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Mini-golf course with artistic twist planned for Bartram’s Garden

Artists will be commissioned to design the course

Bartram’s Garden, a 45-acre oasis just west of the Schuylkill River, has long been considered a hidden gem in Philadelphia. But the historic garden is ready to shed that reputation, starting with plans to build the Links, a mini-golf course, on its grounds.

Peter Angevine, the mastermind behind the idea, knows most folks’ gut reaction is to think of the kitschy courses one finds down at the shore. But, he assures, the concept puts an artistic and educational twist on the summer past time.

“We’re looking to take mini golf, which is a very familiar traditional and iconic American tradition, and use it in a number of different ways,” explains Angevine. “We’re exploring its potential to be beautifully designed and sculptural by having different artists interpret each hole.”

Angevine, who owns Little Baby’s Ice Cream, has partnered with Robert Blackson, the director of Tyler School of Art’s Department of Exhibitions and Public Programs. With Blackson’s help, they hope to find both local and international artists to design a total of nine holes, each one representing some “some unique facet of the history or ecology of Bartram’s Garden.”

Bartram’s Garden is a 45-acre National Historic Landmark that dates back to 1728, when John Bartram began gathering one of the most varied collections of plant species in the country.

The hope, Angevine says, is that with the expected spring 2017 opening of Bartram’s Mile and the expected soar in visitors to the garden as a result, the mini golf course will be just another more engaging way to educate visitors, especially Southwest Philly residents, about the site’s significance.

“The reality of the situation is that this is their backyard,” says Angevine.

He and Blackson are inviting artists to visit the garden and work with curator Joel Fry to identify which part of Bartram’s story they want to highlight in their design. “We don’t want for this to be one of those kind of back-of-the-napkin, flash-in the-pan type thing,” says Angevine.

Three artists have already designed the first three holes. Mark Dion took on the first hole, dubbed the “Alegator,” which debuted at the garden’s October Harvest Festival. The hole tells the story of William Bartram’s pet alligator, which he brought to the Schuylkill River from his travels down to Northern Florida in 1766.

Stacy Levy’s designed hole will feature the American Rhododendron, which was discovered by Frederick Traugott Pursh and John Bartram in the mid-1700s. Another artist, Rudy Shephard, is working with local teens for his design.

Angevine estimates that the total cost of the course will be $120,000. That’s not including the $15,000 already awarded by the Knight Foundation as seed money. Most likely it won’t open until well after Bartram’s Mile.

While the plan is for the golf course to bring in some revenue for the free garden, Angevine says, “Part of the conversation the whole time has been to create a system where it would be free for many audiences, but not all.” There’s no firm plan in place, but one idea is that neighbors who live within a specific radius have their fees waived.

“Bartram’s is really interested in shedding that ‘hidden gem’ reputation and becoming more of a real public amenity of Philadelphia,” says Angevine.