HOULTON, Maine — Like countless teenagers in the Houlton area, Carla Hannington had a summer job working at Drakes Dairy Bar, and she also helped out at the family’s driving range and miniature golf course.
The flexible hours allowed her to prioritize her high school and college studies while also saving money for essential items.
“It was the perfect summer job,” Hannington, who now lives in Hartford, Conn., said Wednesday. “When I close my eyes, I can still hear the ‘thwack’ of the golfers connecting with their golf balls on the driving range or the laughter of the kids coming from the mini golf course. It was a wonderful experience.”
During the 1980s and into the early 2000s, Houlton had two miniature golf courses.
George “Red” Ritchie and his wife, Phyllis “Sis“ Drake Ritchie operated an outdoor miniature golf course and a driving range, which was right next door to their dairy bar at the top of Drake’s Hill.
“I started working at the dairy bar first,” Hannington noted. “But once they put in the mini golf course, that became my favorite place to be. I loved overseeing it and sort of being outside with the kids and families as often as I could. I don’t recall what year that the family decided to shut it down, but I was really sad to see it happen. It gave everyone a new and different activity to enjoy. ”
Jason Mitchell of Houlton said Wednesday that he was once a regular customer at the driving range, buying a large bucket of balls and hitting them out into the field every night after he got done work.
“I loved that place,” he said. “I started golfing with my father when I was just a little kid in elementary school. He used to take me up to that driving range two or three times a week during the summer, and once I got my license, I went every night.”
Around the same time, in Market Square, Chuck and Lorrie Denton opened Video Plus, which had a miniature golf course in the basement.
Amy Sirois Holmes of Houlton said that she and her friends spent “many a Saturday” playing the game.
“I remember just being fascinated the first few times that I played,” she said. “I was so young, and I couldn’t imagine how they got a whole golf course like that in the basement. It was the most fun thing to do, and each little hole was designed so differently.”
Holmes said that she and her friends spent most of their babysitting money playing miniature golf.
Chris Stevens, a former Houlton resident who now lives in Bangor, agreed.
“The coolest thing about the Video Plus course was the final hole,” he said. “You had to return the ball by hitting it up a slope and into a clown’s nose. It was very difficult, and I don’t know anyone who ever accomplished it. If you did, you got a free game the next time you played.”
The Military Street Baptist Church On The Hill now sits on the land where Drakes Dairy Bar and the driving range once stood.