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Coming full circle

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Doug Fischesser is general manager at Willowbrook Country Club, where heis pictured showing off some of the golf equipment available for purchase in the club’s Pro Shop.
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General manager Doug Fischesser is seated in the Pro Shop at Willowbrook Country Club Thursday. He’s been an avid golfer for nearly 60 years.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

It’s been a journey of 40-some years but Doug Fischesser’s career has come full circle. Golf is the thread that binds it together.

Actually, golf is more like a major river in Fischesser’s life. His other jobs have been the tributaries that kept it flowing.

Fischesser became the general manager at Willowbrook Country Club in September, after retiring from his 11-year job as director of the Fayette Memorial Hospital Foundation. He’d spent about 30 years previously in industrial sales, along the way picking up a berth in the Indiana Golf Hall of Fame and several tournament trophies.

In his new position, Fischesser is working with the country club’s owners, the Mauger family, to bring local shine back to what used to be a major part of Connersville’s social life. He’s fully aware that the business of golf has changed since he first worked at the club 40-some years ago, but he believes there are ways to bring people to the game.

Fischesser grew up in a golf family. His father, the late Don Fischesser, got into the golf business in 1948, after having started as a caddy in Cincinnati in the 1930s. In those days, being a caddy was a big deal. Don learned the game and it hooked him, Doug said. His dad kept working as a golf pro until retiring in 1988.

Don came to what was then the Connersville Country Club as the head pro. He met his wife, Helen Thomas, here and they married at the country club in 1950. Doug came along in 1951. The young family moved to Evansville, which is where Doug grew up. 

He started playing at golf when he was eight or nine years old. Once he aged out of Little League at about 12 years old, he went to work for his dad.

“He was the consummate golf pro,” Doug recalled on Thursday. “He’d be there at 6 in the morning and still there at 10 o’clock at night.”

Don introduced Doug to working in the pro shop and, “That’s when I really got the golf bug,” he said. “I was there 18 hours a day in the summers.”

He played competitively in high school and went on to Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind. He got a golf scholarship to attend Florida State University, where he joined a what became a four-man team that stayed together all four years. That team took third place nationally during Doug’s junior and senior years.

After graduating from FSU in 1974, Doug came back to Connersville and went to work at the country club as assistant greens superintendent. Like his dad before him, “I was out here all the time. I’ve mowed every blade of grass out here.”

He stayed at the country club until 1979, when he took an industrial sales job. In 1979, he made the Walker Cup team of 10 players. It’s the amateur side of the Ryder Cup, he said, and the team played in Scotland. He got an invitation to the 1980 Masters Tournament as a result.

And like his dad, he met his wife, Becky, here. They married at the country club in 1982.

While traveling the roads selling, Fischesser found plenty of time for golf. 

“Golf afforded me a great network, opened a lot of doors,” he said. In a four-hour round of golf, he got to see people outside of work, making a stronger bond than just calling on them in an office.

He continued playing competitively until the first decade of the 2000s, winning 12 different titles at the state level. In 2008, the Indiana Golf Association added him to its Golf Hall of Fame, and Culver put him in its Hall of Fame as well.

Meanwhile, the country club had witnessed a change of life. Where it had been a social center for many local families for decades, that started changing in the 1970s as summer athletic leagues got stronger and families didn’t come to the club for social activities. Club membership declined from “upwards of 450” to about half that.

While there is still a good contingent that comes to play golf and then socialize, many more golfers come out, pay to play a round and leave. And, where pro shops were once the main place to buy golf equipment and supplies, now many big box retailers and sporting good stores have taken a lot of that business.

But Sharon Mauger and her late husband, Ray, wanted the club to stay open, believing it an important part of local life. They bought it in 2007 and invested money in course improvements. Still, in 2014, they tore down the old clubhouse.

So now Fischesser wants to help revive the country club. He has no illusions that it’s going to return to how things were in the 1970s. Connersville, like the golf world, has changed, with the loss of industries such as D&M and Visteon. 

The club still has more than 225 members but those who pay and play also have several options. There are men’s leagues and women’s leagues, and Fischesser wants to revive a junior program that used to operate in the summers.

He wants the club to get back to hosting some state tournaments, such as the state women’s amateur held there in 1979. He wants to rejuvenate the July 4th Horse Race and the Labor Day weekend Nag Race tourneys, and get back to having a Pony Race for juniors. He’ll also work with local organizations that want to have their own tournaments, often for fund raising.

He’d like to bring back the once-popular Hit and Giggle, a Friday golf and social activity for husbands and wives.

He’s making over the Pro Shop, adding golf trophies and memorabilia and getting some new TVs. There’s a bar in the Pro Shop and a large room where groups can have functions.

The club is getting a new fleet of golf carts this year, replacing some that are about five years old. Fischesser says some of the bunkers may be rebuilt and some new tees have been added.

Perhaps more ambitiously, there is talk of building a pavilion where the clubhouse used to be, for large gatherings such as weddings, receptions and parties.

So, there may be more big days for the club. Fischesser is actively working on it.

By the way, daughter Katie Fischesser Babington, continued a family tradition when she married in 2014. At the clubhouse. So there may be a need besides strictly golf for a strong, beautiful club for the next generation.