(May 3, 2013) May 4 is an exceptionally special day for Ocean City resident Herb Schoellkopf. Not only is Saturday his 92nd birthday, but “The guru of miniature golf” will also celebrate Old Pro Golf’s 50th anniversary in the resort.
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., guests can play a game of miniature golf for 50 cents at the Old Pro Golf 136th Street indoor Safari Village and outdoor Caribbean Pirates themed courses. Light refreshments will be served during a gathering from 4-6 p.m. Judy Schoellkopf, Herb’s wife of 22 years, said many former employees have been invited back for the event. Mike Beatty, a.k.a. “DJ Batman,” who worked for Old Pro Golf a number of years ago, will provide the music.
Pictures of Old Pro Golf courses throughout the years will be on display.
As the Schoellkopf’s sat at a table near the arcade area and UnderSea Adventure indoor course on 68th Street last Friday, they looked through old photos and reminisced.
In the early 1960s, Schoellkopf, who called New Jersey home, was approached about building a miniature golf course in Ocean City, Md. After asking, “Where is Ocean City?” he agreed to design the course and completed the job in 1963.
Schoellkopf said he was in the right place at the right time when there was an opportunity to build a course near the Boardwalk fishing pier. It had an Outer Space and Western theme. In 1969, the theme of the pier course changed to the circus and sports.
“It didn’t take me long to realize the potential here,” he said. Schoellkopf admitted that in the beginning, he didn’t expect Old Pro Golf to grow as big as it has.
In 1964, a Polynesian-themed course opened on 23rd Street. The following year, he built a course with a circus theme in Playland Amusements, on 65th Street, bayside.
As the town grew northward, so did Old Pro Golf. At the time, he was also designing courses along the East Coast for other people.
In 1970, Schoellkopf designed an Outer Space-themed course and a Western-themed course on 65th Street.
The next year, a course with a pirate theme was erected at 136th Street. In 1972, a second course was built in that location and it had a Safari theme, and in 1973, a third course was added. It had a Polynesian theme.
Two more courses popped up on 28th Street in 1975-76. One had a circus theme and the other a Renaissance castle theme. In the 1990s, those were combined into one 27-hole “Medieval Faire” course.
Schoellkopf built a Dinosaur themed course on 68th Street in 1991. He moved to Ocean City fulltime from New Jersey in 1991, when he started dating Judy.
In 1994, an indoor “Under the Sea” course opened on 68th Street and in 1996, the Polynesian course changed to the “Temple of Dragons” course on 23rd Street.
Old Pro Golf celebrated the grand opening of its newest indoor course, Safari Village, along with a family arcade, in 2010. The Caribbean Pirates outdoor course on 136th Street underwent renovations that year, as well.
Schoellkopf has been contracted to design, build or rebuild more than 150 courses along the East Coast from Connecticut to South Carolina. At one time in the mid-1960s to early 70s, he owned and operated 13 courses in five states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina) before localizing the business in Ocean City.
All of the courses have 18 holes plus a 19th hole where players can earn a free game. Each Old Pro Golf course has a different atmosphere and style. An “old pro” golfer figure is located at the first hole welcoming guests. He is dressed in the course’s respective theme.
“We try to make it fun for everybody. There’s a balance between easy and more difficult holes,” Schoellkopf said.
There are also many moving parts on each course. Designing these courses takes part imagination and engineering, he said, thus Schoellkopf uses the term “Imagineering,” which he borrowed from Walt Disney, Judy said.
Old Pro Golf is a family-operated business. There are currently six courses in four locations in Ocean City.
Herb, who is semi-retired, is the president. One son, Jeff, is the chief financial officer and another son, Scott, is the vice president and general manager. Schoellkopf’s daughter, Nancy, is on the board of directors and Judy handles the advertising and marketing.
Many family members have also worked for Old Pro Golf over the years.
At 92 years young and after 50 years in the business, Schoellkopf is not dwelling on the past. He said there just might be more Old Pro Golf courses popping up in the future.