One Last Round

It's your last chance to play at Magic Carpet Golf--and you can help the Valley of the Moon while doing it

Charlie Spillar was unimpressed when he stopped by a newfangled miniature golf course here in Tucson.

"It was kind of boring," says Spillar. "You've got these little squares and triangles blocking the hole, and you have to go around it. It's not like Magic Carpet, where you've got a dinosaur."

Unfortunately, you've only got one chance to play golf alongside the dinosaur, monkey, tiki head and other statues at Magic Carpet. This Saturday, April 26, the course will reopen for One Last Round, a party to raise money to renovate the Valley of the Moon--which may become home to four or five of Magic Carpet's concrete sculptures.

Magic Carpet Golf--the last such handmade course in Arizona--shut down months ago, and the property has been purchased by Chapman Automotive, a neighboring car dealership that has been kind enough to allow nostalgic Tucsonans to find a new home for the concrete creatures that call the course home. Plans are already afoot to move the three-story tiki head to Fourth Avenue, where it will sit outside The Hut.

A whole crew of Tucsonans came out last weekend for a cleanup blitz at the course. They splashed new paint on the concrete creatures, swept up the broken beer bottles and trimmed the grounds to prepare for the bands and other entertainment at the one-day festival, which is drawing attention beyond Tucson's borders. Spillar expects midcentury modern-design fans from Phoenix and even California to come to town for the day to enjoy a game of golf, music, food, raffles and other entertainment.

After Saturday's extravaganza, Spillar hopes to find homes for all of the statues. A sculptor himself, he's been fascinated by what he's been able to learn about Lee Koplin, the artist who created the course back in the early '70s while visiting Tucson.

Koplin got his start in the goofy-golf biz when he built a bunch of concrete creatures for a course in Guerneville, Calif., in 1948, according Tim Hollis, author of Florida's Miracle Strip: From Redneck Riviera to Emerald Coast. The course enjoyed such success that Koplin began traveling the United States, building increasingly elaborate creatures. In the late '50s, he began building courses along the Florida coast, including one that included a life-size brontosaurus that would stand in front of his own home.

State Rep. Steve Farley, who makes a living as a public artist, says Koplin's work deserves to be preserved.

"Magic Carpet Golf was never a very good golfing experience, but it was always a great artistic experience," Farley says. "For that reason alone, those sculptures need to be preserved, because there's something so unique and eccentric about them."

Farley came up with the idea of using Magic Carpet to raise money for the Valley of the Moon in January, when the morning daily first reported that the golf course was slated for demolition.

"This really captured one of those things that made Tucson so unique and might be lost if we don't do something now," Farley says. "It's something that for decades, people have treasured in different ways, whether they first made out on top of the tiki head or had a birthday party in the first-grade."

The freshman lawmaker has been amazed by the outpouring of support since he first pitched the idea of using a final round of golf at Magic Carpet as a fundraiser for the Valley of the Moon.

"To see how many people came out of the woodwork all over Tucson--just dedicated, smart people who have been coming together every week--it's been an incredible honor to have been involved," he says.

Spillar echoes that sentiment. "There's been an outpouring of support from the community," he says.

Spillar has been talking to dozens of people who have expressed interest in taking home one of the attractions, although he says some of them underestimate how heavy the concrete statues really are. He estimates the tiki head weighs 17,000 pounds.

"They ask if they can just put one in the back of their pickup," Spillar says. "A pickup isn't going to carry one of these things."

Spillar says that after Saturday's festival, he'll start sorting through the requests for the statues. In the meantime, he's just excited by the chance to fix 'em up and save 'em.

"I live in never-never land," says the 65-year-old Spillar as he looks over a replica of the Sphinx. "I don't think I'll ever grow up."

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