The years have been dark for children and families in the Ukiah area. With the Kidovation Zone bowling alley, ice rink and fire gone, the pickings for outdoor family fun have gotten pretty slim.
Ukiah-based couple, longtime resident Ken McCormick and his partner Essence Roberson are determined to change that. In a few weeks, the couple will open the T-Up Mini Golf, revitalizing the old Sears building at the Orchard Plaza mall.
Roberson and McCormick, known locally for corporate identity printing, met in San Francisco through the American Marketing Association, where McCormick was president and Roberson served on the board.
“We started looking for recession-proof businesses that thrive in a down economy and decided to start a mini-golf business in Ukiah,” says T-Up founder Roberson.
“I spent 15 years in San Francisco working for a company. I coordinated many events which included indoor mini golf. There are many versions all over San Francisco. When I moved here, I noticed a void in family activities,” says Roberson.
In February, the team sent out a survey to social media, asking if a mini-golf business would be a “want” or a “need” in the Ukiah area.
“The response has been overwhelming. We received over 1,000 responses in two days. At that point, we decided to go for it,” says CEO McCormick.
Finding a suitable property was difficult. “Initially, this building was more space than we wanted to take up, but then we decided to use the back space for private events,” says McCormick. The project has expanded to include the nine-hole mini-golf course, the adult “T-Lounge”, virtual reality golf, a photo booth and opportunities for private sponsorship, excursions and memberships.
“When we walked into that building, I didn’t tell Essence that I wasn’t going to be on board. I was like, ‘There’s no way.’ But Essence was exuberant. I saw a filthy warehouse that needed thousands of dollars of work. She had the vision.
Their business model is to reach out to local sponsors, who receive one of nine holes bearing their company’s name and a bespoke hole that showcases their business. Sponsors to date include Advantage Tow and Transportation, Mendocino Forest Products, Starz Gymnasium, Golden State Trust and Wills and the Days Inn. Additionally, the couple acknowledges Benjamin Moore Paints, which donated nearly $5,000 in paints and stains, and Pinnacle Built, which provided the use of scaffolding, sanding materials and specialty tools.
McCormick and Roberson complete their original designs for the nine holes, overseeing the painting of a mural on one wall, completing the furnishing and decor of the Speakeasy-themed T-Lounge, and creating the spaces for other components that should to arrive. “It’s Essence’s first time using power tools, and she’s learning quickly,” smiles McCormick, a finish carpenter.
“Mendocino Forest Products deserves special thanks,” says Roberson. “They donated the highest quality redwood for the course rails and facilities. They were just amazing.
Kristin and Matthew Galvin are recent transplants to Ukiah from the Santa Cruz area, moving to Ukiah for the beauty, quiet, and housing prices. Kristin ran the digital arts program as a staff member at UC Santa Cruz and her husband Matthew was the San Jose Sharks’ former audiovisual manager. “We’re Silicon Valley scum,” smiles mother-of-two Kristin. She and her husband read about the mini-golf project and decided to reach out. “We hope to provide high-tech interactive entertainment services to enhance the golf experience. What’s so great about Ukiah is that you can just do these things. There is room here to execute a clear vision.
“Thanks to the expertise of Kristin and Matthew, we believe this course will transcend any miniature golf course in the area, if not the state and the country,” McCormick says.
Subscriptions for families and individuals will be available. “It will definitely save families money by joining. With fuel, six trips to T-Up equals approximately one trip to Scandia. We know these are tough times, so we’ve taken that into consideration with regards to pricing,” Roberson continues, noting that there will be $5 off “Happy Hour” T-times, the first 250 Charter members receiving special benefits and prices.
The T-Lounge is a private members-only lounge, but available to families and the public for special events. “If mom and dad want to come in and pay for a day pass, they can enjoy the lounge,” Roberson says.
The living room has a sitting area with a fireplace, a fully stocked bar and karaoke with a green screen. “You’ll be able to upload a video of whatever you like when you perform,” says Roberson, noting that corporate and holiday parties are already booked.
“We plan to have musical performances and comedy shows,” says Roberson. The pair bonded with local music legend Paula Samonte, who performed at the T-Lounge for a soft opener. “We heard Paula sing at Rivino’s and we were blown away,” she smiles.
Each hole is 100% ADA accessible and will be open to the public on Sundays and Mondays, “primarily because there are very few businesses open on those days,” Roberson notes. Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be developed for the “T-League”, for family groups and businesses to develop healthy competition.
“Wednesdays will be dedicated to special events. Any person, group or business can run a contest and the proceeds will go to a local organization.
With the DJ Booth, Oculus 2 Metaverse VR games and photo booth, Roberson hopes to create a teen-friendly vibe. “We plan to play golf all night for teenagers in a safe environment, and we will definitely set up a different atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights,” she smiles.
Because the building has been vacant for a decade, the surrounding area has developed what McCormick calls “independent walkers.”
“It took a lot of calls to the Ukiah Police Department, but we have mitigated the issues. We will have a security system that will monitor the front and perimeter of the building, so parents know their children are safe. They submitted requests to the city of Ukiah and building owners to close the back entrance to the mall to reduce congregation in that area.
“I want parents to know that this is a safe place where we take safety seriously,” Roberson says, noting that they use a check-in system similar to Chuck E Cheese. “You will be stamped when you arrive. All stamps must match. When parents spend time in the living room, they can rest assured that their children are safe.
Virtual putters allow visitors to discover 4,000 golf courses. “This is an opportunity to try out this very expensive putter. You can play with partners and people from all over the world,” says Roberson. The nearest VR putter is located in Santa Rosa.
T-Up provides a school program where teachers can use passes for incentive rewards. The site will be available for field trips and field trips.
The course is considered mid-range in terms of complexity.
“Kids will be able to handle the course, and pros who have issues with their short game will have a blast,” Roberson said.
A Door Dash kiosk will be on site, so visitors can order food and enjoy it in the lounge. In addition, there will be drinks, snacks and pizzas from Marino by the slice. They plan to install tables and umbrellas at the front of the building, and maybe even heaters for the winter months.
For the first 30 days, the couple worked around 12 to 16 hours a day. “We took a break on day 31 and haven’t had one since. Water and foliage are coming. We want T-Up to be an experience – to keep the setting vibrant. It’s been 60 days of hard work and we still have a lot to do.
Roberson joined the board of the Ukiah Boys and Girls Club in May. “Since then, we’ve helped sponsor the Chili Cook Off, donated our portable course, and handed out free pass bundles.” A portion of the proceeds from their grand opening, coming in the coming weeks, will be donated to the Club.
“We immerse T-Up Ukiah in the local community. This attracts me enormously. I thought my heart was in San Francisco. I didn’t know it was an hour and a half north,” concludes Roberson.
T-Up Mini Golf is located at 125 Orchard Ave. in Ukiah. For more information, visit their website at https://www.tupminigolf.com/#/, their Facebook page: Connect to Facebook or call (707) 918-7888.