Sweet Putt Closes its Doors

Julian Reed

The Sweet Putt, a popular Walla Walla miniature golf venue, closed its doors on Aug. 31 after a three-year journey that started with a sketch on a Wendy’s napkin. Partly owned by Whitman Associate Dean of Students Juli Dunn and her family, The Sweet Putt was the setting for every Whitman intramural putt-putt golf match.

Dunn’s husband, Brent, owned a facility called Eastgate Mini-Golf in the 1990s. The family started The Sweet Putt three years ago with the goal of giving their sons, then 11 and 14, an education in entrepreneurship.

“It was the perfect opportunity for us to expose them to business practices from the ground up,” said Dunn. “We designed the course, poured the cement, laid the outdoor turf, painted the signs.”

Dunn is proud of the impact she and her family made.

“It is an experience I will never forget, and I am so glad we had the opportunity to experience it as a family and to share it with our friends and our community,” she said.

Two years into operations, when the profits from its second summer in operation did not cover the expenses from the second winter, the family realized that The Sweet Putt had run its course. In addition, their business partners’ financial situation changed after the first year of operation, forcing the Dunns to pick up their financial half.

Although Dunn says that they did not get as many visitors from Whitman as they had anticipated, the IM putt-putt teams will miss The Sweet Putt. Austin Shaff, a Whitman sophomore, played for one of the teams that made the finals last year.

“I will be extremely sad to see it close, and I will miss the good times I had there during IM sports,” said Shaff.”It was a special kind of weird thing that was a lot of fun.”

Issues of timing also made closing The Sweet Putt a natural decision.

“Our oldest is now 17.  He’s a junior in high school. Our priorities are on our family and our kids,” said Dunn. “We got to a point that we didn’t want to be spending any more money there, when we would much rather be investing in our kids’ futures in different ways.”

Dunn, entering her 22nd year at Whitman, was promoted from director of academic resources to her current position as associate dean of students in May.

“My new gig has me busy in new and unpredictable ways, so to some extent, it was probably a blessing that we closed when we did,” she said.

Senior Julianna Wetmore, chair of Whitman’s IM Committee, was in charge of IM putt-putt last year and says there will eventually be a replacement.

“We are currently brainstorming ideas for a new sport, but we plan on replacing putt-putt with something new,” said Wetmore. “The new sport will be selected depending on field space. Since IM mini-golf is in the winter, we need to figure out a sport that is indoors.”

Wetmore says the sport was relatively popular, with eight to 10 teams playing every year, and she assured that Whitman students can expect to see a new sport take its place this winter.

The Dunn family and their business partners, the Morris family, have no plans to reopen The Sweet Putt, but both the indoor and outdoor courses and all the equipment were left intact, and the Dunns are open to an outside party one day picking up where they left off.

Whether or not that ever happens, the Whitman and Walla Walla communities will miss The Sweet Putt.