Goofy Golf, memories, and the legacy of its former owner
Today, iconic sites from the 1950s are few and far between. But just off of Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach, Goofy Golf is a staple of classic miniature golf. Sporting two uniquely vibrant 18-hole courses, Goofy Golf offers a slice of nostalgia and entertainment that everyone can enjoy.
Built by James “Jimmy” Hayes and his son Buddy, the original Goofy Golf opened to the public in 1958, making it one of Florida’s oldest continuously running mini golf courses. Given its age, it is recognized as part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail.
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The structures and animals that make Goofy Golf so recognizable were made by hand from chicken wire and concrete. The majority of the original structures still stand today.
“It's kind of the last nostalgia of Fort Walton Beach left because everything else has been either demolished or rebuilt,” said Chris Clements, former staff member and current owner of Goofy Golf. “We’re trying to keep this as original as we can.”
When Goofy Golf first opened, the cost of a round of golf was 75 cents per adult and 50 cents per child. Since then, prices have been raised only a handful of times, making it one of the cheapest forms of entertainment along the Emerald Coast. A round of golf today is $3 per adult and $1.50 per child.
In 1971, Air Force veteran and bowling fanatic Robert "Bob" Fleskes, known by many as “Mr. Goofy,” purchased Goofy Golf from Hayes, his father-in-law. He would go on to own and operate the course for 40 years before selling it to Clements.
While stationed in England, Fleskes helped to introduce traditional American ten-pin style bowling to the country. After being honorably discharged, he managed and owned a few bowling alleys before graduating to Goofy Golf.
During his ownership, Fleskes and his family worked and lived on the property. Many of his children had their first jobs at Goofy Golf. Former employees recounted memories of their time at the miniature golf course.
“One evening when I was working a closing shift back in the 1970s, I saw a streaker running across the course,” said Selena Rogers, daughter of Fleskes and former employee of Goofy Golf. “My dad said that wasn’t the first one he had seen running across Goofy Golf in the evening.”
“The memories I have [of Goofy Golf] are just pouring slushies for all of the customers, seeing the families be together, and welcoming the summer camps from around the area,” said Laurie Keninitz, daughter of Fleskes and former employee of Goofy Golf. “In terms of memories of my dad and his dedication, he was at Goofy Golf more than he was at home. It was his heart and soul, he put his life into it.”
Rogers also recalls that during the Vietnam War era, Eglin Air Force Base took in refugees from conflict zones. The refugees were granted access off the military base and were taken to Goofy Golf for entertainment.
“It was just a great feeling to know that we were helping out the community and that they had some entertainment because they were living in a tent camp over there,” she said.
Clements started working at Goofy Golf as a young teenager in the 1990s. His father, who worked at a lumber store next door, would bring the young Clements to work on Saturdays. While there, Clements would walk over to Goofy Golf to play a round of golf.
Noticing Clements every Saturday, Fleskes asked if he’d like a job mowing the lawn. After a year of mowing Goofy Golf’s lawn, he was hired to work the sales hut and concession stand.
“It was fun,” Clements said. “You got to meet a lot of new people, you got to see the same people every summer that came to town for vacation. It was neat and nice to form a relationship with those people.”
One of Goofy Golf’s most recognizable features is Hammy, a 23-foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex that guards the property. In 2003, the original Hammy statue collapsed due to the rusting of his legs. A local developer was commissioned to build a replacement Hammy in time for Goofy Golf’s 50th anniversary in 2008.
“It had been raining for several days and the grounds were pretty saturated,” Rogers said. “A big semi-truck came by, and my dad thinks that it rattled the road or made the ground shaky. The dinosaur just toppled over.”
Aside from Hammy’s replacement, the course has seen very few changes since its opening. One of the original features of the course, a green monster, was a victim of vandalism and ultimately destroyed. Fleskes also added a shark statue next to Hammy in the 1970s because of the popularity of the movie “Jaws.”
In 2011, Fleskes decided to sell his beloved Goofy Golf so that he could retire. Clements, whose first job was at Goofy Golf, never imagined that he would be the one to purchase it. He says that Fleskes and his family have always treated him as one of their own and that he is happy the torch was passed to him.
Per Fleskes’ wishes, Clements promised to keep the course the same and the prices low.
“He would make the comment that some families can’t afford to go to the movies because they’re so expensive, but this is one thing they can afford,” Rogers said. “He wasn’t going to raise the prices. He knew that if the price was right and people had a good time, they would keep coming back.”
On August 17, 2022, Bob Fleskes passed away at the age of 88. He leaves behind family, friends, and a legacy that spans generations.
“He would give the shirt off his back for anybody,” Keninitz said. “His rule of thumb for us growing up, and anybody who met him, is that we treat people the way we expect to be treated. He ingrained that into me, my brother, and my sister, and it has carried me through my entire career.”
“He has been an inspiration to me for working hard and having a good work ethic,” Rogers said. “That’s what he taught me at the golf course.”
“He’s shown me a lot of things in life that I still use today,” Clements said. “He has really opened me up to understand customers in general. Once you own a business, you really see the other side of things.”
A local legend, Fleskes’ legacy spans far beyond Fort Walton Beach and northwest Florida. Generations of families vacationing in the area would visit Goofy Golf to see Fleskes and enjoy the charm of the course.
“He was a great person,” Clements said. “He loved working here and talking to families. When he worked the hut, he knew every single person who came in because they’ve been coming for so long.”
“He’s never met a stranger,” Rogers said. “He was so outgoing, so friendly, and so sincere. He made many, many friends through the years.”
In honor of his passing, Goofy Golf held a “Bob Fleskes Day” in October, allowing everyone to play free of charge. With his family in attendance, many showed up to reminisce about Fleskes and the lasting impact he has made.
“It was so touching for us, the family, to see how many people came out in honor of my dad, to share stories about their lives and the generations of families saying what a kind person he was,” Keninitz said. “It’s making the grief process for the family easier because we know that he made so many people so happy and touched so many lives, and that’s just so important to all of us.”
As for the future of Goofy Golf, both Clements and the Fleskes family hope to see continued joy and fun for generations to come.
“We’re going to fix everything we can until we can’t fix it anymore,” said Clements. “We’re going to keep the prices as low as we can. I’m going to keep it going for as long as I can. Hopefully, everybody will keep coming back and we will be here forever.”