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Magic Carpet Golf

Today I was lucky enough to join other members of the group “Vanishing Tucson” at Magic Carpet Golf, on East Speedway Blvd.   This old course finally closed recently, ending what I believe was a 50+ year stretch of business in Tucson.   It will eventually be razed to become a parking lot.

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Magic Carpet Golf is one of those places that long-time Tucsonians remember dearly from their childhood.   The entire place was handmade with fantastic concrete sculptures, colored lights, and exotic scenes.   It became rather shabby toward the end, but still the sculptures stand in testimony of decades of service.

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There is talk of moving the sculptures to another location for preservation, but I don’t see how it will be possible.   They are delicate and crumbling, made on-site mostly from wire and concrete, and in many cases firmly anchored to the ground.   Moving that T-Rex would be an operation akin to removing a real 65-million year-old dino fossil.

So about a dozen of us went over to take pictures today.   The caretaker let us in (by prior appointment) and we wandered through the grounds looking for history and art.   We found decay and mold, rotten wood and torn “greens”, but also a bit of imagination and fantasy.

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Someday Magic Carpet Golf will be only a memory.   The undulating greens will be smoothed, the dinosaur and giant monkey will be reduced to powder, the buildings will be torn down and the palm trees will be dug up and sold.   When that happens, we’ll have the photos, and they will eventually be treasured by someone who wants to see how things looked in the old days.

I guess I’m getting a particular appreciation for this sort of thing because I am often looking for historical photos these days.   In Airstream Life magazine we regularly publish articles about the history of Airstream, Wally Byam, travel trailer manufacture, and exotic caravans.   When I find a family photo of someone’s vacation to the Florida Keys or Niagara Falls taken in the 1950s, it’s like finding a nugget of gold.   That ordinary snapshot becomes a little piece of history preserved.

Every detail is important: the car they drove, the clothes they wore, the buildings in the background, uniforms, roadways …     my authors often pore over such photos for days, looking for tiny clues to how things used to be, so we can share them with the magazine readers.   I can only hope my photos of Magic Carpet Golf will be half as well received by some author in fifty years.     (You can see many more photos on my Flickr album.)
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In any case, I am indebted to   the leader of our group, Carlos, who takes a personal interest in the historic pieces of Tucson that are being quickly reduced to parking lots and sterile chain retail stores. I’m looking forward to a few more opportunities like this, documenting pieces of Tucson that have nearly vanished or are in danger of disappearing soon.   It’s a way to bond with the city and learn more about it, and a good way to keep my camera at work too!

8 Responses to “Magic Carpet Golf”

  1. Tim Says:

    My lord, I’m amazed that the place is still around to be demolished. We used to go to Magic Carpet a lot when I attended college at U of A in the 70’s. It was a cheap date, especially on weeknights, but still a lot of fun (which should tell you something about my social life :-). Thanks for the post, not to mention for making me feel old.

  2. BukaHobbit Says:

    Wow, Magic Carpet always got me jazzed when I was a kid. I don’t live in Tucson anymore, but it was always nice to see the whimsical sculptures when I went back to visit family. Tucson will be a more vanilla place without the golf course. This brings up the issue of supporting local businesses. If more folks in Tucson had patronized the place, perhaps it could have stayed open, but I guess other entertainment choices won out. I now live in Houston (have for years) and it killed me when Astroworld closed. That place was still profitable, but a particular executive discovered that he could get a big bonus if he raised a lot of revenue in a specific fiscal quarter. The result, he closed the park and sold the land (very valuable). The real tragedy is that he WAY overestimated the value of the land and so he basically killed the park for no reason. Now I’ll never be able to take my young son to the amusement park I loved growing up.

  3. compwalla Says:

    That is across the street from Monterey Village, right? Oh my. That’s really sad. I would love to buy the Tiki Head. It would look terrific in my backyard. :)

  4. ZippySpincycle Says:

    Well, rats. My kid, 10, saw this and just about cried–last time he was in Tucson visiting his grandmother, he’d wanted to go to Magic Carpet, but there wasn’t time during that trip. I always loved the glowing red eyes of the Easter Island tiki, myself. The world just got a little more boring.

  5. Bill Koplin Jr. Says:

    I enjoyed your comments and subsequent responses. In 1969 my dad and I helped my uncle Lee build MC Golf Tucson. After seeing the place in a horibble state of disrepair in about 1989, my dad convinced me to help try and resurrect it and possibly take it over. My uncle Lee Koplin died about a year earlier. We did our best to give the place new life. We removed a massive amount of overgrowth and rubble, repainted everything, replaced all the carpeting, installed fencing (Lee didn’t like fences), remodeled the residence and generally repaired as we could. My dad and I were quite pleased with the result. My niece Gina operated it for about two years. My dad died in his sleep there early in ’93 and a few months later my niece called it quits. I have pictures of it looking at its best if you are interested. This is the end of an era for me personally. While it is true that it was managed poorly and not maintained, its origination was honorable and well intended and that was to put a smile on the faces of kids of all ages.

    I own and operate Magic Carpet Golf at north Lake Tahoe California. Members of my family begining in 1948 with my parents, Bill and Mary Koplin, have put smiles on millions of faces in this business at many locations.

  6. jamie cain Says:

    The Tiki head is going to The Hut on 4th Avenue. Saturday, June 21, there will be a celebration. I am in a band call the Chili’s. We have a following called the Chili Heads who will come out to watch us play and welcome the Tiki head to it’s new home.

    I hope the nostalgia stays there for at least the next 40 years! (and I’m eluding to a new historic Tucson landmark in my Chili Alert!0

  7. J. Allen Says:

    I was visiting a friend in Tucson over the weekend when she gave me the dread news…I can’t believe it. My parents and a few other brave souls took fourteen of us there for my seventh birthday. As I grew up in Tucson friends and I would go there still, to golf, play video games and have a good time. I’m sorry to say my last visit was in 2002 when I moved out of state.

    For those who experienced it, cherish the memories. Our over-stimulated cyber-world is only partially at fault for the demise of this and other such entertainments of the past…we as individuals did our share of harm by “forgetting” about them. Very sad indeed.

    Magic Carpet…we’ll miss you…and Thanks for the good times !!

  8. Alicia Says:

    I am in the process of restoring the Fish from Magic Carpet Golf. Currently, I am doing some research to find out what it originally looked like. Does anyone have photos of the fish from the early 70’s? It would be great to know the original colors of the fish.
    I enjoyed reading Mr. Bill Koplin Jr.’s entry and would be honored to speak to him further about the origins and construction of the Tucson Magic Carpet Golf Sculptures as I continue my work on this project.

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