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The Art of Miniature Golf; Nordiques Tumble Into Denver ART museums have found a surprising ally in attracting a wider public - miniature golf. By creating golf holes that are works of art, museums and galleries around the United States have incorporated a fun, interactive element with strong family appeal. That is apparent at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass., where a quiet gallery has come to life with youngsters and curious adults. Upon completing the DeCordova's 18-hole ''Strokes of Genius'' course created by area artists, Helen Citron Boodman, a refined suburbanite from nearby Lexington, says, ''I haven't played miniature golf in 20 years or so, but this is impressive artistically and a lot of fun to play. I'm bringing my 16-year-old grandson back.'' Michael Sockol, a museum spokesman, says the course is ''a sneaky way to introduce children and adults to contemporary art.'' While some of the works are whimsical, he says, none are pop ploys. ''Kitsch is shooting a ball through Abraham Lincoln's mouth. This is not kitsch,'' he says. Each hole has a title, and some address such issues as race relations, immigration, and even domestic violence. A sampling: * Feral Golf has geese sending an environmental message with their brooding presence. * Or Current Resident sets off a paper storm of junk mail inside a translucent house each time a ball is putted through the doorway. * Passport, Please uses a rotating fan to block entrance to a castlelike embassy, forcing consideration of other routes to US entry. In a sense, the game has come full circle with a trend toward miniature courses that look like real ones. It's a look that Skip Laun, executive director of the Miniature Golf Association of America, calls, ''Honey, I shrunk the course.'' The new courses have adopted a natural look, with water hazards, sand traps, and undulating greens. They are often much longer and more challenging than theme-type courses. In the 1920s and '30s, miniature golf in America started as a short game of regular golf. It evolved over the years and is experiencing a resurgence of interest, Laun says, as the centerpiece in family entertainment centers. Laun estimates there may be as many as 8,000 US courses. In Europe, where a slightly different form of miniature golf is even more popular, there are probably 15,000 courses in Germany alone. To Europeans, miniature golf is true sport. The 34th world championship of miniature golf just concluded in Hart, Austria, and oddly, it was the first time the United States ever sent a team. European courses differ from their American cousins in that they are epoxy-coated instead of carpeted. The international game also uses smooth, not dimpled, golf balls. ''They feel the dimples are for flight, and you don't get a true roll with dimples,'' Laun says. Touching other bases * Pop quiz: Where was the US Open tennis tournament played before it moved to Flushing Meadow, N.Y., and the National Tennis Center in 1978? (Answer below.) * In what might be termed a landslide victory, Colorado's new Denver-based National Hockey League team (the former Quebec Nordiques) will be called the Colorado Avalanche. After research and focus groups, says Shawn Hunter, the team's executive vice president, ''the name Avalanche and the colors [burgundy, silver, blue, and black] were far and away the most popular with the fans.'' As the Nordiques, the team posted last season's best Eastern Conference record (30-13-5). * Some say that today's high-tech tennis rackets give servers an overwhelming power advantage. To remedy this, a single-serve format, with no faults, has been suggested. Another possibility, advocated by the late British great and Wimbledon champion Fred Perry, is to revert to the old foot-fault rule, in which the forward foot must remain on the ground at contact. * Quiz answer: The West Side Tennis Club in Queens, N.Y.

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