“Sorry, I do waffle. Do interject if I go off on a tangent slightly or I don’t answer the question. Do feel free” says Marc Chapman half an hour into the interview after another elaborate answer. It’s never actually waffling though, it’s a beautiful insight into the mind of the world’s best minigolfer.
The World Crazy Golf Championships is an annual tournament held at Hastings Adventure Golf since 2003. Chapman is the reigning World Crazy Golf Champion and has won the tournament three times. Minigolf, also known as miniature golf, mini-putt, goofy golf, crazy golf or putt-putt, is an offshoot of golf focusing only on the putting aspect of the original format.
With so many names, I needed to clarify what Chapman referred to the sport as? “The sport is mini golf, but this particular event in Hastings is called the World Crazy Golf Championships. Because it’s on their crazy golf course, which is a bit of a heritage course.
“It’s a course from the 1960s. It was a bit of a generic American build in all the seaside resorts around England. It’s one of those courses that still remains from what you would call our parents’ generation of seaside holidays.
“It’s the one that generates significant interest really within the UK and the wider world because it’s a decent price fund and also it does attract some of the best players.”
Chapman has not just won this tournament three times, he did it three years in a row, clinching the glorified ‘three-peat’ that only stars such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Roger Federer, to name a few, have achieved. But, unlike those stars, minigolf is not a professional sport, with Marc’s day job being in a different discipline.
“I teach fencing in a group of schools here in Canterbury and, I do some community club work in the evenings in the region, in southeast between here and London really. I work weekends as well, so my training [for minigolf] has to be condensed into School holidays, half terms, Easter.”
I’m speaking to Marc over zoom, catching him at the day job before teaching starts. As Marc delves into his training plans for the months ahead in preparation for the upcoming 2022 championships, he builds up an image of someone who’s a dedicated student of his sport.
“It’s just about getting the hours on the clock, so that by the time the tournament comes around, I’m effectively a robot.”
But his preparation may be blighted by a new obstacle this year.
“I’ve got a baby boy on the way in two and a half weeks’ time which will be an interesting new dynamic because the baby will be three months old when I’m down there playing, so it’s all these other things that I’ve got to plan for, and manage, that will be new.”
Marc has achieved great success in the sport, he’s the household name for minigolf in this country. This year he will aim for the ‘four-peat’, but that’s not his key motivation.
“It’s the fame and the money, obviously” he says before giggling.
“No, it’s a slight obsession. I think because I failed in my first athletic choice as a fencer, as an athlete, I never got to a senior adult level with it internationally and it was always in my head, when I do stuff, I want to take it as far as I possibly can and aspire to be the best I can at it.
“When those doors are open, there’s still that unfulfilled dream of being really good at something, however minor. Being a world champion, it doesn’t matter what it is at, it’s still something that no one else can take away from you.”
The World Championships will take place this year on June 10, 11 and 12, attracting players from around the world along with awarding the biggest prize pot there is on the mini-golf tour. As it gets closer to the event, Marc says he’s inundated with requests for interviews, but despite joking about the fame before, he does enjoy the spotlight he gets, no matter how big.
“I’m a bit of a showman, a bit of a performer, and what I do, I teach kids sword fighting for a living. It’s hard not to go into places and put on an act, as it were, and try and enthuse people. I’m used to that, I’m used to promoting what I do, I’m used to promoting sports, so I just apply all of that stuff to mini golf.
“I see my role as, I’m one of the better players, I’m someone that’s good on camera, I have a duty, I have a responsibility to help promote the sport to show it in a good light and hopefully attract more people to come and give it a go and then to take part and get as much fun and joy out of it that I do.”
Covid caused the championship to be cancelled in 2020 but it came back, delayed, in September 2021. Marc won that event finishing with a Par of –28, four shots better than his nearest rival, Ed Pope.
Unsurprisingly, the same names pop up when looking at the leaderboards and winners of the minigolf tournaments in the UK, like Ed Pope, Michael Smith and Adam Kelly. Marc tells me that “there’s a hardcore group of I’d say about 40 players that play in most events, and then there’s a few hundred players that rock up for the big events, just for the prestige value of it.”
“Michael is clearly the best player in the UK. Full stop. I on my day can take him down, probably more so than anybody else. When I’m up for it I’m probably better than him. That’s why I focus on maybe five or six events a year, whereas Michael plays in virtually everything. And then there’s players like Ed that have never won a big one.”
“Adam Kelly, he’s an interesting one. He used to play a lot, but now he just rocks up in Hastings and plays once a year. He hasn’t got the game time or the recent experience to deal with that pressure but technically, he’s one of the best that’s ever played.”
Marc repeatedly comes back to how important mentality is and dealing with pressure has helped his game in his preparation or gameplay, which helps him get to his peak performance. His nickname, ‘The Force’, feels apt. However, it soon comes out this was bestowed upon him by himself.
“When I started playing everyone used to call me ‘Chappers’ because it’s quite lazy and easy with my surname. And then there was a period of time when any new players who came on steam, people would put an online poll up and rally round and suggest nickname titles and people vote for it. But no one ever did that for me.
“After a while I got a bit bored of being called ‘Chappers’ and I thought, OK, I’ll just come up with my own persona, much in the Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor mode… It wasn’t anything specific. I mean four is my lucky number so like four, four, force.”
Minigolf in this country is mainly seen as a recreational sport, one all can play. There are many new places opening around the country like Junkyard Golf, Puttshack and Paradise Island who are popularising and commercialising the sport even more.
“The game nationally is kind of run by the course owners and the entertainment industry now has made big strides in turning it into an activity people can do on a night out.
“It’s part of that competitive socialising group of sports like Axe throwing, shuffleboard, you find these places are effectively bars that that do these activities. There’s growth in that area still. We’ve seen that in the last 10 years. It’s become a multimillion-pound industry.
“But they’re not really interested in the competitive side. There’s a disconnect there between the courses and the regular players that play for competition, so I think there needs to be more collaboration within the industry.
“How can we sell ourselves to the industry better as a sport rather than just a one-off activity where people can go and have a night out? All of those things are new challenges and I think everyone can benefit if they were to talk about their points of view and collaborate, and I think there can be exciting ventures down the line.”
As I thank Marc for his time on this interview, I can’t help but ask if the baby will become a future Minigolf World Champion?
“I’m not going to force it upon them. I might actually, actively detract from them doing it because I’ve always wanted to take them on the course and all that would affect my planning and preparation. So I might need to be a little bit selfish.”
A ploy to protect himself?
Marc laughs again “Yes, protect my own fun.”