WINONA LAKE – Look who’s back!
After a surprise announcement in November crushed the Warsaw golf community, an announcement this week should have the community in much better spirits.
Stonehenge Golf Club is reopening this week, the soft open is currently underway for members and the public open will start tomorrow, Friday. The entire golf operation is being revamped, and will be run by some very familiar faces from the area golf scene.
Denny Hepler, the owner of Raccoon Run Golf Course across the street from Stonehenge, will join a golf operations group with his wife, Cindy, as well as Matt Hoskins. The trio will oversee just the golf course details; the future of the country club as well as the swimming pool were not immediately announced. Hepler relayed that he will oversee both Stonehenge and Raccoon Run through this year, and the Run will then close to the public. It’s driving range, putting green and course will still be put to use, but in a limited capacity for events such as junior tournaments and golf camps.
“The key word here is community,” Hepler said Thursday afternoon from the Stonehenge pro shop. “It’s going to be a community effort, that’s for sure. We’re all teamed up together to make it happen.”
The course was purchased in conjunction with the Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation, which helped get the course back to open status in a quick turnaround in what’s amounted to less than a month of legwork. The course was closed in mid-November when then club owner Ravi Shah decided to close its doors. Hoskins noted that getting the course up and running in short order filled several needs, but most notably, for those who have called the course home, figuratively and literally.
“You choose a home sometimes because it’s on a golf course,” noted Hoskins. “You take a look at what’s across the street at Raccoon Run, and what’s in the neighborhood behind here, and there’s 134 brand new lots across the street and 100ish over here, and that’s roughly 1,000 people on the golf course. It’s a major part of the community.
“I’ve sat in some meetings, and when you factor in the trail system that will be coming through here soon, there’s a lot going on out here. There’s a lot of excitement around here on where this community is going.”
The new regime also have looked at making the course more enticing to a larger group of golfers. Gone are the days of needing a member to ride along, as are the high greens fees. The course is open to the general public, and is competitively priced. Nine holes with a cart is $22 or 18 holes with a cart for $44. Hepler is offering a $35 Monday special for 18 holes with a cart, and Hoskins noted the course will utilize online bookings as well as an interactive approach in the clubhouse as well as on the course. Stonehenge will soon be acquiring 2019 Club Car golf carts, equipped with GPS, Bluetooth and a viewing screen which can tap into broadcasts to provide a more interactive experience.
“It’s possible that if you want to, you can tee off on the third hole here while you are watching the third round of the Masters,” Hepler said of the new carts. “With the GPS, I can control how fast they go, where they can and can’t go, they won’t be able to cut across the highway, but only be guided through the tunnel at a safe speed. A survey said 62 percent of your time on a golf course is in the golf cart. It’s a totally different experience than what you are used to.”
The community aspect was one Hepler and Hoskins wanted to make sure was a part of the new Stonehenge. The announcement in November left a good portion of people salty, including members that were hesitant to return. There was also the aspect of the course involvement. Warsaw High School and Grace College had called Stonehenge home for years, but the high school boys team is now using Rozella Ford and Grace has been finding work wherever space is available. Hepler, who is the men’s golf coach at Grace, said the Lancers will make the obvious move back to Stonehenge. Hoskins noted Warsaw’s girls team will come back to Stonehenge in the fall but didn’t not confirm the boys status. Warsaw’s boys team is coached by Rich Haddad, who owns the first parking spot at Stonehenge as the Clubhouse Champion.
“There’s three things that you tend to remember when you are on a golf course,” stated Hoskins. “The user experience on a golf course and what gets them to come back, the first is the greens. You talk to anybody who has ever played this golf course, including the pros that Denny used to bring in here, they all loved the greens.
“Number two, most people spend their time in the golf cart. We made the decision to get the Club Car. That’ll enhance the experience by a mile.
“The third thing is the service. From the time they park to the time they put the clubs in the trunk, it’s the service. We have to go above and beyond on the service, whether they are a member or not a member. We want them to say, ‘Hey, that was good. Let’s do it again.’”
Hepler chimed in, “Because let’s be honest. There are other choices. Not nearly as many as there used to be, but that’s even more reason to offer a better experience for the people who play golf.”