Mini Golf Guys bring laughs, charity to Virginia Beach, Williamsburg

Michael Babcock squared up on the green, grasping the orange child-size golf club and training his eyes on the last cup of the 18-hole mini golf course.

With a gentle putt, Babcock sent the pink golf ball rolling toward the cup, hoping the hole could win him the game — and missed. Behind him, Anthony Haakenson took his shot as Babcock covered his face with his hands, landing his yellow ball in the cup.

“I was doing really good … you know what the keyword of that sentence is — ‘was,'” Babcock said.

Competition was fierce amongst the three Mini Golf Guys Friday at Pirates Cove adventure Golf in Williamsburg. The trio played two 18-hole rounds of mini golf at the course as one leg of their state tournament, which spanned courses from Richmond down to Virginia Beach.

Despite a couple hard misses — and a few extra strokes added to his score for tossing his club in frustration — Babcock prevailed as winner of the Mini Golf Guys’ 2019 Virginia Tournament after a lengthy competition at Virginia Beach courses. 

Haakenson and third mini golf guy Alex Cram finished just one and 21 strokes behind Babcock, respectively. 

This year, the Midwestern group of 33-year-olds traveled to Virginia for their annual tournament, which started in 2009 as a way for the three college friends to remain in contact through their professional lives. They claim their tournament is the longest-running mini golf competition in the county — this year was its 11th year.

In Virginia, this year was the first time the group has raised money for a charity: the Children’s Home Society of Virginia, the oldest adoption agency in the state.

“[On Thursday], someone overheard us talking and gave a donation,” Babcock said. “We think that’s awesome.”

While Babcock estimates they probably raised between $500 and $1,000 in direct donations to the Children’s Home Society, the group collected mini golf game vouchers at most courses they visited. 

One Williamsburg course, Catfish Cove Mini-Golf at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, donated $200 worth of mini golf passes, all of which will be given to the Children’s Home Society for their families. 

Raising money for charity wasn’t the only “first” for the Mini Golf Guys this year.

One of the last courses the men visited for the tournament was a 24-hour course called Jungle Golf in Virginia Beach. The trio played a round of mini golf once per hour for 24 hours, starting around 4 a.m. Saturday.

Jungle Golf is located on 23rd Street along the Oceanfront, just a block from the beach. In between rounds, the Mini Golf Guys shared a photo of the three of them gazing out at the Atlantic Ocean sunrise around 6:30 a.m., coffees in-hand.

“UPDATE. It’s 7:46 a.m. and we’ve played four rounds of mini golf. To no one’s surprise. Tony is winning,” the group wrote on Twitter Saturday morning.

The group was raising money this year for charity, but the serious nature of their goals didn’t dampen the fun on the course. 

It’s hard for Cram, Babcock and Haakenson to decide who is the most competitive, but they all have their ways of showing it: Haakenson, a certified public accountant, adds points to players’ scores when they violate the rules, Babcock occasionally tosses his child-size golf club on the ground after a particularly distressing miss, and Cram discreetly eggs on his teammates.

Each man has a different putting form, as well. Babcock, the only golfer who plays standard golf, uses a small club for children, while Cram holds his like a hockey stick. Haakenson is fairly tall, and leans over when he putts. 

The games are competitive but are a constant barrage of jokes.

“You know, collectively we used to weigh 100 pounds less,” Babcock joked at one point on the Pirates Cove course Friday, later adding Haakenson’s height makes him “not very good about being awake.”

Because Babcock is this year’s winner, he will take possession of the group’s custom-made tournament ring.

Until next year, when the Mini Golf Guys compete again.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.