AJ’s Pop-Up Mini-Golf returns for third season

By on August 8, 2018

The Van Grouw family, all with colorful golf balls are (left to right) Tim; Alex, 5; AJ, 10; and Marni. (Photos by Marylouse Sholly)

For anyone who likes having fun and helping a good cause at the same time, AJ’s Pop-Up Mini-Golf is back for its third year.

The 15-hole miniature golf-course will be open Saturday, Aug. 18, from 4 to 9 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 19, from 2 to 9 p.m. at the home of Tim and Marni Van Grouw, 29 Whitcraft Drive, Warwick Township. Free snacks are available.

This year, all donations will be going to the Nathan Hurst family of Lancaster, which includes wife Jenn, and kids Kai and Brody. Mr. Hurst recently received a cancer diagnosis and all money raised will be going to help pay for medical bills and costs associated with traveling for treatment.

The Van Grouw family is asking for a $2 donation to play the course.

The Hursts and Van Grouws both attend Calvary Church and AJ’s little brother, Alex, is a friend of the Hurst’s younger son.

Two years ago, when he was eight, AJ, a.k.a. Austin, Van Grouw, put together a mini-golf kit at home and enjoyed it so much, he expanded on the course, adding some creative putting greens.

“It was a father/son build-it-yourself kit,” said AJ’s dad, Tim.

After AJ finished with the kit, he began building more putting greens, making obstacles out of bricks in the driveway.

AJ and his dad, Tim Van Grouw, look over a troll and fairy tree made for the mini-golf course

“I liked putting it together and just wanted to do more,” AJ said.

The course became sophisticated enough that it could have competed with a commercial mini course, and two impressed parents came up with a plan.

His family — mom, Marni and dad, Tim, with little brother Alex, now 5 — decided to open AJ’s very cool mini-golf course to the public. Any free-will donations, they decided, would be given to a good cause.

What started out as a family fun project turned into a legitimate fundraiser, with money brought in that year sent to flood victims in Louisiana.

Last year, the golf course grew, both in complexity and popularity, with more than 200 people coming by to the family’s home over the course of one weekend.

The mini-golf course raised close to $1,000, which was divided between the Ephrata and Lititz public libraries.

“Last year, all the holes were themed after books, since AJ is an avid reader,” Marni said.

This year, all the putting holes are movie-themed.

AJ Van Grouw with cardboard movie “posters” donated by a friend for the mini-golf course.

“We chose movies that would appeal to older folks and movies like the Pixar films, for the kids,” Marni said.

Spoiler alert: the putting green by the family’s swimming pool is the “Titanic” hole.

“We get the pieces together and then we have to figure out how we’re going to do the movie theme,” Tim said.

Every year, the course grows as the entire family gets into the spirit of the event and becomes more creative.

AJ, who will be going into the fifth grade at John R. Bonham Elementary School in the Warwick District, invites his friends from school and his teachers.

“Everybody has been very supportive,” Tim said.

As for AJ, the mini-golf course serves two purposes.

“I feel happy that it’s helping other people and I’m happy that people are having fun at the golf course,” AJ said.

What started out as a mini-course on their driveway now encompasses much of their property, Marni said.

“It starts on our deck and goes from there; we have hills and ditches and trees and it goes through the entire yard,” Marni said.

Donations of friends and neighbors have also helped the course to take form.

Cardboard advertising set-ups from the “Cars” and “Shrek” movies are expected to be popular with the kids, and the Westview Golf Course donated several putters and balls for the family’s golf course.

“We use leftover materials that we repurpose for some of the holes,” Marni said. “We dream up the ideas and it’s a team effort.”

Lumber from a kitchen remodel and PVC pipe also came in handy, Tim said.

Tim leaves the creativity to his wife and kids, but is the primary builder of the course.

“They tell me what to do; I’m just the ‘grunt’ laborer,” Tim said.

Planning for the weekend event begins months earlier.

“Even in the middle of winter, we started thinking about what movies to use,” Marni said. “We’re a creative family and this is our outlet.”

Last year, a pulley system was employed to go to a backyard tree house, for the “Swiss Family Robinson” putting hole.

While putting together the course is time-consuming, the only real difficulty is making sure the holes aren’t too complicated for the younger children, nor too easy for older family members.

“You want this to be fun, but not hard,” Marni said. “We need some holes for the little kids, so they can do it, too.”

Putting together a real miniature golf course for a weekend of fundraising requires many substantial pieces that need a place to stay until next year, and the Van Grouw family has found a place.

“There’s a mini-golf course in our basement,” Tim said.

Marylouise Sholly is a freelance feature writer for the Lititz Record Express and Ephrata Review. She welcomes your comments and questions at weezsholly@verizon.net.

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