The wild turkey poked his head through the tree line along the back nine of the Otter Creek Golf Course on Thursday as one golfer played alongside another guy dressed as a golfer.
Otter Creek head pro Chad Cockerham was the golfer, a man who first showed up at the course 21 years ago as an intern. He came back for a second internship before finally landing a full-time job in 1996.
While Cockerham, who stuck at Otter Creek ever since, serves a lot of roles, his main job is to be a steward of the phenomenal gift from Cummins to Columbus.
That gift turns 50 this year, and Otter Creek is hosting a celebration on Saturday, 50 years to the day the course had its first “open house.”
This time around, the open house, which runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the clubhouse and is open to the public, will feature speakers who were there at the beginning and saw the course carved from existing pasture and wooded acres.
Perhaps wild turkeys aren’t as plentiful as they were 50 years ago on the property, but the fact that an abundance of wildlife still calls the course home is testament that course architect Robert Trent Jones (who did the original 18 holes, his son Rees Jones designed another nine in 1995) respected
Anyone who swings a golf club for a hobby knows the growing trend in golf course architecture. Cut down that hill and move the dirt over there. Reroute that stream to head toward the south. Cut down those maples on that side and plant evergreens on the other. Dig a lake where those maples were.
If you have played Otter Creek, as I attempted to do Thursday morning, you know the landscape seems natural as a wild turkey. This is not a 7,000-yard miniature golf course with windmills and moats.
There are no tricks, such as sand traps in the middle of fairways or trees planted right in front of a green. It’s a grand, old course that has retained its class and charm.
To keep up with a world where technology has vastly improved golf clubs and balls, tee areas have been built to add distance to a course considered one of the longest in the country when it was constructed. Therefore the shots that we were hitting into greens Thursday probably weren’t that different in nature from those being struck in 1964.
I asked Cockerham if he had taken any sand traps off the course, perhaps to speed up play.
“I kind of figured that if Robert Trent Jones wanted a sand trap there, that’s where it should be,” Cockerham said.
OK. Enough said about that.
If you regularly play at Otter Creek, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. If you haven’t been there, you might not know how beautiful this place always has been.
Last July, when the course hosted the American Junior Golf Association tournament, scores of volunteers donated their time to make sure the event went smoothly. Some of those volunteers never had been to the course.
As I covered the event, I heard a common theme: “I’ve got to play some golf.”
If you are simply a die-hard golfer, be assured your nice, peaceful walk could get complicated.
Although the course doesn’t have tricks, it does have teeth. If your ball strays off the fairway, you are going to encounter rough that will make it tough to get your club-face on the ball. You’re not going to have too much trouble finding your ball, but you’re going to pay a penalty after you do.
If you land your ball on the wrong side of the hole, look out. The fun might be just beginning.
PGA Tour pro Jeff Overton holds the course record of 64, which tells you that nobody has ever really lit the place up.
It’s handled the test of time.
Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.