LINCOLNSHIRE — No elevators, no roulette wheels, no dumb luck, and no fear: Glenn Koepke is the undisputed king of miniature golf in the northwest suburbs.
Koepke won the eighth-annual club tournament Sunday at Par-King Skill Golf, besting 79 competitors through 36 of the Lincolnshire tradition’s toughest holes. On a course of hand-picked holes that emphasized skill over luck, Koepke’s 76 strokes kept him one ahead of Gurnee’s Jonathan Huisel.
Koepke did it on his first-ever trip to Par-King.
“Not knowing the course may have helped, because some of the people were intimidated by holes they’d played poorly before,” Koepke said Sunday afternoon. “The famous ‘barn hole’ was causing havoc for…everyone else.”
Koepke, a Lake Forest native now living in Park Ridge, said a few of his friends golf Par-King regularly, and some of them had won the club tournament in recent years. They talked him into joining the field this summer.
“I didn’t think I’d have a chance,” but after shooting 39 through the first 18 holes, he saw what a chance he had.
Koepke, 33, brought home the $400 top prize. Huisel, the 21-year-old who won in 2011, gained $300.
“I felt like Phil Mickelson out there today,” Huisel said. “You gotta take what you can get.”
George Boznos, who owns Par-King with his brother Chris, said the idea for the northwest suburbs’ only miniature golf club tournament was not a scheme of their own. The minds that create a new trick hole every winter — the rocket, the Willis Tower, the Super Looper — really started clicking when enough customers asked them for a competition by which the serious putt-putters could separate themselves from the weekenders and pretenders.
“Everybody’s competitive on the North Shore,” Boznos said. “We got enough customer interest that we decided to try it.”
Par-King has no official “club,” so registration is first-come, first-served, he said, but it grew annually. In 2011, the Boznos brothers decided that too many golfers had entered that year’s tournament, causing the pace to move too slowly; in 2012, they capped registration at 100, and this year cut that down to a speedier 80.
And though the competition is 36 holes, it is not a complete tour of Par-King’s two 18-hole courses. The contestants went twice through 10 holes from the Red course and eight from the Black, eliminating the stops that involve too much random chance.
“We take all the novelty, luck holes out of it, and that’s part of the appeal,” Boznos said. “We can determine a winner based on real skill.”
While Koepke was a first-time wonder, Huisel said he grew up on Par-King’s carpets.
“I was destined to be a Par-King champion,” Huisel said. “The eternal glory is why I play.”
The event is overseen by five referees, who dole out two-stroke penalties for fudged numbers or cooked books on scorecards, and enforce another two-stroke penalty for balls that wander off the holes’ courses. Boznos said the officials keep a particularly close eye on 8 Red — The Downhill Racer.
“The most feared hole on the course,” he said.
The sports-car-themed Downhill Racer involves four chutes that balls could go into and numerous chances for ball to go flying off. This men-from-boys separator is also the first hole of sudden-death playoffs, which the tournament came down to in 2012.
Par-King was looking its best on Sunday, with four holes receiving new carpet earlier in the week. The Boznos and their staff design and build their own obstacles, creating original holes out of molded foam, welded metal, fiberglass and automotive paint; that process usually begins with new ideas in the summer, and one new theme generally takes about three winter months to construct.
“You can’t order something like this from MiniGolf.com,” he said of their homemade Super Looper. “You have to have a good imagination.”
The new champion said the staff’s imagination had led to a memorable result.
“It’s a great place,” Koepke said. “Apparently, a lot of well-known holes. It was a hard course.”