This is how I play miniature golf: I give genuine effort to the first two or three holes, gamely aiming my ball into the clown's mouth or between the duck's webbed feet. Then I lose heart and control, and in no time I'm whacking my ball right off the turf and into the bushes beside it.

Usually, I flip the ball outside the fence before I quit altogether.

I once scored a hole-in-one at a local mini-golf spot, and far from inspiring me, even that game ended with my ball on the nearby highway.

You think I'm about to say I played miniature golf and loved it, but no.

I'm about to say I watched my older grandson and my husband play miniature golf, and I loved that.

We had taken this boy on an entirely different excursion -- a visit to underground caverns. We thought he would adore it, his parents thought he would adore it, and he thought he would adore it. We were all wrong.

The dungeon-y aspect of the cave, the wet walls, the standing puddles and the occasional narrow passageways all served to give him either genuine claustrophobia or a solid case of the heebie-jeebies. We didn't stay long.

When we emerged from the depths, the miniature golf course was in our direct line of sight. A father and two children were playing a hole.

My grandson, whose social confidence is sturdy, approached the trio immediately.

"Can I have the next turn?" he asked nicely. The players looked at him, at a complete loss. In my pre-grandchildren days, I would have reacted just like that.

Now, of course, I understand my grandson was following instructions his parents have laid out: Do not snatch toys from the hands of others. Be patient, and ask if you can use it next.

Sophisticated people acquainted with the game of mini-golf tend to forget they once didn't grasp such social nuances as renting clubs and balls.

As I walked my grandson off the trio's green, I explained to him. Did he want to try it? we asked.

Five minutes later, grandfather and grandson approached the first tee.

I had volunteered to be both audience and commentator, which turned out to be just as well, since our grandson immediately devised his own game rules. He would hit his ball, run to wherever it stopped, and proceed to tap, nudge and, really, use his club as one would use a spatula to move sausages to one side of the pan. When his red ball had been escorted into the cup, his grandfather would hit his green one, whereupon our boy would take over and shepherd that ball into the cup, as well.

But here's the thing: Every time our grandson placed his ball on the mat and took that initial stroke, the ball wound up inches from the hole. He didn't aim for the suggested bank shots; he didn't realize it was possible to go around the man whose legs and feet made a tunnel in the middle of one hole.

He just hit the ball, usually, thanks to his grandfather's suggestion, with the correct side of the club. And there the ball would be, so close to the cup a breeze might waft it in.

"Good job, Ernie!" said my husband.

"Good job, Bert!" said our grandson, who not only doesn't know Mr. Els, he doesn't watch television and knows the Sesame Street Muppets only through social osmosis.

When we reached the last hole, I showed him how the ball would drain away down a tube instead of falling into a cup.

He was both shocked and intrigued. When we discovered that the balls from his game and 10 others were inside an unlocked box outside the final green, he insisted on counting them and then counting again as he dropped each ball into the last cup and watched them roll through the tube and into the box. This was satisfying for everyone.

"Good job, Tiger!" said his grandfather.

"Good job ... Lion!" our grandson said back.

It was the most fun I've ever had at a miniature-golf course. I can't wait to go back.

Write to Margo Bartlett at