A little piece of golfer's heaven...

The 1,200 acres of Oregon backcountry, overgrown with tangles of yellow gorse and beach grass, looked better suited for raising sheep than for building a golf course. A five-hour drive from Portland and nine from San Francisco, it was an odd place to build an ambitious business, too, especially since the course's golf-obsessed owner, Mike Keiser, lived almost 1,900 miles away in Chicago, where he helps run Recycled Paper Greetings, a $100 million greeting card company he founded in 1971.

But Keiser saw in this site near the town of Bandon the ideal spot to build his magnum opus of links: a Scottish-style course that would require players to use a potpourri of shots--low drives to bore through the wind, simple bump-and-run shots, and long putts from well off the green--as opposed to the bomb-it-long, pitch-it-on, putt-it-out courses that are characteristic of the United States. Since Keiser plunked down $2.4 million for the land in 1990, Bandon Dunes, the course he built, has progressed from an isolated public course into a 2,400-acre resort with three courses, 220 hotel rooms, three restaurants, and two bars.

Last year, Golf Magazine ranked each set of links--Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, and Bandon Trails--among its top 100 courses in the world. A fourth course is in the works. In spite of the remote location, more than 30,000 golfers from around the world flock there each year. Without golf carts (and the unattractive paths that come with them), golfers hike as they play holes carved into the rugged landscape, including greens along 100-foot crags overlooking the Pacific surf, from which St. Andrews-like fogs occasionally roll in. If it weren't for the lack of snarky comments delivered by caddies in Scottish brogue, players might even think they were in the U.K. And that's just how Keiser, who is often at the resort working on his 12 handicap, likes it. Even if it does take him more than eight hours to get there. --Michael Strong

  • Fees For One Round: $75--$240
  • Rounds Played Per Year: (Three Courses) 100,000
  • Claim to Fame: Home of three of the most highly acclaimed courses in the world
  • Signature Hole: 16
  • Yards: 363
  • Par: 4

How to play the 16th hole

Owner's pointers:

"A good visual guide is a group of three pine trees that are aligned with the center of the fairway. Hit 210 yards right at the tops of those trees.

The biggest factor is the wind. In the summer, the wind is with you, so a 165 shot can carry 210 yards. In the winter, you're against the wind, so you have to hit a lot farther.

The second shot is perched on a bluff, so if your approach is too long, you're gone."

...And an even littler one

If miniature golf has an Augusta National, it's the Hawaiian Rumble in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Thick with ferns and palm trees, the course features a rushing waterfall and encircles a 40-foot-tall smoke-spewing faux volcano. For many years, the Rumble has played host to the mini Masters and diminutive U.S. Open.

Bringing this competitive streak to a game normally characterized by animal sculptures and windmills is owner Bob Detwiler, a serial entrepreneur and former tennis coach. He bought the course in 1994, after spotting a for-sale sign while visiting one of his Baskin-Robbins franchises. Shortly after the sale, Detwiler founded a professional sporting organization, the United States Pro MiniGolf Association, or USPMGA; by 1998 he had launched two "pro" golf tournaments in miniature. In recent years, the events have had more players, more attention, and, it seems, more drama.

At this year's U.S. Open in May, Matt McCaslin, the champ for the past two years, was upset by Brad Lebo, the dentist with the eye of the tiger. The junior division has been dominated for five years by Olivia Prokopova, an 11-year-old from the Czech Republic who arrives with a coach. This year, Prokopova gave the other kids a break and competed only in the women's division, where she came in second behind Astra Miglane Stanwyck, a Latvian immigrant whose husband builds mini-golf courses.

It's no accident that the increased attention has been a boon for the Rumble and Detwiler's other course, the Hawaiian Village. The two courses, each with three employees and a groundskeeper, can bring in up to $3 million a year, he says. Though Detwiler expects a good turnout for the Masters in October, he would still like to see more people embrace miniature golf as a legitimate sport. "Americans don't take it seriously, but it has been recognized as a sport by the World Games," he says. "That's like the minor leagues for the Olympics." --Amy Keyishian

  • Fees For One Round: $7
  • Rounds Played Per Year: 125,000
  • Claim to Fame: Home of the miniature Masters and U.S. Open
  • Signature Hole: 16
  • Feet: 30
  • Par: 2

How to play the 16th hole

Owner's pointers:

"The hole is a slight dogleg left, and it's uphill at a slight grade. There's a big mound to the right just before the hole.

The key is to hit the ball at just the right speed so that it hits the left edge of the mound and curves left into the hole.

If you don't hit the ball hard enough, it's going to roll all the way back to you. It's a very, very tough hole, really. I've seen people get fives and sixes."