Dayton vet realizes dream, builds mini-golf course
Mike Pulos put an unusual item on his bucket list years ago, and was determined to get it done.
“You know how you say you’re going to do something?” said Pulos.
First, Pulos thought he might complete it in El Paso, Texas, where he and his wife Barbara lived for two years.
“We had a huge yard and were going to build it there, but we didn’t want to stay in El Paso,” said Barbara.
Then the couple, who were then living in San Clemente, Calif., decided to leave the “rat race” there, said Mike.
They started to look for a place to retire, first in Placerville, Calif., because Mike was fascinated by its gold rush history.
“I’ve always said I was born 100 years too late,” he said. “I should have been born in 1848, not 1948.”
Then they ventured into Northern Nevada, looking in Gardnerville and Minden, and Carson City, before discovering Dayton, where they found the perfect house.
“The lots here are absolutely huge,” said Mike.
So the couple moved there in 2014 and have spent the last four years fulfilling Mike’s goal by building a miniature golf course in his backyard all on their own.
Nine, unique holes as skillfully made as any commercial course outline the periphery of the couple’s backyard. A pathway made from cement but painstakingly scored and painted by Mike to look like brick leads players from hole to hole.
Surrounding the house are several decks Mike built for Barbara, each with an outdoor table or seating arrangement, and one with a fire pit.
Two fountains, one made by Mike, adorn the course as does a playhouse and doll house.
Decorative signs along the course name spots for the Pulos’ three grandchildren — as in Cierra’s Circle, Kaden’s Court, and Amber Leilani Lane — as well as Tatum’s Trail, named for the family’s newest addition, Amber’s son and the Pulos’ first great-grandchild.
The backyard project is just another in a lifetime of unusual adventures for Mike, said Barbara.
At the age of 57, for example, the veteran hitchhiked across the country to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Pulos served three years in the U.S. Army, including one year in Vietnam where his assistant machine gunner, Mark Vincent, was killed.
The trek to Washington took 12 days and he met many people along the way who asked him to pray for relatives they had lost in the war.
He arrived to the memorial, haggard, and found Vincent’s name on the wall, where it was too high for him to reach to do a pencil rubbing of it.
A mother and young boy came along and Mike asked if the child could climb on his shoulders to get the rubbing for him.
“Tears were streaming down my face, mixing in with the dirt,” said Mike.
He said the prayers he promised to make for the people who had given him rides, then left the memorial, found a bus station, and called his wife.
“I’m ready to come home,” he told her.
The experience, said Mike, was the most cathartic of his life. He returned home and wrote a poem he called The Wall.
“It was automatic writing, took me about five minutes to write,” said Mike. “I think I changed one word.”
Mike has also written a screenplay of his experiences and in 2010 attended a writing workshop for war veterans in Hollywood.
“John Sacret Young, who did ‘China Beach,’ was my mentor,” said Mike. “Clint Eastwood’s manager told me if I got an agent he’d read my script.”
For now, he’s finishing up the final piece of his backyard attraction, a small basketball court. He has poured the concrete and just needs to install the hoop and paint the lines.
Then, over Labor Day, the Pulos’ are holding what Mike calls the first annual Pulos Golf Tournament, when the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild will come to play the homemade course.
That’s the other goal of Mike’s unusual bucket list item.
“Build it,” said Mike, “and they will come.”