Around the World, Close to Home
My grandfather was not a golfer, but he kept a putter in the trunk of his car all summer. With six grandchildren on summer vacation, he often entertained us with a round of mini golf. Living on Lake George, that course just happens to be one of the best in the world. My grandfather was the course owner’s dentist, and because of that he got a discount (or maybe it was because he played several nights a week). He still spent a small fortune at Harry’s over his lifetime since he always paid for our round—and our ice cream cones afterward at the adjacent Pink Roof. He had a knack for improbable holes-in-one and an infectious laugh that could be heard several holes away. I think of my grandfather every summer when I return to Lake George and play at Harry’s.
If you’ve been to Lake George Village in the last 50 years, you’ve seen Harry’s. You can’t miss it. The 25-foot Paul Bunyan statue, the gigantic Florida orange, the Empire State Building replica—everything about Harry’s is big.
Harry’s has two 18-hole courses: Around the World and Around the U.S.A. My family, during our annual trips upstate, used to alternate between the two, but significant changes to the U.S. course in the early 2000s made it less appealing. For the past seven or so summers, we’ve played Around the World exclusively.
Around the World combines the thrills of competitive mini golf with the excitement of a junior high history class. Each hole represents a different country, some more easily identifiable than others. The Blarney Stone on the third hole is obviously Ireland. Most people would see the kangaroo on the 15th and think of Australia. But the guitar on the fifth doesn’t scream Spain and most wouldn’t recognize the Matterhorn on 16 (or know it was Switzerland). That’s the beauty of Around the World, though—you learn while you play. Can you name the three major pyramids in Giza? I can: Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, also known as the 17th hole.
From the first tee, a beer stein for Germany, to the last, Italy’s Mount Vesuvius, Around the World is a miniature marvel. The most impressive hole has to be the sixth, Canada, where a larger-than-life, axe-wielding Paul Bunyan straddles a long, winding, hilly passageway that includes two water hazards. I’ll gladly take a three on this hole.
On the back nine, Australia, with its boxing kangaroo, is the most memorable hole. Strike your ball with the precise amount of force and it will travel up a ramp and—just maybe—into the kangaroo’s pouch before exiting through his tail. Do this and you get a two-stroke deduction and bragging rights for life.
Like most beloved places, it’s not really about the place itself, but about the memories: my grandfather’s deep breath before each putt; my younger brother racing ahead to the next hole before the rest of us were finished with the previous one; the tense moments as the final scores were tallied and then announced. It isn’t summer without a trip to Lake George and it isn’t Lake George without Harry’s.
When my grandfather was still alive, we’d mention his name and get the family discount, even if he didn’t join us. Eventually we stopped—either because he had passed away or because the employees were no longer familiar with the name. But we’ve never stopped playing. We still take to the practice green, shaped like a map of America, as if we’re preparing for the final round of the Masters. We still laugh when someone fails to get it in the middle string of the Spanish guitar for an easy hole-in-one. We still go to the Pink Roof or Martha’s for ice cream after.
Just last week, a friend on vacation texted me, “Where are the best mini golf courses in Lake George?” That’s an easy one. “Harry’s in Lake George Village,” I responded. “Good luck on Bunyan.”
Andrew Kahn is a freelance writer who lives and works in New York City. He spends a week in Lake George with his family every summer. He once shot a 31 on Around the World, which may be the course record. If you’ve shot better, or just want to congratulate Andrew on his fine round, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.