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Fun Acre is stuck in time. You turn east off Campbell Avenue and proceed on West Glenwood 400 feet — according to the quirky sign on Campbell with a rabbit atop it.
And there it is — you’ve found it — 1972.
The clock might be stopped, but the windmill blades still turn, just as they’ve turned for 51 years.
The course obstacles have been either built or bought by owner Roger Roberts.
The alligator, frog, rocket ship, tower and Dino the Dinosaur have thwarted generations of golfers, including those on first dates as well as people who first came to Springfield for higher education and now return with children and grandchildren.
It costs $3 for adults.
Or $2.50 for mini-duffers 5-11.
Elsewhere in town, it’s $11 for an adult because, after all, the year really is 2023.
I was at Fun Acre on Thursday. Members of the Holland PTA were selling snacks to raise money.
It was a soft summer evening with its own soundtrack of pinging bats, laughter and a boy shouting, “Dad! I made 16 in two hits!”
‘You would think after all these years I’d get better’
The lights come on at 7:40 p.m. and Fun Acre shimmers with nostalgia.
“I came here when I was in high school, when I was dating my wife,” Bill Lippelmann, 66, of Willard, tells me.
Liz Wiles, 51, of Springfield, is with her two children: Jess, 21, and John 9.
So far in their lifetimes, they’ve been here about 20 times.
“The price is right,” she tells me. “It is always a fun time.”
Daughter Jess adds, “It’s fun for the family and to beat your family.”
Mark Stroud, 50, of Springfield, says he first came to Fun Acre when he was 18. He is with his daughter Sierra, 17, and one of her friends.
At Hole No. 16, Stroud’s ball is in the rough — the real rough. It’s in the grass next to the hole.
“You would think after all these years I’d get better,” he says.
I fear if I took his photo — poof! — it would all be gone
In the shed sits owner Roberts. He’s with 16-year-old employee Aven Goff, who has worked here for two months. They’ve got the Chiefs’ opener on TV.
One thing that certainly has changed is Roberts. He was 22 when he first started to build Fun Acre. He had purchased a slice off of a farm. The surrounding area was farmland. Now it’s residential.
How old are you now?
“I’m 74, I guess. I don’t know how old I am unless I think about it. It is so awful.”
Roberts doesn’t talk much. His voice is soft. He assembles sentences so slowly and so methodically that by the time he answers I regret having made him suffer so much.
He certainly does not want his photo taken.
In fact, I fear that if I took his photo Fun Acre suddenly — poof! — would vanish.
He lives 5 blocks away and opens in winter on nice days
Fun Acre is what Roberts envisioned for his life. He is living his dream.
He grew up in Chicago, attended Carl Schurz High School on the North Side. He tried college and then set out to do what he wanted — to own a miniature golf business.
Land was too expensive in Chicago, he says, so he wrote letters to Midwest real estate agents. He wrote to someone in Springfield. He liked what he heard about land costs and bought his acre, staked his claim and built that windmill obstacle.
He resides five blocks away. In mid-winter, on unseasonably nice days, he will open up for business.
He was married once, long ago. He has no children. He has a brother who lives in Illinois.
I ask if he has ever taken a vacation.
“I don’t do that much,” he says.
His back aches from decades of bending over to pick up balls in the cages.
I ask: Has it been worth it? Have you enjoyed it?
Yes, he says.
“It seems like the easiest thing that you could do when it comes to running it.”
Has it paid the bills?
What’s the best thing about owning Fun Acre?
“I like it when I can play out there with someone who is good or better than me. And there are some that are. And that is challenging.”
Par is 50 and the course record 29
Par is 50 and his best is 33.
Inside the shed, hanging on a wall is a board with the names of the two players who share the Fun Acre course record: Paul Dickey and Don Louzader. They have both shot 29.
Roberts says he often plays with Louzader and they played just the day before.
“He wins probably three out of four.”
Roberts occasionally plays real golf.
I ask him where.
At the 9-hole Betty Allison Junior Golf Course at Oscar Blom, he says.
“Now why would you want to know that?” he asks me.
Is that what I think it is? Looks like a pay phone
Before I leave, I spend 50 cents to learn I can no longer hit a baseball. Not even arcing baseballs that seem to mock me with their yellowness and their slow descent.
On the other side of Glenwood, I see something odd. I’m old enough to know what it looks like.
It looks like a pay phone. It’s at the curb, near the front of a house.
It can’t really be a payphone because payphones, like dinosaurs, are extinct. So I go over to it and it’s a pay phone.
It doesn’t work. How appropriate that a payphone would be across the street from Fun Acre.
I ask myself again: What year is this?
This is Pokin Around column No. 132.