Technology with attitude

The Creator of Smash Putt Talks to Culturemob

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Photo by Tom Mohrman

The night before Smash Putt was set to open, I went down to SODO to talk to the creator of  Seattle’s favorite drunken indoor mini-golf art installation. The converted space was full of the sounds of air tools and hammers. There was a sense of urgency, but the artists and designers hunched over their projects looked calm and organized. I could see many holes from previous years in various states of completion, and some of the new holes for this year.

I was there to talk to Jeremy Franklin Ross, the man who dreamed up this whole thing. He was on his way with sandwiches for the crew. I took a few minutes to wander around and look at what was being put together. It was a bit like looking at an escalator being serviced: way more parts than I’m comfortable with, but when it’s assembled I’m totally on board. Shortly thereafter Jeremy arrived, and he told be about his dream.

Tom Mohrman: Tell me about where the idea for Smash Putt originated.

Jeremy Franklin-Ross: About three years ago I was on a road trip for a friend’s wedding back in Boston. My date was a good friend of mine. She took me on a circuit of miniature golf courses. She was really into it, all of her friends were really into it. I guess what made it really exciting for them was that they had all these special rules that they added to it. Like, if you see a waterfall you have to go up to it and smoke pot. If you see a cave, you have to get into it, like, climb the fence and get into the cave, and smoke pot.

TM: Did all the rules involve smoking pot?

JFR: Yeah all the rules were smoking pot, and I don’t smoke pot, so she was getting really high, and I was kind of bored. I just remember thinking how much more interesting it would be to do something that actually moved, and really ramp it up another notch. On my drive back in my ‘71 Beetle, it just stuck in my head. I originally thought about artist curated miniature golf. I looked into it and found that that’s been done a few times. Miniature golf art has been going on since the seventies. I decided that instead of making it complicated, I should drum up interest among my artist friends, and we should do it collaboratively. That seems to have worked out pretty well.

TM: It’s my understanding that each hole is one person’s idea, but that the whole process is very collaborative.

JFR: There’s no one piece that one person owns. I think it’s natural that there is a torch-bearrer, but each piece is wonderfully collaborative.

TM: Are the people that are involved with this more artists, or engineers? Is the line blurry?

JFR: We have people that are wood fabricators, we have a guy who is a proper metal fabricator doing high precision stuff for Boeing. He has a great sensibility; he does stuff that is really burly-looking, but he’s meticulous. He’ll do something that’s really burly-looking, but it’s within like thousandths of an inch. My entire life I’ve been an artist, a hacker, and a software developer. This was kind of a perfect opportunity to marry those things together.

TM: I imagine you have to be very mindful of safety with clubs and balls flying around, to say nothing of the robots and gears.

JFR: We have to permit the space every time, and have a fireman walk through to make sure everything is safe. We travel with floodlights and exit signs, and we’ve made them so they are easy to install. Honestly it’s very important to us that we run a safe show.

TM: What’s new this year?

JFR: Well the Scratch-N-Sniff hole is the most technically complicated and most expensive hole we’ve put together to date. Our Skeeball hole is very beautiful, with the wood and the Edison bulbs. Every time we make a new hole we raise the bar for ourselves. We want to make sure a third of the show is new every time. It’s a real challenge, and a great opportunity.