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Family fun: Jocko's Mini Golf opens in Kannapolis
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Family fun: Jocko's Mini Golf opens in Kannapolis

Only $5 for 5 months

A new, tropical-themed mini golf course in Kannapolis held its grand opening Thursday, July 23, complete with a volcano and fire.

Jocko’s Mini Golf course was a dream three years in the making. Brian Freeman, co-founder of Cannon Pharmacy, decided to veer from his career as a pharmacist to bring to life his vision to create a one-stop-shop of family entertainment in Kannapolis.

“I’m privileged,” Freeman said. “If I want to take my kids to the beach, I can. But I know the area, and I know a lot of people aren’t. So I wanted to bring a little bit of Disney-like, family entertainment to the town that has been so good to us.”

Freeman grew up in central Pennsylvania and said he has fond memories of family vacations. As a son of a coal miner, he said, most vacations were small.

“Our vacation was the state park and ice cream and mini golf,” he said. “Those memories are some of the best memories I have. To be able to come out, do a stay-cation, create a Disney-like atmosphere, have dinner, play an arcade game, and do it all here locally, was the vision.”

Jocko’s includes an 18-hole mini golf course with bridges, palm trees and several lagoon and waterfall-type features. But the largest part of the course, is a volcano that, yes, can erupt. Nine of the holes are wheelchair-accessible, Freeman said, so everyone has an opportunity to play. Several oak trees are on the course, and by around 3 p.m., Freeman said, the whole course is shaded, which allows for a cooler golfing experience.

The course will restrict the number of groups playing to allow for social distancing. About nine groups will be on the course at a time instead of the usual 18. Groups will also be limited to four adults. The number of children will not be limited, Freeman said. Players can line up outside at marked waiting points to receive clubs and golf balls. Staff members will sanitize equipment in front of customers before they move on to the course. Freeman said masks are encouraged.

The mini golf course was designed by Freeman in partnership with Mini Golf Construction Co. owner Rick Steckbauer. While Steckbauer took the lead on designing the specifics of the course, Freeman took the creative initiative.

The mascot of the mini course is Jocko the monkey, Freeman said – based off  a pet spider monkey of the same name that his father-in-law had growing up. Freeman's father-in-law told funny stories about the monkey to his grandkids, like how Jocko would dip his tail in peanut butter and snack on it like corn-on-the-cob, he said.

His children loved the Jocko stories, which made it an easy decision to brand the mini course from there. Everything has a tropical theme, Freeman said, from the music to the uniforms the employees wear. He wants the people who come to play to feel immersed in the stay-cation feeling, he said.

Freeman's sons have played a test game before the official opening, but the course wasn’t what kept their attention.

“The kids are loving it. But right now, I think my little ones want to play in the water,” he said.

For hot days, Jocko’s has a SnoBiz bar with shaved ice for cool-off breaks.

Next door will be an ice cream shop called The Split, but it will not be open until around Labor Day in September, Freeman said. The shop will specialize in banana splits – an homage to his pharmacist career – and have an ice-cream bar. But it will also serve what Freeman likes to call American celebration food like hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza.

Switching from working as a pharmacist to owning a mini-golf business may seem like a radical jump, but Freeman said it stemmed from a need to give back to the community.

“I think two factors – wanting to fulfill the ice-cream part of my pharmacist background and then having the boys – inspired me to give back to the community. I want to give people something that I thought they could be proud of and have for their families,” he said.

When Freeman and his co-founder opened Cannon Pharmacy, they both shared a dream to incorporate the vintage-soda-shop idea into the business. That dream took on a new form in the creation of The Split.

Another aspect that Freeman kept from his work with the pharmacy was his preference to rehab buildings. Jocko’s was once a KFC restaurant.

“Even with the pharmacy, we were also more into rehabbing buildings than building new. We like to see the old become new again,” he said. “The old KFC had murals up. Kids from the high school would come in and paint murals on the walls of the KFC. And when I had to take the murals down, I really just wanted to keep that tradition.”

Inside Jocko’s clubhouse is a party room with a mural painted by local artist Emily Lingle to reference the murals taken down during construction. The new mural, Freeman said, took about 250 hours for her to paint.

The clubhouse will feature an arcade complete with a virtual-reality, roller-coaster experience. But due to COVID-19, both the party room and the arcade will not be open until the state is able to move into Stage 3 of the re-opening plan. But large parties still can book the outdoor patio area for events, Freeman said.

The arcade, Amanda’s Arcade for Hope, will be run by a nonprofit, Freeman said. The nonprofit’s mission seeks to provide kids hope through love and education. It was started by a long-time friend of Freeman's, Betty Tyndall. Freeman was Tyndall's pharmacist when he worked for Eckerd Pharmacy. He often helped Amanda Tyndall, Betty’s daughter, with medications. Amanda was born with cerebral palsy and later received an anoxic brain injury from an asthma attack. This prevented Amanda from receiving a normal education, Betty said. Amanda died in December 2019. She would have been 26 in February.

"I had her for a long time," Tyndall said. "She was 7 when she became totally dependent. But she could still laugh with you. As long as she could smile at me, I was good."

Tyndall decided to open a nonprofit to help kids get a better education – those with disabilities and those without. She remembers Amanda’s smile when she heard music and how she would dance along. Giving children an arcade to play in and enjoy themselves was how she wanted to honor Amanda’s memory. The proceeds from the arcade will go toward scholarship funds for education, Tyndall said.

The arcade is set to open during Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan.

The mini-golf course will be open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 2-8 p.m.

Jocko's Mini Golf is at 259 N. Cannon Blvd., Kannapolis.

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