OCEAN CITY – This weekend Old Pro Golf will be celebrating 50 years of family fun in Ocean City, and miniature golf course innovator Herb Schoellkopf reflected this week on how the operation has developed over the years.
Schoellkopf has founded, created and built over 150 miniature golf courses since the early 1950’s and will be celebrating 50 years of family fun in Ocean City this weekend. Although it’s difficult to believe today with it largely home to amusement rides, his first course was created on the landmark Wicomico Street Pier in 1963.
Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, Old Pro Golf built and operated 13 golf courses up and down the Eastern Seaboard in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Sour Carolina, before Schoellkopf began concentrating on developing in Ocean City.
Schoellkopf started in Ocean City in 1963 with two courses on the Pier, one a space theme and the other a western theme. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the courses were altered to a sports and circus theme.
After starting with modest roots in Ocean City, Schoellkopf rapidly built miniature golf courses, growing along with the town. In 1964, the Polynesian course was built on 23rd St., followed by Circus golf in 1965 at the old Playland. In 1970, Outer Space and Western course opened on 65th Street followed in 1971 by the Pirates course on 136th Street. In 1972, Safari on 136th Street was opened followed by in 1973 Polynesian on 136th Street, in 1975 Circus on 28th Street, in 1976 Castle on 28th Street, in 1991 Dinosaur on 68th Street, in 1994 Indoor UnderSea on 68th Street, in 1996 Temple of Dragons on 23rd Street and in 2010 Indoor Safari and a renovation of the Outdoor Caribbean Pirates on 136th Street
Currently, Old Pro Golf operates six themed golf courses at four locations all on Coastal Highway starting on 23rd Street with Temple of Dragons, next is Medieval Faire on 28th Street, which is Ocean City’s only 27-hole course, then Dinosaurs and Indoor UnderSea that is open daily year-round, and the final courses are on 136th Street, with an outdoor Caribbean Pirates and Indoor Safari Village and Family Arcade.
Old Pro Golf has become a family business with sons, Schoellkopf’s son, Scott, serving as Vice President and General Manager; Jeff as Chief Financial Officer; and daughter, Nancy, as a member of the Board of Directors, along with Schoellkopf’s wife, Judy, who handles marketing and advertising.
Schoellkopf is from Cherry Hill, N.J., where he built his first miniature golf course. The first five golf courses he built were operated under the name Putter Links.
“When I started to build more, it became complicated designing score cards for each golf course with the different pars. One day I went to the printers looking to simplify … so that’s when the gentleman pulled out the figure of the Old Pro that became our logo and I decided that’s what we are going to call it,” Schoellkopf said in an interview last Friday.
Schoellkopf graduated from Guilford College with a teaching degree and received his masters in a dual major of business and education from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His time in college was cut short when he served for the Army during World War II in the Pacific. Schoellkopf left the service in 1946 and returned to Guilford.
Following college, he spent a short time teaching and coaching before following his passion in building and operating miniature golf courses. Before receiving his position as a teacher, Schoellkopf had his first taste of building miniature golf courses when he helped his teacher build a course in Greensboro, N.C., to raise money to buy uniforms for a sports team.
The year before Schoellkopf came to Ocean City was the hurricane of 1962 that wiped out most of the island. During that time, he was building a miniature golf course in Philadelphia.
“A gentleman came over to ask me … if I would be interested in building a course in Ocean City, Md., and I said ‘where’s that?’ I had never been to Ocean City, Md.,” he said. “So I came down here and I looked it over a year after the hurricane when they had reopened the Pier … and they had put out bids for rides on Pier and I just happened to be here that year.”
Schoellkopf was awarded the bid and leased the Pier in downtown Ocean City where he built his first miniature golf courses in Ocean City.
When it came to building the miniature golf courses, Schoellkopf did it all, from engineering to construction and operation.
“It is all up here,” he said pointing to his head. “All of my courses are different. The companies that grew big in miniature golf built standardized courses. They are all the same … but I work with a different philosophy. I make them challenging and interesting … and I make them so everyone can enjoy them.”
Looking back over his career, Schoellkopf said he never imagined being where he is today when he served in the Army and graduated from college.
“I attribute it to Walt Disney … and ‘imagineering,’” he said. “It’s a combination of imagination and engineering. When you put those two together, it has to work.”
Old Pro Golf is celebrating 50 years of family fun in Ocean City, as well as Schoellkopf’s 92nd birthday on Saturday, May 4, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the 136th St. Outdoor Caribbean Pirates and Indoor Safari Village. To celebrate the milestones, play for only 50 cents per player per game is being offered at the 136th Street facility.