Artist-Designed Mini-Golf Course Aims to Raise Money for Jersey City Museum

Lead photo courtesy of Paul Silverman/All other photos: Jon Whiten

Miniature golf, long the province of automobile suburbs and family beach vacation hotspots, is coming to Jersey City this week. The temporary course, dubbed The Golden Door in reference to the city’s rich history of immigration, doubles as an art project, with ten artists contributing immigration-themed holes to a course designed by Risa Puno and curated by Christina Vassallo.

Artists have been toiling for weeks in the early summer sun, with the help of carpenters for construction, to create a temporary attraction that will have a grand opening Wednesday and remain open to the public until Labor Day.

The project triples as an ambitious fundraiser for the ailing Jersey City Museum, which in April laid off its staff and closed its doors for all but five hours of the week. The course has been shepherded by Paul and Eric Silverman, the local developers who are donating the Hamilton Square space for the attraction, as well as recruiting corporate hole sponsors, all with a goal of raising $100,000 for the museum.

“Building neighborhoods takes many ingredients and Jersey City Museum plays a critical role, developing and supporting artists, entertaining our residents and educating our students,” Paul Silverman says.

The course itself, which we visited last week, features well-designed holes ranging from the lighthearted and whimsical (this is, after all, mini-golf) to the personal and political. The unexpected setback and the power of luck are the main recurring themes on the course, which is fitting both for the medium and the message.

Jersey City artist Hiroshi Kumagai’s The Long Narrow Way to Heaven creates a powerful statement touching on bureaucratic malaise, immigration politics and Kumagai’s own personal narrative.

The hole, which features a straight, very thin incline, is “almost impossible” to finish, he says. The idea was “to convey my experience as an immigrant, because I had such a hard time getting a green card.” Kumagai, who came to the U.S. from Japan, says it took him almost a dozen years to get the green card, and his hole reflects that long slog.

“When I came to America, I was told that it was … paved with gold. Then I quickly learned 3 things,” the hand-lettered tombstone-shaped back of his hole reads. “First, it’s not paved with gold. Second, it’s not paved @ all. And third, I was expected to pave it.”

The hole created by Nyugen E. Smith, another prominent Jersey City artist, also tackles the endless uphill battle many immigrants face. He says The Glass Ceiling “really speaks to the immigration experience … to trying to achieve the American Dream.”

The hole’s design takes the ball, which Smith says is the metaphor for the self, through different life stations — from life in the tenements to getting an education — but a number of obstacles continually throw the ball off its course.

Smith, whose work often addresses post-apocalyptic and survivalist themes in a sometimes chaotic collage style, says he began working on the hole with clean, straight lines, thinking that would work best for mini-golf. But at the urging of Vassallo, he ended up using his own style and voice instead.

“Translating that into mini-golf was a very difficult task,” he says. “But it’s been a lot of fun.”

The Golden Door Grand Opening Party; Wednesday, June 23 from 6 to 10 pm; Hamilton Square. Tickets: $75 per person (includes food and drink). Starting June 24, the course will be open to the public daily from 10 am to dusk until Labor Day; $5 per round ($4 for museum members).

Jon Whiten

co-founded the Jersey City Independent. He is currently the Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.