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Lucas saves English golf course from extinction

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“If he hadn’t stepped up last year, this would be a cow pasture now.” - Dean Brunn

Story and Photos by LARRY GOFFINET

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ENGLISH – The home course for Perry Central’s boys golf team has changed its name from the Old English course to Lucas Oil Golf Course. And the name isn’t the only thing that is new there.

Old English LLC, the former owners of the course, went bankrupt and had let the course fall into disrepair because of their lack of funds.

Forrest Lucas, the founder and owner of Lucas Oil, officially became the owner of the course last August and immediately started making numerous improvements to it.

“If he hadn’t stepped up last year, this would be a cow pasture now. That’s a fact,” said Dean Brunn, the course’s director of golf, about the course last week.

Lucas, a longtime Crawford County resident, was one of the 100 original investors in the course when it opened in 2002, as was Brunn.

Cary Hammond of Old English LLC was in charge of selling shares in the course before it was first built. 

“For $3,000 you could buy one-fourth of 1 percent ownership,” noted Brunn. “For that money, I had a permanent (course) membership and I could will that to my son.

“It was projected by year six, every member would receive dividends. I said that ain’t gonna happen.”

Nevertheless, Hammond’s salesmanship and the prospect of playing golf free for life, persuaded Brunn to buy a share. “Within five minutes of meeting Cary Hammond, I said he’s a salesman,” Brunn recalled last week.

Brunn’s wife, LeeAnn, was leery of the investment at first. But after hearing Hammond’s sales pitch, she asked her husband, “Can we afford two of these?”

Hammond proved to be a better salesman than business manager of the course, though.

The front nine holes of the 18-hole course were built in the town’s floodplain after the Federal Emergency Management Agency helped many former businesses there relocate to higher ground.

Proper drainage was not maintained on the course and that became one of several problems for it. The course’s membership began to dwindle and Hammond turned to Forrest and Charlotte Lucas for financial help.

“Mr. Lucas and his wife had a house about five miles down the road and somehow Cary Hammond talked him into picking up the note," said Brunn. “He did it just for the good of the community.”

Eventually Hammond’s group went bankrupt, the course was foreclosed on, and no one bid on it. So Lucas became its owner.

Though the course was in bad shape, Lucas recognized it still had potential. It had been designed by 1997 Golf World Architect of the Year Dr. Michael Hurdzen and his associate, David Welchel.

Even before officially becoming the owner in August, Lucas “picked up all salaries and expenses last year,” said Brunn.

Then after taking ownership he began making improvements to the course.

He had all the cart paths, totaling a length of about six miles, repaved. He bought 50 new carts and began installing new drainage systems along the entire course and under all the bunkers. That included installing pea gravel and sand mats in the bunkers “so when we get 21⁄2 inches of rain there’s no standing water in the bunkers (shortly after),” said Brunn.

Lucas also had new grass planted throughout the 18-hole course: Bermuda on the tee areas and fairways, bent grass on the greens, turf grass in the roughs and zoysia around the bunkers.

The tee boxes for holes No. 4 and No. 7, which are above a rock cliff high above the rest of the course, will have artificial turf installed on them.

There is still work to do. A few of the bunkers aren’t finished yet. The grass on the fairways won’t turn green until the temperature reaches 60 degrees. And though some improvements have been made to the clubhouse (“Mr. Lucas brought in his chef from Lucas Oil to set up the menus,” noted Brunn), a new, larger clubhouse is planned within two years.

“With something like a golf course, you’re never finished,” said Brunn. “But in essence, the golf course part of it will be finished sometime this summer.”

 When completed, “this will be one of the top 10 courses in the southern half of the state,” said Brunn.

The course currently has 66 members, including “15 to 20 from Perry County,” said Brunn. His goal is to have 100 members by the end of the year.

Non-members can play for $25 on weekdays and $30 on weekends, including cart rental.

If the previous owners were losing money, though, will Lucas have to raise the fees?

“We’re always going to be reasonable,” said Brunn. “He just wants to break even. He’s not looking to make money, but he wants the course to be able to hold its own and pay the bills.

“And he wants it to be something he can be proud of and bring his clients and guests to.”