For more than 70 years, visitors and locals of all ages come to Peter Pan Mini-Golf looking for a fun escape — a place where the most stressing choice is what color putter and golf ball to choose. Do I play 18-holes or go for the full 36-hole layout? And do I play the East Course, the West Course, or both?
As Austin continues losing many of its iconic institutions, it is nice to know that Peter Pan Mini-Golf is still swinging. Originally named Varsity Links when it opened at the intersection of Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Boulevard in 1948, it has since become one of Austin's most beloved destinations, a reminder of our small-town past amid the big, bustling city.
A little look at miniature golf
The first golf course was created at the University of St Andrew's in Scotland, established in 1552. Many fans of golf thought it unladylike when women swung their clubs, and so some believe that a new version of golf was created to help women "retain their style" while on the course.
This mini version of golf focused on putting on a course of 9, 18, or 36 holes, with layouts on artificial turf and utilizing obstacles. The person with the lowest score, as in golf, wins the game.
The first miniature golf opened in 1916 in North Carolina, and proved to be so popular in the United States that there were hundreds of courses by the 1920s. However, once the Depression hit in 1929, the number of Putt-Putt businesses permanently closed was substantial.
From Varsity Links to Peter Pan Mini-Golf
Miniature golf is still highly popular in resort towns — and cities with a reputation of being just little bit different. After World War II, a spirit of individualism and entrepreneurship swept the land and the Dismukes family of Austin started Varsity Links in 1948.
Maggie Dismukes Massad summarizes the beginnings of Austin's whimsical mini-golf course, saying: "The business was started by three brothers — Clifford, Jack, Glenn Dismukes. Clifford died in 1967, but Glenn and Jack continued running the business until the mid-90s when their health began to decline and they were no longer able to manage the business. My brother Mike Dismukes took the reins of running the business from the mid-90s until his own death in 2015."
These days, Dismukes Massad is a vital piece of the operations who, along with her husband, Julio Massad, manages the daily business at the course.
And although Dismukes Massad can't remember exactly why the business was changed to a Peter Pan theme, the Dismukes family wanted to create a fun, family-friendly environment while maintaining affordability for customers.
The early sculptures were designed and created by Glenn Dismukes (it was a hobby and he worked in his garage), and local artist Cheryl Latimer began her collaboration with Peter Pan in 2011. She added Tinkerbelle, the Singing Ants, a Longhorn skull, a Texas totem, and even a small version of the Texas State Capitol. Latimer is a well-known artist and many of her pieces can be seen around town.
Keeping it old school
Keeping Peter Pan "old school" is reflected in many features such as the golf score cards still used by customers today. (One change was made, however, in that an electronic payment machine was added during the pandemic to provide touchless transactions.)
In a rapidly changing Austin, it is nice to know some businesses remain true to their roots. Customers flock to Peter Pan, natives bring children and grandchildren to share memories, and event such as birthday parties, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and team-building activities are held at this Austin institution.
Julio Massad says that he never experiences a bad day on the job. "Without exception, folks are just so happy and joyful when they are up here playing," he says. "It is magical what coming up these steps (and entering Peter Pan) does to folks. Simple, old-fashioned fun. Memories."