Families iron out Walla Walla miniature golf course

The business will tee off with an indoor course and then expand outside.

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WALLA WALLA - The owner of a former miniature golf course in Walla Walla is taking another swing at it with plans to open a one-of-a-kind, indoor/outdoor family-friendly course on Wellington Avenue.

Plans for The Sweet Putt were announced late last week on Facebook by business partners Brent and Juli Dunn and Tyler and Julie Morris. The business is expected to open in two phases starting in early 2012 at 417 Wellington Ave., which formerly housed Rhoades Music Co.

The owners are shooting for an ace with a concept that not only builds the community's array of family activities but does it with a Walla Walla flair, Juli Dunn explained.

The course will be designed to represent buildings, people, industries and other features inherent to the Valley, Dunn said. At one hole, for instance, guests will putt through wine barrels. Another is expected to be a tribute to Walla Walla High School Hall of Famer and former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

The couples plan to open the nine-hole indoor portion first so they can get input from participants as they build the 18-hole outdoor course.

"We really want it to be a course where every hole is fun - no gimme holes," Dunn said. "A course you want to come back and play again."

For Brent Dunn the venture marks a return to miniature golf. Dunn was the owner of a miniature golf course nearly two decades ago. Eastgate Mini-Golf was an outdoor course started on Melrose Avenue in 1992. Dunn later moved it indoors to the Eastgate Marketplace.

The move may have been ill-fated. The indoor experience was so different from the outdoor one that it posed new challenges, Juli Dunn explained. But the timing to address those was difficult. The pair had just met. The operation instead shut down, but the idea for a full-blown miniature golf course in the community never went away.

"It was something that we talked about for quite some time," Juli Dunn said. With both of them juggling other careers - he as business manager at Valley Vision Clinic and she as director of Academic Resources at Whitman College - they knew they wanted to partner with another family in the business. It seemed especially important as their sons Kyler and Kelson got bigger and the family looked not only for more entertainment but also opportunities for work training.

They approached other friends and acquaintances about it over the years. Though many liked the idea, none seemed especially eager to help get it going.

"We've thrown out ‘mini-golf' to a lot of people who said, ‘I'd really like to do that,' but that's where the conversation ended," Dunn said.

That is, until they floated the idea to the Morrises. Not only did the initial conversation spark interest, but Tyler Morris followed up with a phone call the next day to see what they could do to get started.

As with the Dunns, the Morrises both juggle other careers. He is a general contractor, and his wife works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Also like the Dunns, the couple has two sons - Kobe and Kyren.

"Really for us it was realizing we both had very similar kinds of dreams for a safe, family-fun place where kids and adults could play together," Dunn said.

Through the new business - a separate venture from the regular jobs with which they all intend to continue - they can help provide an employment base for young people, including their own children, she continued.

The kids have been integrated in the project since the start. Eleven-year-old Kyren Morris, who incidentally found a golf ball at the property when the families were scouting the lot as a potential site, came up with the name The Sweet Putt.

The group is leasing the building from owner Zedell Jackson.

The plan is to take occupancy Nov. 1. The families will spend two months renovating the building for the indoor course, which will be constructed by Tyler Morris with assistance from the Dunn and Morris clans.

The indoor course will open shortly after the first of the year. Attention will then turn to the outside course, slated to open in spring 2012. When that happens, the indoor part will likely be packed up and stored to make way for pool tables and arcade games, Dunn said.

The plan is to rotate activities inside to continue to build interest at the shop. Snacks will also be sold.

"It's an adventure in the works, and we're super excited about it," Dunn said.

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