Putts From the Past

Categories: Sports

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Art meets history meets miniature golf in Hayes Valley.

By Joe Eskenazi

It’s a shame that there’s apparently never been a windmill in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. It would have gone so well on a miniature golf course.

On Saturday afternoon you will have your last chance to play a free round of mini golf at a nine-hole course in an erstwhile vacant lot at Hayes and Octavia. Yet for those who, echoing Mark Twain, feel mini-golf is a good mini-walk spoiled, this isn’t just any putt-putt course. Each hole represents a different historical era of the neighborhood; you can’t help but learn something no matter how hard you try.

“One of my favorite holes is the one that depicts the highway that was built as part of ‘urban renewal’ — the map was taken from the original document and shows the route through the buildings that were destroyed to build the highway,” said Ene Osteraas-Constable.

Along with husband Scott Constable, Osteraas-Constable is a co-principle of “Wowhaus,” an artistic organization specializing in public, interactive installations. And, yes, Scott Constable is a distant relative of the early 19th century British painter John Constable.

Longtime locals might recall the Central Freeway (its exit ramp used to take you right to Fell Street and you can still see vestiges of its former on-ramp at Oak Street and Laguna). And while it was mortally damaged in the 1989 earthquake, it lives on in Wowhaus’ Hole No. 6 (that's it in the photo above).

You’d have to be quite a bit older to remember the inspiration for Hole No. 5, Erich Von Stroheim’s silent film “Greed,” which was largely shot in Hayes Valley (though Osteraas-Constable notes a few nonagenarians have played the course, it is uncertain if any were told to “go away kid, you bother me” by the great director).

Finally, the hole celebrating primordial Hayes Valley — largely sand dunes — may be the most challenging. You’ve got to hit the ball just right to get it up and over the mini-dune. And, as even Tiger Woods will testify, it ain’t easy hitting a ball out of sand.

Hundreds of people have enjoyed the San Francisco Arts Commission-funded course on past Saturdays, some even going so far as to bring their own gaudy golf clothes and pack their own clubs. If you’re lacking apparel Osteraas-Constable can’t help you. But if it’s clubs you need, those she has — hand-made numbers with willow shafts and eucalyptus heads (“Finally a use for eucalyptus!”).

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Lastly, if you have other plans for Saturday, you may yet get another shot to play on a San Francisco free mini golf course/history lesson.

Osteraas-Constable revealed that Wowhaus is in the preliminary stages of negotiations with the city for a bigger course “at an undisclosed location” that retells the story of all San Francisco, not just one neighborhood.

And if you do make it on Saturday, Osteraas-Constable believes that 19 is the course record.

Photos | Brian Jones

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