Ralph Lomma is not a name you hear bandied about during a discussion of great inventors.
The cave man who invented the wheel? Sure. Thomas Edison, Eli Whitney, Gutenberg, Ray Kroc, the Earl of Sandwich? They all make the list.
But Ralph Lomma is a name lost in the rush to laud Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the Wright Brothers and Harlan Sanders.
Why should we build a statue of Ralph Lomma in every public square in America? Because it is Ralph Lomma who made miniature golf what it is today.
Mini-golf historian Susan R. Chandler told The Washington Post: “Ralph Lomma was a shrewd businessman. He and his brother Al took what might have been a passing craze for windmills, zig zags and colored balls, and helped establish miniature golf as a fixture in American recreational life.”
Said T. Rees Shapiro in his obituary of Lomma in the Post, “They (the Lomma brothers) added the missing excitement and claimed to be responsible for infuriating millions of putter-gripping golfers, especially those who aimed at a miniature windmill only to have the revolving blade swipe their ball away.”
We had a Putt Putt golf course in my neighborhood when I was growing up. Since there was precious little for not old enough to drive sub teens to do besides complain to other sub teens there was nothing to do, our parents would routinely haul us to Putt Putt. Once we could legally drive, the destination du jour was Putt Putt, then the Old Corral Drive-In where they had actual curb service and two way speakers for ordering.
Taking a date to Putt Putt was not without its pitfalls. There was always a chance the girl would win, an event which immediately called your manhood into question. So you had to choose your dates carefully. I’m sure sweet, cute little Rosemary from the church (name changed to protect the golf hustlers) never knew why she rarely had two dates with the same guy. I knew. She could sink more holes-in-one on a miniature golf course than anybody in the Methodist Youth Fellowship.
Miniature golf has declined in popularity, and that’s a shame. Sure, video games probably sunk the putt, but the gamers can never reproduce a spring night under the lights trying to get an orange golf ball into a clown’s mouth or banking a shot across the bridge and into the castle.
Mr. Lomma, I hope your loved ones do the right thing at your grave. If you don’t have an operating windmill as your headstone, there is no justice.
Rest in peace.