DECATUR — With its bright primary colors and creatively themed holes, Paul’s Puttin’ Place looks, even from the road, like a haven for fun.
Walk inside; play a round. Observant golfers will notice that many of the holes are designed to look like musical instruments. It’s a nod to the course’s founder, Festus Paul, who opened the business in 1981 as he headed to retirement from his job as music strategist for the Decatur School District.
Look at the people. Some of them have been playing this course for decades. Some children are being delighted by the fiberglass tombstones and miniature Transfer House for the first time.
“Everybody seems to love it,” said Gabby Cliff, recreation supervisor for the Decatur Park District.
All will play their last round this year, as Paul’s is set to close for good at the end of the season. The park district is building a new multimillion-dollar 36-hole course just north, adjacent to U.S. 36.
The new course will have a Scovill Zoo animal theme, an arcade and a place to buy frozen yogurt. What it won’t have, at least for a while, is what it took Paul’s years to build: memories.
“It was a love affair,” recalls Paul, who will turn 90 this month. “I loved what I was doing. The people were loving because they enjoyed it. It certainly worked out beautifully for my grandchildren,” many of whom still cherish the recollections of working for the family business.
Paul left the business to the park district in 2006 to spend more time with his wife, who was ill. The holes still bear his name, and his license plate still reads “PUTTIN 1.”
“My claim to fame,” he said, chuckling.
Paul opened the first course in April 1981 in the area formerly occupied by Joyland Amusement Park, which the park district had been seeking to replace since it closed several years earlier.
In its first weekend, 500 people played through, according to Herald & Review archives. The second weekend brought 700.
Business was booming, so Paul opened a second 18-hole course in June 1982. A free orange soda was given to each person who attended the grand opening. The third course opened in 1984.
“There would be times in the summer where, with three courses running, the waiting line would extend well into the parking lot, and that was not atypical,” said Dennis Paul, one of Festus Paul’s sons.
Paul decorated the course with so many flowers that his son calls it a “Garden of Eden.” It was known as the home of the 25-cent “slush puppy,” a type of flavored, thinly shaved ice.
Karen Benjamin, the park district’s former director of recreation, said the facility attracted many families and special events, such as birthday parties or class trips.
“It was the nicest group of people that frequented the facility, as I’m sure they still do,” she said. “It made for some really nice summer nights out in the park.”
Kevin and Brenda Hutton had their second date at Paul’s in July 1983. Though they now live in Tennessee, they occasionally return to Decatur to visit family.
On a recent trip, they brought their 23-year-old daughter along as they revisited Paul’s.
“I like coming here,” Kevin Hutton said. “... It’s been so long, but I think it looks about the same. I don’t think much has changed.”
The course also attracts such young people as 7-year-old Emma Norton, who chose it as a special activity to do with her parents, Bob and Patty Norton, before she returns to school this week.
The Nortons said they visit the course two or three times a summer.
“We got here just at 4 o’clock, before they opened the gate, and there were people waiting in the parking lot for the gates to open,” Patty Norton said. “That was nice to see.”
People can get in a last round at Paul’s until Sept. 29, when it closes for the season. Hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 9 p.m. Sundays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Labor Day.
Paul’s family is collecting memories about him for his 90th birthday Aug. 29. To submit something, email firstname.lastname@example.org.