Holey Moley season 3 is titled “Holey Moley 3D in 2D,” but unlike third installments in other franchises that have to add cheap gimmicks to lure viewers, ABC’s extreme mini golf reality competition Holey Moley is only getting creatively stronger. Of course, there are plenty of cheap gimmicks: exploding popcorn kernels and windmill blades that knock golfers off the green in spectacular ways; corny, scripted bits with Steph Curry; and a plethora of puns and jokes from Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore.
Holey Moley triples down on what it does best, offering mostly new holes with actual putting challenges and bountiful opportunities for epic wipeouts. Season three (ABC, tonight at 8 and 9, then Thursdays at 9) sticks with the season-two format: eight golfers face off in four matches, and then the winners play each other. The final two face off for a chance to go on to the season finale, where one person will win $250,000.
Only a few holes return from previous seasons, but Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore’s color commentary and banter is back in full force, and continues to elevate the series. Watching them react to the golfing, the show itself, and each other is even more impressive and delightful now after a year of cheap, appallingly bad imitations. I lost it when Riggle asks, “People watch this?” Yes, yes we do.
After watching the two first episodes, I had many questions about this season, so I turned once again to executive producer Wes Dening, who’s executive vice president of programming and development at Eureka Productions. I asked him about everything from the design process to Steph Curry’s non-animated involvement this season, and he offered a lot of insight and behind-the-scenes details. (Our season-two conversation has even more behind-the-scenes Holey Moley details.)
Where and when was Holey Moley season 3 filmed? Was there an audience?
Holey Mole 3D in 2D was filmed in the same location as seasons 1 and 2: Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, Calif. And season three filmed back-to-back with season four, which does not yet have a premiere date. Season 2 filmed in late February and early March of 2020, and after that, the California set was also going to be used to film Holey Moley Australia last spring. Those plans were abandonded, and the Australian version relocated to a new set outside of Brisbane in Queensland, which could be used for future productions from France, Germany, and the UK, just like The Circle films all of its international editions on the same set.
Unlike seasons 1 and 2, season 3 did not have crowds gathering by each hole, as it was filmed in March 2021. While there are shots of un-masked, non-distanced spectators, those are from previous seasons, which the end credits make clear: “This episode contains some audience footage previously recorded prior to the C0VID-19 pandemic.”
There are a handful of people you’ll see at some of the holes—a small cast of characters and spectators, who Dening said “were basically treated as staff” because there was “a small allowance for people and audience members who could be on set.” Like the rest of the production, they “were being tested every single day,” and adhering to all protocols. He said “those people were using in really sparing ways to make sure that we can have some sort of atmosphere around the holes.”
Which Holey Moley holes are returning?
You’ll see very few returnees this season. They are:
- “Dutch Courage,” the iconic windmill hole, which has now been renamed “Dutch Courage En Fuego,” as it’s been set on fire—though that doesn’t change anything about how the contestants experience it, as the fire is not actually on the course.
- “Hole Number Two,” on which contestants have to run past a row of port-a-potty doors as they’re flung open
- “Distractor,” which has “a bunch of new hilarious, outrageous acts for everyone to see,” Dening said.
- Polcano, which has been re-themed as “Ho Ho Hole”
Dening told me there are “about 18” new holes we’ll see throughout the season, and there was a conscious effort to come up with new holes rather than re-use old ones. “The more we can surprise our audience on Holey Moley, the better,” he said. “Just to see all the same holes again could work, but this is our chance to reimagine, redesign. Some of them worked great in the season two and one, and some of them didn’t—and we leaned into the comedy when they didn’t work. But I think it was on us as producers to try and elevate the comedic narrative, but also always try and push the boundaries of our hole design as well.”
How does Holey Moley design its mini-golf holes?
Dening said that the Holey Moley producers in charge of the holes “start working on this development a good six months in advance of production. It’s a lot of prep.” And that comes before actual building and testing, including using testers on the actual course to see if anything needs to be adjusted.
While showrunner Charles Wachter oversees all creative on the show, “our executive producer who lives and breathes hole development and challenge design is Mike O’Sullivan,” Dening said. “Mike is tasked with essentially creating all the new holes for every season. Mike and his crack team, they think a lot about challenge first. What’s the world? What’s the challenge that we can lean into? We always like to draw from some sort of miniature golf nostalgia in some way, so there’s some sort of reference to classic miniature golf or things that we love from our childhood. But then also they look at crazy ideas for challenges and stunts, and potential obstacles that we could build a hole around.”
The process can go either way: starting with a theme or a challenge, or starting with the mini golf itself. “We normally start out with the challenge, and we work out how to build mini golf around it,” he explained. “Or we’ll look at sort of nostalgic things from childhood or from miniature golf, or things that make us feel a certain way, and we’ll build around that.”
New holes this season include:
- Agony of Defeat
- Corn Hole
- Donut Hole
- The Fishing Hole
- Holey Matrimony
- King Parthur’s Court
- The Parcade
- The Pecker
- Turfing USA
For “King Parthur’s Court,” which features an actual joust over water on lubed-up horseback, “Mike and his team pitched the idea for giving us a medieval golf hole with a jousting obstacle,” Dening said. “It was like, yeah, that sounds like ridiculous and like a hell of a lot of fun.”
Some holes are inspired by the success of others. “Corn Hole” is a giant ear of corn that the contestants have to putt and then run past, before some of its kernels pop open giant airbags, ready to knock the contestants into a foam pit below. That is very similar to “Hole Number Two,” and Dening said producers thought, “Hole Number Two worked really well, so what if we think about other challenges like that—where there is a sprint, and there’s some sort of like obstacle that’s gonna have a big, explosive wipeout moment.”
Why are some holes reused?
If you look closely while watching Holey Moley 3D in 2D, you’ll notice that the green for “Ho Ho Hole” is the same green used on the ski-jumping “Agony of Defeat,” which is visible in the background. Yet both holes appear in the same episode. How is that possible? And why does the show re-use its set pieces like that?
The answer comes down to money and logistics. To create separate sets for every hole and then “to shoot it in a linear fashion would be so expensive that it almost just be the unaffordable show,” Dening told me. Instead, he said, reusing some sets means the production “can shoot on [a hole] one night, and then we’ll redress them. It’s just a way to make the show efficient to produce. … It allows us to shoot in batches, but then the edit, we can make sure our show always has a lot of variety.”
What he means by filming in batches is that everything that needs to be filmed on one hole is shot at the same time, usually in a single night—whether that’s first-round match-ups, or the second round, where the winners from the first round face off. That’s an incredible logistical puzzle, especially considering that the show doesn’t repeat the order or assortment of holes in any episode.
“It’s just balancing scale and budgets,” Dening told me. “And to be honest, it allows us to have more holes. There’s a version of Holey Moley where you only have 10 holes, and you run people through the same same course on each episode. But what really works, we found in season one and two, is having variety in every episode. So that’s why you should never really see the exact same hole number in any two episodes back to back.”
Can Holey Moley’s puns or references go too far, e.g. The Pecker?
One of the new holes is “The Pecker,” the centerpiece of which is a massive woodpecker’s head. The contestants have to jump onto it and grab a feather in order; if they miss, they get a one-stroke penalty. The obstacle’s name does, of course, lead to both Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore making a lot of dick jokes. “That’s a very cold hard pecker to conquer,” Tessitore says. Riggle responds, “You said that, Joe, on national TV: cold hard pecker.” There’s more, too: “if you’re going to ride the pecker, ride it hard—especially if you’re talking about a pecker this big.”
Most of Holey Moley’s puns are ridiculous and silly, but I’m not quite sure this counts as a pun, since it’s right there in the name. And the jokes are a little more PG-13 than we’re used to from the show, not that I mind. I asked Dening if there’s a line that the show won’t cross.
“We love the ridiculous plans,” he said. “We always want to have fun with our holes in the names, but we never want to cross the line. We always want to make sure it’s fun and wholesome and make sure that we hold that line,” he added. “At the end of the day, it’s a family mini-golf show. So if we can find comedy that parents and adults are going to laugh at, and kids are also going to laugh and have fun with, then I think that’s the right way to steer the ship.”
Will Holey Moley 3 have any celebrity helpers, like Jon Lovitz?
Season two had three celebrities who were part of the actual course: Jon Lovitz was stationed at “Putt the Plank,” where he chipped contestants’ balls across water wearing either one or two eye patches. “Diving Range” had Greg Louganis and Steve Guttenberg ratings dives performed by contestants and a ringer, actual diver Joey Cifelli.
But there are no regular on-course celebrities this season. (Of course, someone well-known could show up as part of the distractor, like Kenny G. in season one.) “They’re not out because of the pandemic necessarily, but it definitely weighed in,” Dening told me. “There’s no celebrity-themed hole where you’re going to see the same person on each episode.”
Why is Steph Curry taking Holey Moley pro? And what else is he doing this season?
The show’s first celebrity was, of course, its executive producer and pro, Steph Curry. While he hit balls for contestants as part of a hole on season one, he mostly appeared via animation in season two. (Here’s why.) For season three, though, he’s taking on a much bigger task: taking the sport of extreme mini golfing pro, or at least pretending to.
Dening told me that this season-long bit came from producers asking themselves, “How do we elevate the world? Season one, you know, we introduced the world to Steph Curry, as our resident golf pro. Season two is all about building the world. And then what we really thought [would be] fun is season three is: time to go pro and sell out.”
“It allows us to draw into Stephen’s world even more. He lives and breathes professional sports, pretty much all of his life, so it allows us to tap into his teammates, and what he normally does, which is working with sponsorships. And it’s great comedy for Riggle, because he’s ready to sell out [and get] his big break. Joe Tessitore, his motivation is, Okay, let’s try and keep the ship on the path.”
Steph Curry is not actually on the course like he was in season one, but he does appear via the show’s new on-course screens to congratulate the episode’s winner. But starting with the first winner, both he and the show make fun of themselves by making it clear that he’s not actually talking live with the winner. “We definitely don’t want to try and trick the audience in any way. We don’t want to try and make it seem as if there,” Dening told me. “If Steph isn’t there, we’re not going to try and fake it.”
But Curry’s involvement doesn’t end with those bits, and he’s more than just an executive producer by title. “The great thing about Stephen is he does look at all of the holes, he does review all of the scripts,” Dening said. “We have meetings with him where we go through all the creative vision. So Stephen is definitely involved in the creative—more so than season one, to be honest. He’s more and more involved in season three and four, which we love. But he couldn’t be there every single night for each jacket ceremony. So, of course, we worked out a creative way to use him at the end of the show. And obviously, because he’s not there, we decided to have a bit of fun with it as well. That’s why we lean into the the obvious fact that he’s not talking to them in real person, but still do it in a way that seems fun.”
The idea of taking Holey Moley pro “does come into the course as well,” Dening said. You’ll primarily see that through product placement, which he said is “so ridiculous that it allows us to have a lot of comedic fodder.” Product integration is nothing new for reality TV; after all, Jeff Probst was working ads for Target and Bud Light into season one of Survivor 21 years ago. On Holey Moley, besides NBA players from the Warriors, “We have several brands that make appearances throughout the season,” Dening said. “Everyone who came to the show knew what they were getting into for sure. On ‘The Fishing Hole,’ which is an integration with takemefishing.org, they basically wanted us to have as much fun with the brand as we wanted, which was obviously great for us.”
“Everyone that watches the show, they just know that it’s a serious competition in a silly world,” Dening said. And that world can continue to grow, he said, “as long as we always find lovable characters, and we keep pushing for better and better golf. They’re at the very core of Holey Moley, those three things.”