According to the American Heritage Dictionary, miniature golf is a novelty version of golf played with a putter and golf ball on a miniature course and featuring obstacles such as alleys, bridges, and tunnels.
Garnet Carter was the first person to patent a game of miniature golf which he called “Tom Thumb Golf” in 1927. However, there were a few earlier unpatented versions of miniature golf type games. For example, in 1916, James Barber of Pinehurst, North Carolina had a miniature golf course on his estate called the Thistle Du. There were also patented processes that related to the game.
Garnet Carter built his miniature golf course on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee to draw traffic to the hotel he owned. His wife, Frieda Carter did most of the designing of the course’s obstacles which had a fairyland theme.
Patented Cottonseed Hull Surface
In 1922, Englishmen, Thomas McCulloch Fairborn who was living in Tlahualilo, Mexico built a miniature golf course with a surface made from crushed cottonseed hulls mixed with oil, dyed green, and rolled on top of a sand foundation. Fairborn also founded a company called the Miniature Golf Courses of America Inc. Fairborn patented his method of making a playing surface, which was an inexpensive method.
In 1926, Drake Delanoy and John Ledbetter built New York City’s first outdoor miniature golf course on top of a skyscraper. Delanoy and Ledbetter copied Thomas Fairborn’s process of using crushed cottonseed hulls, and infringed upon Fairborn’s patent. Eventually, a financial arrangement was arrived at between Delanoy and Ledbetter and Fairborn that let the cottonseed hull process be used over 150 roof top miniature courses in New York City.
Garnet Carter also had to pay a royalty to Fairborn since he used the cottonseed hull surface on his miniature golf course. Carter founded the Fairyland Manufacturing Corporation, which by 1930 manufactured and sold over 3000 of his Tom Thumb miniature golf course franchises.