Nags Head: Secret of the Sand Castle

Many, probably most, people who travel to Nags Head, North Carolina make a stop at Jockey’s Ridge State Park at some point or another. The sprawling 420 acres of sand dunes are kinda hard to miss.

But many of those same people don’t realize that the sand dunes have secrets hidden underneath them – things that were there long before the sand came to swallow them up. One of these things is the old Jockey’s Ridge Mini Golf, built in the 1970s. According to an article in the July 10, 1987 edition of the Wilmington Morning Star, the state purchased the attraction that month in order to allow the sands to continue their natural expansion. Previously, sand blowing into the golf course and nearby homes had been hauled away by dump trucks periodically to allow business to continue.

According to messages and vintage photos left on online forums, the attraction included an 18 hole course, a giant cobra, an octopus, a castle (with fountain), and a pirate ship that functioned as the office and check-in building. An online poster stated in several forums and Flickr photo comments that her grandparents, the Meekins, built the course in 1975 and that the state used eminent domain to seize the course from them years later. The poster also shared that most of the structures were removed and sold with the exception of the putting greens and the castle. The ship reportedly went to a church that used it for youth group functions. Originally, the dunes buried half of the 18 hole golf course while it was still in business – necessitating another 9 holes to be built farther south on the property.

The abandoned castle is quite striking in vintage photos, with red paint, an archway, steps, and a fountain, and it looks tall enough for an adult to stand in. Left where it stood to face alone the encroaching sands of the Ridge, it eventually vanished from sight.

Many fans of the sand castle trek to the dunes every year to check on this old friend. Some years nothing much can be seen, but other years the venerable castle sits exposed. Fascinated by this story, I went there myself this past September. Below are some pictures.

I see a turret!

I see a turret! It may look fragile, but this is pretty solid concrete. The rest of the castle is completely buried.

From the castle, look down to see any remains of the mini golf greens.

From the castle, look down to see any remains of the mini golf greens. (Click this picture to enlarge and you can make out the traces of what’s left!)

I wish I could get out a mini-golf club and play!

Want to play some golf? This was the only putting green that I could find uncovered in the area, although plenty of blocks of concrete and boards with nails were strewn about elsewhere.

Better view of an exposed green

Better view of an exposed green – you can see how the mat has come off of the concrete pad. The edges have also been worn down – the red bricks are gone.

How To Get There:

*Park in the public lot at Kitty Hawk Kites (behind the building).
*At the light outside the kite shop, follow the crosswalk across Croatan Highway to the ridge.
*Continue straight onto the sand path into the dunes. Make a left and you will be walking into the golf course (even if you can’t see it). Look up and see if any of the castle remains appear.
Caution: Wear good sturdy shoes and watch your step. Broken glass, old nails, chunks of concrete and campfire messes are everywhere.

Read more about the sand castle:

Jockey’s Ridge Sand Castle Facebook fan page Someone posted a great vintage photo of the mini-golf course. I really want to know what happened to that octopus. A cephalopod fan myself, I think he’s too cool.

OBX Connection forum thread One of the many series of posts about the castle, this one is particularly good.

“Buried Treasures – What is Under Jockey’s Ridge?” This article in the North Beach Sun introduced me to the castle – and the stories of other things lost to the Ridge’s sandy jaws.

Sand castle photos on Flickr Check out some fantastic pictures of the castle from over the years, including an impressive aerial shot!

One response to “Nags Head: Secret of the Sand Castle

  1. Cindy O'Brien Jockey Ridge Mini Golf belonged to my grandmother, Marian K Meekins. She recently passed away on February 23, 2017 just shy of her 96th birthday. The castle did not have a fountain, and if I remember correctly, there were 2 18 hole courses. This was a great family business that my grandmother took great pride in. My grandfather wasn’t sure about wanting to get involved in a miniature putt-putt. They together ran Meekins Realty, building and selling cottages. This was entirely my grandmother’s project that proved to be quite successful.

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