Zion Plecker lightly held his putter, judging the distance between his ball and the hole and taking careful mental measurements of slope, wind speed and the lay of the rug inside the Jefferson Madison Regional Library.
Then he gave it a whack, sending the ball careening through the cold rolled steel bookend that acted as a cup.
“Aw, man!” he said.
Zion, who is 7½ at an age when those extra six months make a big difference, was hitting his stride at the Central Library’s mini-golf night, when the library becomes a 9-hole temporary Putt-Putt golf course.
“I like it,” Zion admitted. “It’s fun.”
Zion and his sister Gabby Lane, 9, and parents Jackie and John Plecker came out for the Friday fun night put on by the library staff. With each department setting up a different hole based on a book, children and adults had a variety of challenges to manage on their way through the course.
“It’s the second year we’ve done it. We read about it being done at other systems and thought it would go over well. This is something that’s a lot of fun for families. We thought it would just be a fun, free summer activity,” said Krista Farrell, assistant director of the library.
“The only real concern is that we’re using real golf balls and clubs that are loaned to us by Putt-Putt Fun Center in Albemarle County. They are so nice to do that for us, but we want everyone to keep the clubs and the balls low. We don’t need any broken windows!” Farrell said.
Although putting in the library seems like a strange way to get kids to read, Tasha Birckhead, young adult librarian, said it’s part of the plan.
“We have a summer challenge sheet for young readers and part of the challenge is to come to the library and another challenge is to attend a program at the library. This checks both of those boxes,” she said.
“For our programs, we look at what people want and what resources we can provide to meet what they need. Each month we have an after-hours program. Next month we’re going to have large-sized childhood board games,” Birckhead said. “We’re thinking about Scrabble, maybe Battleship and things like that.”
As the library course opened for play at 6 p.m. Friday, dozens of golfers lined up. Last year’s event went better than expected, Farrell said.
“We thought it would be mostly kids, but we had some adults last year, including one couple that came dressed as if they were on a date. It was a lot of fun,” Farrell recalled.
Gene Cain, 28, is one of those adults who came out Friday night. With his long hair and epic beard and wrapped in a cloak, he resembled a young Leo Tolstoy, should Tolstoy ever stand between library book racks while wielding a putter.
“I’m a scholar and a bit of a workaholic and I was coming to the library to study, but I found this was going on,” he said, waiting in line behind Zion and Gabby at the third hole’s tee. “I realized I could use a break and let my mind relax. I haven’t played mini-golf for years.”
For friends Thomas Powell and Julien Krop, both 6½, the event was right on par. Both have attended First Tee Golf Camp and know their way around a putter.
“I’ve never played inside, but I sometimes play outside,” Thomas said before play began. “I think it will be fun.”
“I played [Putt-Putt] and my favorite hole is the last one. The ball was all over the place. I didn’t know where it was going to go,” Julien said. “It’s cool.”
“The last hole is cool. The ball disappears,” agreed Thomas.
For Zion and Gabby, golfing among the library stacks was a surprise activity, at least until a reporter spilled the beans on the library steps prior to the doors opening. The revelation was a bit unnerving.
“I’m sort of worried that I won’t do that well,” Gabby mused at the accidental reveal. “I’ve never played mini-golf, except maybe nine years ago or something. It was a long time ago. I don’t really remember it.”
A few holes later, she was rolling.
“I made a hole-in-one and got two on another hole, although the one I got two on was luck,” she said.
Would she consider turning pro?
“Hmmm,” she said crossing her arms and thinking. “Maybe.”