NASA-area amusement park celebrates memories on 40th anniversary
By Don Maines
Forty years ago, the Bay Area Putt-Putt FunHouse in on what was NASA Road 1 Webster began as a 54-hole miniature golf course with snow cone and popcorn machines.
As hundreds of former employees return for its anniversary celebration Saturday, June 15, they’ll find entertainment center that has evolved into a modern amusement park with indoor bumper cars, laser tag, a rock wall, bumper boats on the water outside and, of course miniature golf.
“I never would have imagined this,” said Carol Saxe, a 1968 graduate of Clear Creek High School, who owns the FunHouse at 806 E. NASA Parkway with her husband, Jim.
“With 11 attractions, it requires a lot more maintenance now,” said Jim, who was the head basketball and football coach at Clear Lake Intermediate School when, with summers off, he had the idea of opening a putt-putt golf course in 1979.
Jim was a Marine stationed in North Carolina when he visited his aunt in Indiana and enjoyed his first game of miniature golf.
“The architecture was so spectacular,” he said, recalling tunnels, ramps and moving obstacles. However, the next time he visited, “It only had one rock.”
Always “a fun-loving guy,” Jim opened Putt-Putt as a miniature golf course on June 15, 1979, with Carol as the bookkeeper from the get-go.
“We had 12 employees, including the two of us,” she said. “Now, we have 57 employees, so it certainly takes a lot longer” to complete the payroll.
Their daughters, Lindy and Katy, worked as “party girls,” a job that now includes both boys and girls as party “hosts.”
At first, said Carol, “It was a good night if we had 100 people. Now, we usually have 200 customers before lunch, counting birthday parties and groups, and on weekends easily up to 1,000 customers.”
Through the years, Putt-Putt evolved by adding a game room, then a batting cage, followed by other innovations such as sophisticated virtual reality attractions.
Every year, the Saxes attend a convention in Orlando, Florida, and return with ideas for building new features.
So many improvements were made in 1993 that the park required a general manager, so Jim retired after 23 years as an educator and committed to working full-time at the park.
“It’s always been a place for fun and laughter,” said Jim. “It gives children, parents and grandparents a place to spend quality time together.”
“We’ve had a wedding,” said Carol, as well as a marriage proposal and a memorial service. “It’s always been good for a fun, wholesome date night.”
Putt-Putt FunHouse is a community partner with Clear Creek, Pearland and Friendswood school districts, and the Saxes contribute to school carnivals, celebrations and graduation projects.
The family entertainment center also hosts annual tournaments and food drives.
The Saxes are looking forward to seeing some 250 former employees and their families help them celebrate the park’s 40th anniversary on Saturday.
“Many are coming from out of town, with the farthest coming from Germany,” said Jim.