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August 2019

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A Family Brings A Nebraska Course Back From The Dead

By Steve Eubanks

The new owner of Fonner View Golf Course had to throw the greens mower out of gear to answer his phone.

“Yeah, I’m between greens, so now’s a good time,” said Mike Wieck, whose enthusiasm pops with every sentence, even as he’s speaking over the rattle of a mower’s engine.

Wieck purchased his first golf course in his hometown of Grand Island, Nebraska, a year ago. Since then, he’s been in the midst of a crash course on how to resurrect a property that had already gone back to nature.

“I need to be out here to get these greens back in decent shape,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work but we’re getting there.”  

He’s not much of a golfer, even though he has an associate degree in golf course management from a local community college. “Golfing is not my specialty,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve been in the land leveling business before this.”

The “this” is the Wieck family’s adventure that started when the Fonner View Golf Course, a 50-year-old, 9-hole facility that was once a social centerpiece in a town of 51,000 people, closed down and the property was about to be sold for a real estate development. The old owner, who, according to Wieck, had closed the course for health reasons, hired the Wiecks to grade and level the golf course for houses.
 
“I talked him out of it. I told him he couldn’t destroy the golf course. We had to keep it,” Wieck said. “I got a little bit of backing, not a lot. But it was enough and we decided to make a go of it.”

Wieck had a little horticulture experience and he had run a small family business. A few family meetings later, the entire Wieck clan became course owners. “We’re a close-knit family so that wasn’t a real problem,” Wieck said of convincing his brothers and parents to join him.

“It was out of the blue,” he said. “We were either going to save it or it would have become a housing development. Usually if something becomes a housing development, it never goes back.

“It’s a big undertaking. Fonner View actually closed in 2015, so we had our work cut out for us in getting it back. All the greens were dead. Our first week we hauled away 21 truckloads of (debris) off of 38 acres. Essentially, we had to replace all the greens. The fairways and the tee boxes were in fairly good shape. We had to mow everything and fertilize and the sprinkler system needed a lot of work.”

The family – Mike’s brothers, Brian and Mark, and their parents, Michael and Roswitha – do everything from cooking hotdogs to edging to bunkers. Call Fonner View on any given day and you either get an answering machine with Mike’s voice telling you to leave your name if you want to sign up for league play, or someone named Wieck will answer the phone. Mark mows the fairways, Mike the greens.

Folks in the community have noticed. Even before the golf course reopened, the family reconfigured the bar, making it a year-round establishment (in the old days, the clubhouse closed in the winter). And they added a number of dartboards so they could run dart leagues in non-golf months. 
“Everybody is glad that we brought it back,” Wieck said. “The whole community has been supportive.” 

Sometimes a course succeeds on its design, sometimes on its location, sometimes a course makes it because the greens are perfect and lightning quick. But sometimes – not always, but on occasion – a place succeeds because of the earnest enthusiasm and elbow grease of the owners.

In the case of Fonner View Golf Course, the Wieck family has given it their all. The public has noticed. League play is filling up, despite the fact that, as Mike Wieck said, “The greens are puttable, but we still need about a month before they’re perfect.” 

Soon, the family will become a multiple-course owner. The Wood River Golf Course, which in the old days was the nearest competition to Fonner View, also closed due to mismanagement and neglect. The Wiecks bought it in the hopes of resurrecting both courses to create a vibrant one-two punch. 
“My brothers and I are at Fonner View and our parents are, for right now, at Wood River,” Wieck said. “After we got this (Fonner View), we thought they could accent each other, rather than be in a competition.

“We’ll see. This is new for all of us.”

With that, the greens mower revved out of idle, the squeal of hydraulic reels hitting turf drowning out all other noise. A man at work in his family’s new business went back to work, doing whatever it takes to succeed.     

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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