A Closer Look at Statue Golf

We’ve all seen them. Duos and trios of students walking around with irons and putters, dressed in semi-ridiculous clothing playing some strange, yet endeared game to Hillsdale College. Yes, we’re talking about Statue Golf. Here is a perspective on its cherished tradition.

“It all started on a warm spring afternoon,” said now Hillsdale College alum Matt VanOpstall.”Three of us were playing golf in the hallways of Simpson with real golf balls. When one went astray, we realized it best to go outside.”  The original iteration of the game began just over West Street in front of the Simpson dormitory. Thanks to the wisdom and generosity of Steven Mette, foam golf balls were immediately introduced lest a player be liable for hitting a professor’s car. The initial version of the game was very simple: hit the ball across the street and land it on a small patch of grass on the other side. This playful version soon became tiresome for the trio who then began brainstorming other creative ways to procrastinate. Little did these friends know they were on the cusp of creating one of the most iconic traditions at Hillsdale College.

It remains uncertain as to had the idea of using statues as holes. As soon as that variation was introduced, however, these Simpson natives knew they were on to something. With help from Tom Burrell, the original course was quickly developed (The Teebs) and they began having regular tee times. At one point, the group even had security called on them to figure out what on earth they were doing!

original score card - the teebs
Original PSGA score card, course rules, and course design.

In addition to the unique history of the sport, the game is so beautiful because this form of entertainment wasn’t intentionally created in an organized sense, but rather it just sort of “happened.” In many respects, it is the most impromptu and organic form of recreational and social entertainment here at Hillsdale College. Created by students on their own accord for the sole purpose of enjoying sport and friendship. Current student and regular player of the course, Mark Englert, describes it like this:

“It’s a very Hillsdale thing to do because it combines our emphasis on history with a social game, competitive spirit, and athleticism.  It’s one of those things that you probably wouldn’t see people doing at any other campus…and it’s a great study break to relieve stress and enjoy some friendly competition.”

According to VanOpstall, it took a couple of years for the game to really take off. Eventually, they encouraged their RA, Garrett Holt, to play his first round. Needless to say, he was hooked. After Garrett, people began questioning: What was the game? How do you play? What are the rules? In response to the slew of interest, VanOpstall created an official score card containing the course, hole names, rules, and par. Trying to fully capitalize on the opportunity at hand, the original trio also started a brief small business selling the foam golf balls for a short period of time.

To this day, the game remains beautifully simple: using a select amount of irons and a putter, take as few of strokes as possible to “hit” the specific statue/landmark for that particular hole. Just like a standard golf game, the player who takes the fewest strokes claims victory.  The “Par” for each hole varies, depending on the distance from statue to statue. Modifications within the game itself have also evolved as the years have gone on including course variations, rules, and etiquette.

As with any student-created activity, there are some fun nuances that should be noted. For example, the course route can be left to interpretation. While there are standard courses, some players opt to devise creative routes and even shoot for unique landmarks — the most notable being the front door of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Another quirk lies in the “hooks” and “slices” of the game. Bad shots happen. Sometimes, really bad shots happen — ones that inadvertently hit innocent bystanders. When this is the case, the player may be awarded an undisclosed monetary gift for their accidental precision.  Finally, celebrity shots are always encouraged, especially when it is a staff or faculty member of Hillsdale College. Admissions staff member Zachary Miller and even Hillsdale College President, Dr. Larry Arnn have both been know to step in and give a fine shot on occasion.

Statue Golf Course Route (Code Name: The Good):

  • Hole #1 (Par 3) Southwest corner of Quad –> Ronald Reagan
  • Hole #2 (Par 3) Big tree of Quad –> Margaret Thatcher
  • Hole #3 (Par 5) Margaret Thatcher –> Thomas Jefferson
  • Hole #4 (Par 4) Thomas Jefferson –> George Washington
  • Hole #5 (Par 4) George Washington –> Civil War (or Lincoln)
  • Hole #6 (Par 5) Lane Rock –> Amphitheater
  • Hole #7 (Par 4) Amphitheater –> Thomas Jefferson
  • Hole #8 (Par 4) Thomas Jefferson –> Margaret Thatcher
  • Hole #9 (Par 3) Margaret Thatcher –> Ronald Reagan
statue golf map 2
“The Good” course route

Statue Golf Course Route (Code Name: Let Freedom Ring)

  • Hole #1 (Par 3) George Washington –> Liberty Bell
  • Hole #2 (Par 4) Liberty Bell –> Margaret Thatcher
  • Hole #3 (Par 3) Margaret Thatcher –> Ronald Reagan
  • Hole #4 (Par 4) Ronald Reagan –> Mossey Library Sign
  • Hole #5 (Par 3) Mossey Library Sign –> Thomas Jefferson
  • Hole #6 (Par 5) Thomas Jefferson –> George Washington
  • Hole #7 (Par 4)  George Washington –> Civil War Statue
  • Hole #8 (Par 5) Civil War Statue –> Amphitheater
  • Hole #9 (Par 5) Amphitheater –> Eagle/KKG
statue golf 3
“Let Freedom Ring” course route

Not only does Statue Golf incorporate the social and recreational, but also the educational. Students swing their way from one historic statue to the next, taking notice of the great men, women, and landmarks highlighted by our campus. Each dedicated monument contains a plaque explaining the item’s significance — features you can’t help but to admire along the way.

When the round is over and the clubs are cleaned, this game is less about the final score card and more about harmless fun that gets students outside exercising, enjoying the weather, and strengthening friendships in between each swing. This is what stands at the core of Statue Golf. So grab a few friends, a couple clubs, and that visor you bought at a neighborhood garage sale six years ago, and swing your way to a better social life!

P.S. – Plans to expand the current nine hole course into a full eighteen are in the works. Just waiting on a few more statues to show up…

Informational credit to: Matt VanOpstall; Branden Bisher; Mark Englert

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