Staff Photo by Laura-Chase McGehee/Chattanooga Times Free Press Nathan Brown, center, and Scott Carlisle, right, watch as Meghraj Jazare rolls a ball across a crevice between two newly joined sections of the mini-golf course at Scenic City Mini Golf to see that the ball rolls smoothly.
It started as a whimsical idea, brought on by a trip with several friends.
But 11 months later, Nathan Brown's "fun fantasy" is a reality in downtown Chattanooga.
Along with his parents, wife and a handful of friends, Brown is now a business operator. A group comprising of a supply chain analyst, delivery nurse, accountant, pathologist's assistant, two retirees and a speech language pathologist has opened Scenic City Mini Golf, an indoor miniature golf course modeled with a "real golf feel," at the corner of Cherry and Seventh streets.
"At first it felt just like a fun fantasy or a dream," Brown said. "We were kind of goofing off talking about this, hanging out on Saturdays just talking about it. Then it transitioned into some research, finding out how much does it cost to lease a space, what's available, how do you even do that?"
A diverse group
The group that ranges in age from their mid-20s to mid-60s, brought varied strengths to their first entrepreneurial endeavor.
Brown, a supply chain analyst with a master's degree in business administration from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, used what he knows to draft a plan to get the ball rolling.
Scott Carlisle, who works as an accountant, is the numbers guy and the company's treasurer.
Cara Brown, Nathan's wife, a delivery nurse, put on her creative hat to help determine how the inside of the 5,000-square-foot former restaurant would appear.
Sharon Van Cleave, a speech language pathologist with a background in marketing, got the website and Facebook group under way.
SCENIC CITY MINI GOLF
* 18 holes of miniature golf, with a 19th catcher hole, modeled to have a "real golf feel"
* Sells Blue Bell ice cream, milk shakes, floats and bottled Coca-Cola
* Family-friendly atmosphere
* Located at the corner of Cherry and Seventh streets
* A round of golf costs $5 for children ages 3 to 10 and $7 for adults; before 5 p.m., the cost is $5
Source: Scenic City Mini Golf
In 1928, Garnet Carter opened Tom Thumb Golf, the world's first miniature golf course, on Lookout Mountain.
Vince Van Cleave, a pathologist's assistant, is the do-it-all handyman who built the computers used to keep track of everything.
And Nathan Brown's parents, Leonard and Janice Brown, both retired, are at the helm, running the business during the daytime while the rest of the crew work their normal jobs.
Denial of loan
Getting a business off the ground is no easy feat, particularly when prior experience is lacking, members of the group said.
"It takes a lot of focus, especially in the face of a lot of disappointment," Carlisle said. "Initially, we were going to try for a line of credit to help ease the burden on our personal financials, but we were quickly told there is a nationwide lock on all restaurant and entertainment loans. At each turn you take a few steps forward, then somebody will just knock you back out of the blue, you don't even see it really coming."
The group found the location -- a building across from the Cherry Street Diner that sat empty for about four years -- in September and began the task of getting it up to code at the beginning of November.
It took weeks of working two jobs for most of the group, but Sharon Van Cleave said their physical investment in has made it feel more like their own.
Since opening, she said "it's been kind of slow," but as she continues to market to local churches, she hopes business will pick up.
Hoping to provide a family-friendly atmosphere that also appeals to the college and young professional crowd, the group thinks Scenic City Mini Golf's downtown location is the perfect spot for what they offer.
"It's not just another bar or restaurant, it's something different," Vince Van Cleave said. "I think it brings more attraction to the area and makes it an even more fun place to visit."
Brittany Cofer is a business reporter who has been with the Chattanooga Times Free Press since January 2010. She previously worked as a general assignment Metro reporter. In the Business department, she covers banking, retail, tourism, consumer issues and green issues. Brittany is from Conyers, Ga., and spent two years at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., before transferring to the University of Georgia. She graduated from the university’s Grady College of Journalism in December ...