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Herbert J. Schoellkopf Jr., creator of Old Pro miniature golf courses, dies

Herbert John "Herb" Schoellkopf Jr. conceived and created <a href="http://www.baltimoresun.com/travel/beaches/">Ocean City</a>'s Old Pro miniature golf courses and introduced the all-weather, 18-hole, air-conditioned indoor links.
Herbert John "Herb" Schoellkopf Jr. conceived and created Ocean City's Old Pro miniature golf courses and introduced the all-weather, 18-hole, air-conditioned indoor links.

Herbert John "Herb" Schoellkopf Jr., who conceived and created Ocean City's Old Pro miniature golf courses and introduced the all-weather, 18-hole, air-conditioned indoor links, died of an aortic aneurysm May 5 at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin. He was 95.

Born in Camden, N.J., he was the son of Herbert John Schoellkopf Sr. and Helen Sturr. Family members said the elder Mr. Schoellkopf owned a pretzel bakery and delivery route and failed financially during the Depression of the 1930s.

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"My father grew up during these hard times, and he observed how inexpensive diversions such as movies and miniature golf were popular," said his son, Jeff Schoellkopf, an architect who lives in Warren, Vt. "As a kid, he loved the early talking movies ... and the circus."

Mr. Schoellkopf was a graduate of Camden High School, where he ran varsity track and was a member of a winning relay team in the 1938 and 1939 Penn Relays.

He began studies at Guilford College in North Carolina and joined the Army during World War II. He was assigned to Officers Candidate School and in 90 days was serving as an officer in a medical evacuation unit.

He was stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines. He served during the occupation of Japan and left military service as a captain.

Upon returning to Guilford College, he earned varsity letters in football, basketball and track. He later received a master's degree at the University of North Carolina. He coached athletics and taught for several years.

He had helped a friend set up a miniature golf course — it was a temporary layout designed to raise money for athletic uniforms. He soon began designing and building them in southern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. He also built driving ranges, trampoline centers and arcades. His son described him as a "passionate" golfer.

Family members said his career expanded after he was hired to build miniature golf courses in downtown Ocean City. After a March 1962 storm struck and damaged Ocean City's boardwalk and amusements, he leased a spot on the Ocean City Pier and operated a course there for nearly 15 years.

The course featured a statue of Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas as an obstacle.

"When he got to Ocean City, he saw the light," said his son. "My father spent his summers along the Jersey shore, and he saw how built out it was there. Ocean City in the early 1960s was wide open and set to go. He saw the potential of 15 million people living within a three-hour drive" of Baltimore and Washington.

In 1964, Mr. Schoellkopf made plans to acquire land at 23rd Street, then a remote location. He made other land purchases at the resort and was often well ahead of retail and condominium development that followed.

He wound up with courses at 23rd, 28th, 68th and 136th streets.

"He was told he was crazy. It was too far out of the business district," his son said. "We worked together as a family. It was a hands-on job.

"The family made all its income in 100 days of the year," he said. "We lived in a small apartment and rolled coins on the dining room table. The game was then 35 cents, a lot of nickels, dimes and quarters."

Mr. Schoellkopf went on to design and build 150 miniature golf courses, often for other owners. He once owned and operated 20 locations from New Jersey to South Carolina.

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In 1963 he hit upon a name: Old Pro Golf. It became synonymous with animated figures and themed environments, such as the Temple of the Dragon. Mr. Schoellkopf was a devoted fan of Walt Disney and his enterprises, and he also drew inspiration from world's fair attractions.

A gardener, he required courses to be landscaped and accented with cannas and hibiscus.

"He loved the joy on kids' faces and the way the game brought families together," said his son.

Mr. Schoellkopf realized that weather affected attendance, so he built a course inside a structure and found that because of air conditioning, it was a hit on hot summer days.

A 1995 Baltimore Sun article described his pirate-themed course: "The greens are smooth, the holes have cool names (Blackbeard's Cave, Bloody Dagger Tavern) and are tricked up with all sorts of moving obstacles. [The] best hole is Blackbeard's Cave, the size of a broom closet, only without the mop and Pine Sol. But kids love to putt in semi-darkness. ... The 11th hole, inside Barracuda, is decorated with typical pirate gear: fishing nets, weapons chest and plastic trash can, apparently picked up by tidy buccaneers at Sears."

His four Old Pro Golf locations in Ocean City remain in business and are operated by his family. He remained Old Pro Golf president.

"My father was a jack of all trades," said his son. "He had a mechanical mind — he knew how to mount motors with reciprocating rods. He had a can-do attitude and great business instincts."

A memorial celebration will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Fager's Island, 201 60th St., in Ocean City.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 25 years, Judy Johnson, who worked alongside him at the family business; two other sons, Richard "Rick" Schoellkopf of West Ocean City and Scott Schoellkopf of Berlin in Worcester County; a daughter, Nancy Schoellkopf of Raleigh, N.C.; two stepdaughters, Stephanie Johnson of Seville, Spain, and Christy Crow of Indianapolis; and 10 grandchildren. His first wife of 38 years, Aileen Belton "Deany" Schoellkopf, who was also a part of the family business, died in 1988.

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