By Caleb Schmidt
Before you drive into downtown Raleigh, you may find yourself on U.S. Route 401. It’s a little rundown. The lights take forever to change, and, for the most part, it looks like it hasn’t stepped into the 21st century. It’s peppered with small ranch-style houses. Fast food wrappers litter the cracked asphalt. The air reeks of gasoline as pick-up trucks on monster truck wheels rev their engines loud enough to echo into the nearest town.
However, tucked to the side of 401, a new mini golf course has opened for business: the ParTee Shack, the only indoor mini golf course in the Triangle. From the outside, it just looks like an old warehouse. The only indication that you’ve pulled into the right dusty parking lot is a sign above the warehouse door.
When you first walk in, your eye will probably be drawn immediately to the yellow school bus parked in the middle of the course. But it’s not just a school bus. It is its own course, where you step inside, putt your ball and hope that it finds its way through the bus’s exhaust pipe and into the hole.
Reimagining the game
ParTee Shack is different from your usual mini golf experiences for its untraditional course designs. For example, there’s a hole where you have to ride a zipline to get your ball in, another where you have to play a game of Beirut and one where you have to play a game of pinball to secure your win.
These ideas came from John Berger, one of the owners of ParTee Shack. While John has always loved mini golf, he wanted to bring the commonly outdoor experience indoors.
“It gets so hot in the summer,” John said. “You can’t do it when it’s raining. You can’t do it when it’s cold. I just loved the indoor concept.”
John never thought he would be the owner of a mini golf course. Before opening ParTee Shack, he made a living selling medical devices across the country. Meanwhile, his wife, Caroline, worked as a flight attendant. Whenever they were in the same city, they would always play a game of mini golf.
It wasn’t until they played a game in Omaha, Nebraska when they decided to open up their course in Raleigh. After all, most of the teenagers in the area had only a Sheetz gas station to hang out at after school. Surely there could be something better.
“I feel like there’s not that many family entertainment spots in Raleigh,” Caroline said. “It’s something different, something unique that people haven’t really seen before, especially the fact that it’s all indoors.”
Constructing ParTee Shack
They decided back in July of 2019 to build a mini golf course. Initially, they had planned to build it in Greensboro, but when the pandemic hit in March of last year, they lost the building they were going to use.
Eventually, they found a little warehouse off of 401 and chose to build their course there. Before ParTee Shack, the building housed Interskate, a roller rink. Though people would sometimes go there after school, it was far from a safe place. With electrical malfunctions, asbestos and outdated equipment, the Bergers had to not only repair the building, but its reputation as well.
So, they got to work.
John built some of the courses with the help of his business partner, Jimmy Garcia. Throughout the construction, they ran into some problems. Their biggest problem involved the installation of a new fire sprinkler system. They had to do more than just connect the system to a water pipe. The system had to be connected to a water source … across the busy U.S. Route 401. This tedious project delayed the grand opening of ParTee Shack. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. After announcing the grand opening date, the Bergers discovered that the pipe had been installed incorrectly. So, after all the announcements had already been made, they had to push the date back even further.
Finally, after nearly two years of planning, construction and setbacks, ParTee Shack opened its doors to the public on March 27.
An un-fore-gettable experience
Since opening, ParTee Shack has had a steady flow of new customers. People are telling their friends about this new attraction and are coming back to experience it all over again. It’s more than a rotating windmill, an over-glorified sand trap or a ceramic hippopotamus. It’s a new way to look at mini golf.
“The comment we get the most is, ‘This is so cool. I’ve never seen anything like it,’” Caroline said. “They’re not expecting to go through a school bus or hit a ball off a tee with a bat.”
After all their hard work, the Bergers came up with a fresh, new way to entertain people in the Triangle. While going to Sheetz or loitering a Walmart may be fun for a few minutes, it’s bound to get boring. ParTee Shack is bringing new life to 401 and redefining the game of mini golf.
“It’s really cool just watching people coming in, having such a fun time, getting out of the house, getting out of the crazy routine that people have been going through over the last couple years and have some fun,” John said.
Edited by Alex Berenfeld and Brooke Spach