At PVD Putt Putt: chicken wire, seesaws, and dragon-birds

Urban Recreation Dept.
By ZACH GREEN  |  July 16, 2014

FORE! The Junker.

Hole number four at PVD Putt Putt, the newly-opened temporary mini-golf course at Dexter Field on Providence’s West Side, could pass for a busted carnival game, an artisanal chicken coop, and/or a backwoods science lab. Pasted with old license plates — many of which are cut up and pieced together, ransom note-style — and wrapped in chicken wire, this array of funnels, metal piping, rusted gears, spigots, and faulty dials lacks the bright plastic and aquatic lighting schemes that characterize the typical mini-golf hole. Here, the putted ball slips into a hole and disappears — lost, eaten.

“The Junker,” is, however, laid with green AstroTurf. And at a little past 4 pm on a recent Saturday, a line is forming at the volunteer-staffed, free-to-play nine-hole course that’s the most recently launched project funded by the City of Providence’s “PopUp Providence” initiative.

Kara Dziobek, PVD Putt Putt’s creator, says she got the idea while strolling through the neighborhood one day. A RISD graduate, Kara works as an experience designer at Providence’s Business Innovation Factory (BIF), which specializes in designing, prototyping, and testing new business models for businesses in fields like health care and education. She cites the company’s motto — “Start small, think big, scale fast” — as part of her working method for the project. She reached out to a number of local artists whom she knows, and found others via social media; everyone she told about the project was instantly on board. “Usually I get naysayers, but there [were] no naysayers for this,” she says.

There is something surprisingly, oddly egalitarian about the putt-putt course. Is it the smallness? The pointless difficulty? In addition to the legions of children and neighborhood locals playing rounds this afternoon, there are young couples, and older women who set up lawn chairs around the perimeter to watch. Andy Cutler, the local PR consultant and tireless social media booster of “#OurPVD,” shows up, as does Providence mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza. Some children decide the holes are too difficult to putt, and resort to bowling the balls toward their targets.

Some holes were designed by well-known Providence arts organizations. Big Nazo Lab, downtown’s monster puppet and sculpture troupe, built the ninth hole, titled, “PuttPutt Dragon-Bird.” At the end of its steep incline, a hulking, disconsolate-looking dinosaur-bird leans over a nest of golf ball-shaped eggs. “Dragon-Bird” requires a classic finesse shot: too much force and the ball flies off the end of the ramp and into the grass; too little, and it simply rolls back down. AS220 Labs built hole number two, “Dwarf Fortress,” based on the famed computer game. It looks like a scale version of a precipitous mountain, with a maze of rickety mineshafts trailing out of it.

A few of the artists are on hand to see their creations in action at today’s Grand Opening. Chris Hampson, a local animator and designer of hole number eight, “The Lucky Super Rainbow!” is putting on some finishing touches just prior to show time, his face specked with green paint. “I used to study landscape architecture, and the joke was that I’d end up doing mini-golf design—and here I am!” he says. “I was up all night cutting AstroTurf.”

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