Bruce Stillman says he had the idea for an artists-designed mini golf course before he did the Walker Art Center, and he’s shopped it to local municipalities. He suggested Boom Island Park in Minneapolis as one potential site, and put the idea to officials in St. Louis Park and Minnetonka as well. It was dropped every time.
So Stillman decided to create his own course on the 17-acre former dairy farm he had bought in Minnetrista. Opened in 2004, Big Stone Mini Golf involves much more than just putting greens.
Next to the Big Stone is a sprawling sculpture garden filled with an eclectic and sometimes monumental mix of nearly 80 installations by 16 different artists. There’s a UPS delivery truck-sized turtle made of shiny black rubber, a life-size shiny unicorn made from a Harley-Davidson muffler, and a sly nod to Walker’s most famous work.
Stillman’s Large Metal Spoon and Larger-than-Life Red Cherry are used as playground equipment for a group of goats.
In addition to miniature golf and non-miniature sculptures, Big Stone is a petting zoo of sorts, with about 15 goats on hand. You can pay $1 if you want to feed them. There is a shaggy cow in the Scottish Highlands and a miniature mule. Chickens may be roaming near you as you try to tidy up your pavers.
While playing golf and perusing art in a rustic, wooded setting, you can also play table tennis on a ping-pong table made of a huge granite slab or chess with pieces the size of a fire hydrant.
One polished silver artwork is similar to Chicago’s famous “The Bean” sculpture, except Stillman’s version is spinning on a turntable.
You can turn it to face the sun, then swing a metal arm holding a bowl to a spot where the sun’s rays are focused by the curved, mirror-like metal onto a spot atop the statue hot enough to cook pizza.
Stillman calls it “bean bread.”
Speaking of names, the reason why it is called Big Stone: The Sculpture Garden and some holes feature many huge stone monuments weighing several tons. Add large logs, and the effect will be part Stonehenge and part Flintstones.
“There’s literally nothing like it in the world,” says Tom Loftus, a Minneapolis-based mini-golf fan who, with his wife Robin Schwartzman, runs the website acoupleofputts.com devoted to all things mini-golf.
“It’s a really immersive experience,” says Schwartzman. “Its size. You feel a lot smaller.”
The couple had their first date in Big Stone and later got married there.
“It’s just kind of an experiment,” says Stillman, now 64 and artist for life.
The space allows him to make use of the talent for obtaining unusual and super-sized raw materials for his art. For example, Stillman took the hull of an old 34-foot Chris Kraft boat and turned it into a feature on the golf course. (You’re standing inside the overturned boat.)
He cut dozens of holes in the hull and filled them with colored translucent plastic originally intended for making spectacle lenses. The light pouring through the openings reminded Stillman of the light from the stained glass windows in the church, so he called the work “The Holy Ark”.
Stillman created Big Stone to draw visitors off the beaten path to see the carvings in far-flung Minnetrista. It has been working. He says about 45,000 people visited the mini golf course in the 2022 season (and more than half a million since 2004). Current rates are $14 for adults and $12 for eight and under.
If you go, bring cash or checks with you. They don’t take credit cards. If there is no cashier, leave the money in the donation box and hold the clubs and golf balls that are always put out.
Golf fees help support a nonprofit Stillman started, Big Stone Advancing Arts, which operates an art museum and art gallery in the Mound.
“I absolutely love art, because I’m surrounded by it,” Stillman says. “Everything I do, I try to make it creative.”
Big Stone Mini Golf
7110 County Road 110, ext. W., Minnetrista, bigstoneminigolf.com. adults $14, children $12; Cash or check only.