August 8, 2009

A History of Golf in Winchester
Part II
The Beeson Park Golf Course
by Charles J. Haviza

As I begin to write the next part of this story, I am looking out my window at the 12” of snow that has just fallen over the last few hours.  Oh!  Good ole Indiana weather.

As the 1930’s progressed, golf was still on the mind of many in Winchester and these golfers, once again, wanted a course in Winchester.  They assembled on several occasions to discuss what could be done and even looked for a site for a new golf course; but to no avail.  Then in 1934, events started to unfold that would impact the destiny of golfing in Winchester. 

William and Charles Beeson were two well-respected brothers who owned and operated the local newspaper for many years.  Charles had also been a State politician.  William passed away first, followed by Charles in April of 1934.  When the will was read, the Beeson’s had donated a farm, just south of the city proper to the City for use as a park or other recreational site.  Another farm and some downtown property were also being willed to generate income for the upkeep of this facility.  The only catch was that the City had one calendar year to accept these properties after which time the land would go to the Fountain Park Cemetery. 

Now here is where things get interesting!  The golfers of Winchester knew that this would be a prime location for a golf course, as they had previously looked into this property.  However, the citizens of the south end of Winchester wanted this land used for a Park, as the people on the north end of town had their own Goodrich Park.  (We all know that Winchester was such a huge metropolis that two parks were surely needed.)  The war between the two factions continued for almost the entire year’s acceptance period.  Then something happened in November of that year that helped the golfers.  J.P. Clark, who was mentioned earlier as a driving force with the first Winchester Golf Course, was re-elected as Mayor.  His support had a favorable impact on the efforts of the golfers. (As I know the current Mayor, and our esteemed classmate Steve Croyle would have done.)  With one month to go before the property would revert to Fountain Park, a deal was reached.  If a swimming pool would be built at Goodrich Park, then the group of citizens who wanted this land for a park would give up the fight and let it become a golf course.  In February of 1935, papers were signed and golf was on the way back in Winchester.

A board of directors was established for the planning of the new golf course.  On the board were J. S. Robison, Francis Simpson, Louie Mendenhall, and John Macy.  Money was tight and the farm and other properties were not making enough income to cover all expenses.  At this time, John Macy came to the rescue.  While at Wabash College, Mr. Macy had become friends with William Diddel.  Mr. Diddel, from Indianapolis, was a very fine golfer; having won the Indiana State Amateur Tournament several times.  His love of golf had taken him into the field of course architecture.  Both John Macy and Bill Hunter thought Mr. Diddle would be perfect for the design and construction supervision of the new course, as Mr. Diddel had already designed several nearby courses.  William Diddel accepted this task for the sum of $1500.

The second problem that had to be overcome was the actual building of the golf course.  This is where the Federal Government comes in.  During the Depression, many projects were initiated to help put people back to work (does anything here sound familiar?)  The FERA, a branch of the WPA would supply the labor and the city would provide the needed materials.  With the course architect living in Indianapolis, it was not feasible for him to be on site every day to oversee this construction.  Grandpa Simpson now steps forward.  Grandpa would oversee most of the daily work and help make sure that the plans for the course were followed.  On April 7, 1935 construction of the Beeson Park Memorial Golf Course began.  Twenty-five FERA workers began the task with the use of mainly animal power.  It took the rest of 1935 and most of 1936 to get the course into playable condition.  Grandpa told me that he would pay kids 25 cents an hour to pull the crab grass out of the greens to get them into better condition.

In October of 1936, the course was in good enough condition for play to begin.  On that opening day, some of the first golfers were Grandpa Simpson, Louie Mendenhall, Mr. Diddel, John Monks, Bill Hunter, Ed Perry, and apologies to those who played whose names I never found out.     The biggest THANK YOU had to go to Francis (Grandpa) Simpson.   He spent many unpaid hours over that year and a half period making sure that golfers in Winchester would have a place to be proud of.   

The first full year of golf (1937) in Winchester would be enjoyed by many.  That year, the WPA allotted $8,632 for the building of the Beeson Park Clubhouse.  The Inter-City was to be played in Winchester that year, but the course was still not in tournament condition, so it was moved to Greenville.  On September 17 of that year, was the first mention of a local tournament at Beeson Park.  The three men, who were instrumental in my gaining of this knowledge, were also big in the first City Golf Tournament.  Grandpa Simpson, Louie Mendenhall, and John Monks all qualified for the Championship Flight.   Grandpa beat Louie in the first round and then Grandpa and John Monks ended up meeting in the final match.  John was victorious and became the winner of the first tournament ever held at the Beeson Park Golf Course.

The first Golf Pro for the new course was not hired until 1939.  His name was Tom Switzer.  Cleo Hutchison ran the course in 1940 and 1941.  Charles Bullock was in charge in 1942.  During the war years of 1942-1946, Ted Orebaugh and the Park Board were responsible for the running of the course.  Fred Brandt was hired as the golf pro in 1947 and stayed through 1951.  Charley Veal was hired and was there through 1955.  Then came Gene Stiles, who was the pro from 1956 through 1962 (part of our caddie days).  Local boy Alan White (who was by far the best golfer of the all of the pros ever hired) was there from 1963 through our graduation year of 1967.  Seb Reyenga held the reigns from 1968 through 1974.  Then came Jerry Macke from 1975 though 1980.  Ray Weizycki and his son held the job from 1980 through 1985.  DeWayne Flynn was there for the 50th year of Beeson Park in 1986 through 1989.  This was when I published my small book called “A History of Golf in Winchester, Indiana.

From that fall meeting in 1981 with Grandpa Simpson through 1985, I spent many hours at my Apple IIE (you guys remember these machines, don’t you?).  I had pages of handwritten notes, copies of newspaper clippings, tape recordings that Louie had made for me that I was trying to get onto all of those floppy disks that were needed at the time.  I did a lot of true cutting and pasting with real scissors and glue.  With the help of my wife Sally and her many hours of proofreading the very poor quality copies that came out of those ribbon printers, I thought that I finally had enough information to put this out to the local golfers.  I found a small, private printing business in Union City that was just trying to get started and had a few dozen copies of this history printed up.  (Remember that poor school teachers could not afford anything elaborate and this publication certainly filled that bill.)  The rest, as they say, is history.

About this same time, I started spending more time at Hickory Hills Golf Course in Farmland.  Longtime friend and past roommate, Dave Puckett, along with wife Roberta, had purchased the course from owner Ralph Griffith.  Upon retiring from education in 2005, I went to work for Dave, who had just purchased the Portland Golf Club.  I have been there for the past five years.  I am in charge of the PGC web site, but I can not hold a candle to Jill and her crew with the work they do for the class of 1967.

 I have had the pleasure of sharing this information with many of the social organizations in both Winchester and Union City over the past 25 years.  This summer, I will be donating most of the items I got from Louie to the Winchester Golf Club.  This is where it should be displayed.  The movie that I got from Louie will be donated to the Randolph County Historical Society, after I have a DVD made. 

The New Winchester Golf Club

Golf in Winchester would not be where it is today if not for the foresight and dedication of Mr. Errol Klem.  Errol really stepped forward, at a very crucial time, to help secure the future of golf in Winchester and take the golf course and the pros to the next level.  Everything that Errol does is first class.  The new Winchester Golf Club is no exception.

As the mid 1980’s rolled around, golf in America was booming.  However, the Beeson Golf Course was lagging behind the times, mainly due to its financial health.  It is very hard for a city government to adequately fund a municipal golf course and this was the case with Beeson.  To help run the finances and workings of the golf course, a Golf Course Park Board was established in 1986.  This was a step in the right direction, to have a group dedicated to keeping the golf course moving forward.  However, finances continued to haunt the facility and something else had to be done.

Errol Klem came to the rescue.  Errol Klem is a self made successful businessman.  Errol is also an avid golfer and did not want to see Winchester lose the course or not be able to keep it viable and current.  In 1989, Errol negotiated to lease the original 9 holes from the city with the understanding that he would be adding another 9 holes and eventually own the entire golf course.  Ed Perry and Jim Passmore were very instrumental in helping Errol lease and eventually purchase the Beeson land so that his idea could progress.  His original deal was to lease the 9 holes for 25 years at $4000 per year.   Grandpa Simpson and Bill Hunter and others had previously made an attempt to get more land to the south of the original 9 holes, but without success.  Jr. Byrum had purchased the land and would not sell.  However, in 1988, Errol made a deal with Jr. to buy the land to the south and Errol also wanted the land to the east.  Jr. agreed to sell Errol the land to the south but not to the east.  A young fellow by the name of Dewayne Flynn was the golf pro during this time period.  Dewayne and Lynn Houser meet while he was in Winchester and after his work in Winchester, they moved on together.  This was basically the end to the Beeson Park Golf Course era and the Winchester Golf Club was born.

Errol wasted no time in making plans for the new nine holes that also included a housing addition around the course.  The Willows housing addition was developed in 1994 and sold quickly.  Work began on the course and took  two years to complete. The new nine holes opened in 1991 with a new routing of the holes due a beautiful new club house that was built south of the original nine holes.  The new lane that led back to the clubhouse was appropriately named “Simpson Drive.”   Membership at the course was increasing nicely and golf in Winchester was really heading in the right direction.  If you have not been in Winchester for a while, you would not believe how this area has developed.

Brad Smith was hired in 1990 to be the new pro and remained in that position through 1995.  Brad then moved on and Errol was able to hire a fine young man for the head pro job, Mark Todd.  Business was so good that in 1999 an assistant pro was hired, Eric Mikels.  Both Mark and Eric are still there today and are very fine young men who have added a lot to the success of the Winchester Golf Club.


 But in the true style of Errol, he was not done yet.  Errol was able to purchase the land to the east and built yet another 9 holes that opened in 2001.  Now with three nine holes to play, different combinations of playing could occur.  Each of the nine holes was named so people knew where to start.  The original nine holes remained the “Beeson” nine, the course through the houses is the “Willow” nine, and the newest nine holes was named, very appropriately, the “Pony” nine. Errol is currently working with Mark and Eric concerning the future ownership of the Winchester Golf Club.  Whatever happens, the people in the Winchester and surrounding areas owe Errol Klem a great big THANK YOU for keeping golf alive, with a beautiful course in Winchester.

Many years ago, when I was fishing at Greg’s gravel pit or spending time with Greg on the farm, I had no idea how this area would become part of my future.  I am sure we all have stories like this.  Thanks for reading about mine.

Love you all!