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HomeSportsPlaying dead: The Illinois funeral home with a mini-golf course underneath

Playing dead: The Illinois funeral home with a mini-golf course underneath

People love miniature golf. Every year, millions across the globe putt their way around an endless array of obstacles in the pursuit of bragging rights. Few players, however, would describe it as a sport to die for. Yet at one unique venue in Illinois, death is par for the course. Welcome to Ahlgrim Acres, a macabre mini-golf experience buried underneath a funeral home. In 1964, Roger Ahlgrim strolled into Ahlgrim Family Funeral Services’ newly constructed building, located in the small, leafy village of Palatine, a suburb of Chicago.

He was the grandson of Arthur Ahlgrim, who had founded the family firm in 1892. As he explored the new site, he discovered a vast basement. Some 20 feet below ground, with no windows, it could serve little purpose for the funeral business, but Ahlgrim soon found a use for the room. Over the following years, Ahlgrim and his sole employee mapped out and built a fully fledged nine-hole course.

Designed to serve his children and the local neighborhood, within a decade it had become part of “the community room,” which included a full-size shuffleboard court, a ping pong table, a bumper pool table, and a foosball table hand-built when Ahlgrim was a teenager. Today, Jonathan Gwizdala, a fifth-generation Ahlgrim, is among the funeral directors that continue the legacy of his grandfather by overseeing the course. “He had a love for (miniature golf), just the fun of it,” Gwizdala told CNN. “When he opened the funeral home here … he had the space.

The whole basement was down there, and you’re not going to hold a funeral in the basement. “If it’s bad weather there’s something a lot of the neighborhood kids know and can come on over.”

The community room, including Ahlgrim Acres, is strictly closed during funeral services. The course, which is free of charge to play and has continuously developed over its 59-year history, leans into its unique setting. Macabre-themed and eerily lit in the absence of natural light, the ghoulish features begin from the outset.

Nestled in a sand trap of the opening hole is Roger Ahlgrim’s very own sculpting skull from mortuary school, on which he learned how to form facial features. As an embalmer himself, it occupies one of Gwizdala’s best-loved holes. His other favorite – trumping the ones with a moving guillotine, a life-sized grim reaper-like figure, and even a water trap – features Ahlgrim’s very own miniature mausoleum. Engraved on the tiny gravestones that players must avoid, are various names marked with their respective dates of death.

Nothing out of the ordinary there, until you discover they are the names of Ahlgrim Family Funeral Services’ still-very-much-alive funeral directors. According to Gwizdala’s headstone, he has until 2050 before he shuffles off the mortal coil, a year chosen by his grandfather. “I put it out of my head a little bit, but we’ll see what happens,” said Gwizdala, laughing. “I don’t know if it’s funny or maybe a little macabre, but we like to incorporate the personal touches.”

Host to thousands of rounds each year, Ahlgrim Acres has become woven into the fabric of the neighborhood.

The décor of the community room is a love letter to the village’s history and culture. Neon signs from old barber shops, road signs, flags, and other local memorabilia stockpiled over the years counterbalance the grisly theme of the course at the basement’s heart. 24 hours of mini-golf: The quartet who crushed a world record to raise money for Kentucky flood victims

Aided by the recent addition of a range of retro arcade video games, the room often plays host to kids’ parties, with Gwizdala holding many of his own children’s birthday celebrations there.

The community room also lives up to its name by hosting church and other civic forums, Boy Scout meetings, and – naturally – a monthly, horror-themed book club. Yet Ahlgrim Acres’ reputation extends far beyond local borders. Mini-golf enthusiasts and travelers from far and wide seeking out the weird and wonderful corners of the state have stopped by to play the course, many alerted to its existence by regional – and even some international – media coverage.

Many such articles and mentions plaster the walls of the community room, including a section of the 2011 “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” annual, and even the back of a Go-Gurt yogurt packet, where Ahlgrim Acres was the answer to a trivia question. Though the course remains free for all, a range of merchandise is available for purchase. Offerings range from shirts and badges to Ahlgrim Acres’ very own golf ball-shaped urn, inscribed aptly with “fairway to heaven.”

As Gwizdala says: “We probably think about death a little differently than the average person.”
© 2023 Cable News Network.

A Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All Rights Reserved. CNN Sans ™ & © 2016 Cable News Network. Credit – CNN

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