Each week The Sentinel visits a memorable story from its archives.
July 26, 1979
Putt-Putt keeps some folks up all night
When Rockville Putt-Putt manager Chip Linville dreamed up Moonlight Madness six years ago, he must have had Mike O’Hara in mind.
Surrounded by the darkness and eerie silence that pervades the rest of the city, it takes someone with a flair for the different and the exotic to hit red, green blue and yellow golf balls over a carpet littered by bumps, barriers water and other red, green, blue and yellow golf balls from midnight to 5 a.m.
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Say hello to Mike “The Laguna Squirrel” O’Hara, so named because of his success on one of Putt-Putt’s favorite pinball machines.
O’Hara is not your average 28-year old Vitro Lab employee. O’Hara’s well deserved reputation began unfolding several years ago. Here are a few of the bare facts.
$1· He has attended 199 of the 200 Washington Capitals’ home hockey games over the past five seasons. “I missed one this February,” he admits shamefully, with head bowed. “It snowed that afternoon and I knew the roads would be slippery and everybody would be fighting for parking spaces and I said to heck with it.”
$1· He has witnessed all of the Washington Bullets’ home playoff games for the past two seasons and all of their regular season home contests this year.
$1· He has seen a major league baseball game at every ballpark currently in use. And, yes, he has the ticket stubs to prove it.
$1· In 1976, O’Hara attended 98 baseball games, including 17 doubleheaders. He took in 16 of those games during a 10-day stretch that included stops on consecutive days in Cinncinatti, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit. Only in the Motor City did he spend two nights in the same place.
With his background, it should not be surprising to discover that O’Hara has played over 500 rounds of Putt-Putt this year or that he has the unofficial record of winning extra driving time on the Laguna Squirrel pinball machine for 150 straight games (and counting).
How good is O’Hara at putting? Just ask him. He keeps all his scorecards for two weeks, then adds those rounds to a master list of statistics that baffles even the most astute putt-putt student. O’Hara cannot only recite his average score per round on each of the three courses, but his average on each of the 54 holes.
And he has done everything on a $200 per week salary.
“I budget my money carefully, O’Hara explains to a reporter too bleary-eyed at 6 a.m. to ask for many details. “About 20 percent of my salary goes to sports. I had to cut down this year (on baseball) because of this gas thing. I substituted putt-putt.
O’Hara actually took up the sport in 1977 when he played a mere 275 rounds. That figure grew to 451 last year and estimates on 1979’s final figure have not been calculated. O’Hara, who cites hole five on course two as the easiest and hole 18 on course three as the most difficult, has not shot about 39 (three over par) this year.
Unlike O’Hara, Dottie Cox was at her first Moonlight Madness.
“I just wanted to try an all-niter,” said the Rockville resident. “My boy (Mike, age 11) is out there sleeping in the car.”
“C’mon, I’ll show you,” Cox laughs. “I didn’t want to leave him at home and he doesn’t care as long as he can sleep.”
Cox, and exuberant, middle-aged woman who could be heard all over the three courses most of the night, did not seem bothered by the extended evening.
“I don’t have to sleep tonight,” she said, almost insulted by the question. “I’ll wait til 12 o’clock tomorrow night. I thought I would be exhausted, but I’m ready to go another day.”
Jim Maxwell, however, wasn’t. At 5 a.m., he was ready for some sleep that he could not get.
“Why did I do this? I don’t know. My mother thinks I’m over at a friend’s house and his mother thinks he’s at my house, so we have to stay out all night. Now, we have to find some place to eat until it’s safe to go home, so we’re probably go to Montgomery Donuts,” the Silver Spring native said.
“This was my first time,” Maxwell added. “It was pretty fun. I might do it again, but I couldn’t do it two nights in a row.”
Rick Boggs could. Even the fact that he lives in Baltimore fails to dim his enthusiasm for the game he took up four years ago.
“I do it to relax,” said Boggs. “There’s a putt-putt in Baltimore, but it’s not kept in good shape. Chip improves this course in some facet every year. That’s why I don’t mind paying for the gas and driving all the way here.”
Boggs, who has ventured as far as Dallas for an Amateur Putters Association tournament, attends at least two Moonlight Madness specials every month. Rockville hosts the event, at just $3 per person every Friday and Saturday night.
“The game is mostly mental,” explains Boggs, 24. “If you think you can beat a guy, you can. You’ve got to psych yourself into shooting well; if you don’t, you won’t shoot well.”
People play Moonlight Madness just for fun, too, like brothers Steve, 27; George, 24, and Jeff, 17, Dawson of Wheaton.
“We get all kinds of people here late at night,” Linville said. “Most are college age.”
“Moonlight Madness is being well-received more and more. It’s a nice group of people and they can have fun when it’s cool and now crowded,” added Linville.
The number of people playing dropped from 80 at midnight to a hard core of about 30 at 5 a.m. Naturally, O’Hara and Boggs were among them, oblivious to the house and the taunts of friends who can not understand the magic of putt-putt.