WALLA WALLA - It didn't take long before the first customers began to show up Saturday. Moments after the "open" flag was hung outside the community's new miniature golf and game center, patrons began trickling in for their first round at The Sweet Putt 417 Wellington Ave.
A self-proclaimed "pinball wizard," a couple of active seniors and a father with two young sons were some of the first through the doors, demonstrating to owners that their vision for a family-friendly recreation destination was more than just a lucky shot.
"It's one of the few leisure activities that's multi-generational," said The Sweet Putt co-owner Juli Dunn as she marveled at the diversity of the customers playing the indoor nine-hole course.
The indoor portion is just the start of the overall vision. Throughout the winter - as weather permits - Dunn, her husband Brent Dunn and business partners Tyler and Julie Morris will continue to design and build the 18-hole outdoor portion.
The courses are one-of-a-kind inspired by events, people and characteristics of the community. In the three months leading up to the opening, each of the nine holes was named by public vote through Facebook contests. The same is also taking place now with the outdoor holes.
The door to The Sweet Putt opens to a giant room where the course is set up. On the western wall are four-person tables for relaxing and snacking.
The nine holes start relatively easy with "Parallel Universe," a flat straight green with six wooden obstacles surrounding the hole.
The house rules are posted on a chalkboard against the eastern wall: There's a four-player maximum per hour. The first person in a group putts all the way through the green before others can begin. If the ball leaves the green, there's a one-stroke penalty. Maximum strokes per hole is eight.
The course takes around a half-hour to complete.
"Our plan was for people who really like to play to not be able to master it the first time," Dunn explained.
Birthday parties are already being booked for the operation, which also has just under 10 arcade games and air hockey.
The place has already been tested by classmates of Dunn's oldest son, Kyler. An eighth-grader at Assumption Grade School, Kyler said his fellow students were thrilled to conduct their form of market research before The Sweet Putt's opening.
"My friends were just amazed," he said.
The reception was just what the owners had hoped for. Kids served as the initial inspiration as the Dunns and Morrises set out to turn a building formerly known for pianos into a hotspot for putters.
The shortage of safe family-friendly places to go has started to become more evident as the kids have gotten older, Juli Dunn said. "If you go to the movies, you're sitting in the dark for two hours and not talking," she lamented.
Not only does the new spot give the kids something to do, it also gives them an opportunity to learn a little about business. All of the couples' children - Kyler and Kelson Dunn and Kobe and Kyren Morris - helped with building and assembly of the course.
The operation marks a return to the business for Brent Dunn. He started a similar operation - Eastgate Mini-Golf - nearly 20 years ago on Melrose Avenue. A later move indoors to the Eastgate Marketplace proved ill-fated, but Dunn never lost his love for the game.
His children have played miniature golf at courses from Boise to Santa Cruz. But Kyler said none will be like Walla Walla's.
"I just know it's going to be fun," he said.