friends agree. Bob doesn't need their help, but appreciates it anyway.
"I just want the kids to have fun, whether they're spending money or not," Robert said. "I try to make sure every kid in here is having a good time."
Robert is a friendly, white-haired man with a cowboy hat and an honest smile. His children are grown up, and now he spends his time with other people's children.
"I've had more fun in here just since March than I've had in the whole rest of my life," he said.
Robert did a little bit of everything, including pool maintenance and auto repair, before he bought Stampede. It had been shut down for a few years, and Robert thought it was time for a resurrection. He said he knew the town needed more for teens, so he and his wife renovated the facilities and opened for business.
The 18-hole course is not as fancy or technical as most, but is still fun for children or adults, said Vicky Farri, who occasionally goofy golfs with her children.
"I let my kids come here, but only with supervision, because I don't let my kids go anywhere alone. It's a good place though, and it's nice that Payson has it," she said. "We really need something like a boy's or girl's club, but this is about as close as we've got."
It's fun to go to the Stampede, because it's one of the few places in town where teenagers are not drinking, said Kristin Loving, a 14-year-old "regular."
"I really like that about this place," she said. "You don't have to worry about what other people are doing. The only time we get lots of people in here, though, is when we have dances. More people should hang out."
She added that Stampede is popular among middle school kids and high school freshman, but that adults should try it too.
Loeper first started hanging out there when he was in a band, and needed a place to practice. He asked Bob for use of the party room, and was granted permission.
"The problem was that we weren't very good and the walls aren't that thick," Loeper joked.
"Bob was cool like that from the beginning," Loeper said. "He tries to do what he can for people. It's just the way he is."
Robert hopes that business will keep getting better.
"Of course we want more people here because of expenses, but we want more kids to have fun too," he said.
For more information and Stampede hours, call 468-6641.
Miniature Golf History
Miniature golf has been a favorite game around the world for many decades. The predominant impression of most people today is that miniature golf is a game of windmills and obstacles.
In reality, miniature golf has evolved, and is now played as a sport on "golf in miniature" facilities. Today's modern courses often feature many of the challenges of real golf.
In the early 1900s, miniature golf was actually the short game of regulation golf. The name quite frequently used in the early years was "Garden Golf" and it was played with a putter on real grass.
In the 1920s and '30s, "rails" or "bumpers" started to appear, confining the ball within a boundary. The playing surface was changed to hard-pressed cottonseed hulls, which created a smoother putting surface.
The game of mini-golf was extremely popular among movie stars and celebrities, which helped spawn new links all across the nation.
During the 1930s, there were about 30,000 links throughout the country with over 150 rooftop courses in New York City alone. The American population was hooked on miniature golf, as not only a leisure time game, but also a sport that any gender, any age could excel without any handicap or without being a well-conditioned athlete.
After the stock market crash of 1929, regulation minigolf links became too expensive for most people to afford. In spite of this, the desire to play this most popular game continued to flourish.
Many new and ingenious obstacles or hazard holes were created by using what could be scavenged, such as old tires, old wagon wheels, rusty stove pipes, sewer pipes, barrels, rain gutters, etc. Some of these became so popular they were incorporated into courses across the country, and were the models for the obstacle-laden miniature golf that we still think of today.
Starting in the mid-1980s, a newer adventure-style course became very popular which took on a Disney-look in its theming. Course names now were as exotic as the courses themselves such as Pirate's Cove, Adventure Island, Mountasia, etc. Many were built first in the tourist destination areas such as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which to this day, is still the Miniature Golf Capital of the World.
There are as many as 45 courses within a 20 mile radius from the center of the Grand Stand and the tourist swell of over 12 million visitors easily supports this many facilities. The same growth could be seen in Florida especially in the tourist areas.
For four years, a miniature golf National Championship was aired on ESPN with excellent family ratings and still ranks as one of ESPN's top family sport shows.