Marion Golf Course Earns National Recognition, Gives Back to Community

If you’re like me, you have a problem. You play golf — and think about your short game — way more than what some would label as "healthy." Yet despite my many hours on the range, the only thing I have in common with newly crowned British Open champ Darren Clarke is one serious affinity for Guinness — or as he calls it, "the Irish black stuff."

In Indiana, we are blessed with a wide array of courses to choose from. However, you may not be aware of Walnut Creek Golf Course up in Marion, which recently earned national runner-up status (and Indiana Course of the Year honors) in the National Golf Course Owners Association’s Course of the Year contest in early 2011.

Walnut Creek is a family-owned, 36-hole public course that has catered to local duffers for 40 years. Owner Randy Ballinger explains the course earned its recent accolades for its dedication to the game — and its community.

"Some of the criteria they use is quality of the course and quality of management — and we’ve taken management roles in the owners association and golf course superintendent’s organization," he says. "I’m also active legislatively (having pushed for daylight savings time and favorable property tax reform), and my daughter, Mindy Ballinger, is now a manager here as a third generation employee."

He notes that some of the other courses in the running for national Course of the Year honors included eventual winner Hidden Valley in California, as well as highly-acclaimed destinations The Legends in South Carolina and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

Ballinger adds that Walnut Creek gives back to the community by helping teach new golfers, holding local fundraisers (sometimes at no charge), and — perhaps most notably — spearheading the area’s Tees for Troops program, which donated two tons of golf equipment to American troops in Iraq.

"The program is valuable because it gives our troops a chance to do something in their down time besides just playing cards," he says.

When asked about what challenges golf course owners are facing today, Ballinger explains that when the economy tumbles, discretionary income — and thereby recreation — is the first to take a hit. He says that’s why many golf courses have had to reduce green fees, though expenses have increased. He contends that keeping a close eye on spending and managing debt service remain keys to success for every golf course.

Not only are Walnut Creek’s fees very reasonable for golfers on a budget, but the course offers a unique attraction for golf history enthusiasts in its Jenkins Golfhouse Museum

So if you’re in the Grant County area or don’t mind a little drive for some great golf at a high value, you should head on over and tee it up at a nationally recognized course right here in northern Indiana.