The Sand Trap Celebrates Its 40th Anniversary

By SHAYNA INNOCENTI | Jul 16, 2015
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Miniature golf has always been a favorite pastime on Long Beach Island, with people flocking to the greens in droves every summer for a little bit of fun. For the last 40 years, Larry Leff, the owner of the miniature golf course The Sand Trap in Ship Bottom, has experienced this wonder.

“How do you touch people’s lives?” asked Leff. “I am just fortunate that people come, and I always tell them, ‘When you leave, I hope that you are happier than when you came.’ And that is the important part – we are just here to make people happy.”

But as many of the repeat customers know, Leff has a different approach to running a miniature golf course than most others, in that his course is also home to a beautiful flower and vegetable garden.

“It is just a different way to interact with people,” said Leff in reference to the garden. “I am a different type; my top goes backwards.”

The Sand Trap is comprised of 18 holes of LBI-infused fun, plus a bonus practice green for players to use at the beginning of the course to size up their golf clubs, and a lockup hole at the end where players get the chance to win a small prize or discounted coupon.

From the white and pink trimmed hut to the vibrant green carpet, the pristine, popping colors at The Sand Trap are an undeniable factor in the miniature golf experience. Children and adults are quick to choose among neon-colored balls and clubs – orange, yellow, blue, purple, red and green.

“I got the orange one! Yes! I got the orange one!” exclaimed one girl, neon-colored ball in hand, before she left to play a round with her family.

Players get to traverse the layered course, over a wooden bridge, around a gazebo lined with benches, along the pond-side of the 15-foot-tall lighthouse – designed after the Barnegat Lighthouse – and even walk underneath a waterfall that overlooks a small infinity-pond.

What is unique to The Sand Trap is that Leff has managed to bring many of the classic obstacles of a regular golf course, like the sand traps, rough and water, to this miniature course.

Strategically scattered throughout the green – and purple – carpet of the course are small patches of different colored and textured carpet: blue to represent water, white to symbolize the sand trap, and a rough carpet to represent the rough.

As a 19-year-old college student, Leff purchased the course in 1975. At the time he never imagined it would become such an integral part of the Island.

“My original thought was we will buy this as a business,” he explained. “It was always the idea that if it didn’t work or didn’t fly, we would use the land to build two houses. So now, 40 years later, who would have thought? I am still giving out golf balls, still telling people how to size their clubs, and I am still trying to make people happy and trying to be a part of their lives.”

At the start of the millennium, Leff remodeled the course, bringing in elements of Long Beach Island, including rearranging the course to add elevation, the incorporation of the bumps or rocks along the green, and the asthetic addition of waterfalls and fountains.

Leff said it was important to him to make sure the water throughout the course was clean. So he implemented a pool filter and chlorinated the water, avoiding the flashy dyes that turn the water a blue or green color.

“We take great pride in and put in a lot of hard work to keep the water clean,” he said. “We go into the ponds daily; we sweep them and clean them.”

The course also pays tribute to the iconic, traditional miniature golf course design via the featured windmill and wishing well.

The added elevation and bumps have earned the course a reputation as one of the most challenging miniature golf courses on LBI, but Leff admits this was not intended by design.

To illustrate the ever-active and creative mind of Leff and his desire to make people happy, he said that this year, The Sand Trap is even featuring purple carpet in place of the green along three of the holes.

“It’s fun. You’ve got to try and be hip; you can’t always have green,” Leff said.

Alongside of the purple carpet, some of the other new additions to The Sand Trap are the acceptance of Apple Pay – which allows people to pay for a game using their iPhone or other Apple device – free Wi-Fi and the added web camera on top of the lockup hole.

“On top of our last hole we have a web camera,” said Leff. “You can sign up online and look anytime you want. You can see yourself or see other people that are here, and just check out the course conditions.”

In the future, Leff said, he wants to incorporate solar energy to the course to help reduce costs, but also to make the course more energy efficient.

Part of the tradition of The Sand Trap lies in the asthetics … the flowers. Leff said he wants the scenery to be engaging, particularly for the adults.

“The children really don’t even notice the flowers, but the adults are in fascination,” he said.

With a total of around 3,000 plants, Leff said every year more are added to replace ones that have died. Leff houses a variety of interesting plants of different sizes: cosmos, straw flower, snap dragon, gomphrena, black-eyed Susans and lilies, to name a few.

“Sometimes when people come, they will take the wilted flowers for the seeds so they can go back to their houses and plant them,” he said.

Though they’re not necessarily intended for customers, scattered throughout the course, especially along the back fence, Leff has planted vegetables and herbs to add another dimension to the scenery. Grape tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, thyme, basil and mint are only some that adorn the course.

But with the edible food, Leff said that sometimes even the children become interested in the herbs or strawberries – the idea of walking by a plant and being able to eat it straight from the ground.

“I was pulling tomatoes for my dinner, and some of the little kids were fascinated, having never seen a yellow or purple tomato before,” he said. “So it is more a way to get the kids charged up with something simple … it is just something different.”

Putting aside the beautiful landscape and the challenging course, The Sand Trap is iconic for its generational factor.

“You have every walk of life that comes through here,” said Leff. “We have to entertain 5-year-olds to 75-year-olds, and older. We are not in the miniature golf business. We are in the memory business, and I am really very blessed that I am able to touch people’s lives that way.”

Leff said he often has families of three generations – grandparents, parents and children – playing at the course or even people who grew up on the Island later returning with their own children to play a round.

“We have tournaments weekly (every Tuesday at 10 a.m.), and we have people who have met their spouses while waiting in line for the tournament to begin,” said Leff. “We have countless people where this is the place of their first date; some will even return to have a wedding party here.”

Leff said this business has greatly been a family affair, and he owes a lot of thanks to his wife, Andrea, and his two sons, Mitch and Eric, along with his own parents, for their continued support.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Sand Trap, Leff is offering everybody a throwback price.

“When people are done playing, they can play a second game for 75 cents a person, which was our first-year pricing,” he explained.

Leff said he is in awe that this year commemorates the 40th anniversary of The Sand Trap.

“I have a sign here out front that says we are thanking every customer throughout the years for making this milestone,” he said. “I think that it is very important for our customers to know that. Without our customers we wouldn’t be here, and for that we are always thankful.”

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