In 1986, Bill and Kathy Casper began building a par-3 golf course on the land across the road from their home along the east shore of Lake Winnebago.
“It took us three summers,” Bill said “to complete the work. The timing was such that when our daughter Barbara Jean retired from the Air Force, she returned home to help run the business, and be the course professional.”
The Casper’s ran Thornbrook Golf Course for a decade before selling to Ron Stageman, an engineer for Mercury Marine.
Most recently, Thornbrook has again changed hands, and undergone something of a facelift.
Hidden in plain sight just off Highway 151 down Gladstone Beach Road, Thornbrook has realized a redesign of the layout, a new clubhouse, and the addition of the latest trend…foot golf.
Steve and Amy Riley purchased the course from Stageman, and with it undertook the daunting task of daily fairway mowing, greens keeping, watering, fertilizing, and general proprietorship.
The Riley’s are both from the Fond du Lac, having started an electrical supply business (Riley Electrical Supply) together in 1986, at the time selling energy efficient lighting.
“I used to golf at Thornbrook,” Steve said “I wasn’t an avid golfer, but occasionally we’d cut out of work early and play nine. It was beautiful then, and it’s beautiful now, a park-like setting with woods, ponds and streams…just a nice place to relax and unwind.”
Twenty years ago the Riley’s moved to rural Markesan, and commuted to work. They recently realized the desire to get closer to home where their family and friends are, but at the same time wanted a remote setting at which to reside.
“We saw Thornbrook was for sale,” Steve said “and luckily things worked out.”
When the snow’s not flying, running a golf course is a time and sweat expender.
“Thankfully we had a ton of help from the guy we bought it from, Ron Stageman,” Steve said “who helps us out whenever we ask, and Bill Casper who still lives across the road has been a tremendous help as well. Bill helps with everything from working on equipment, like the original 8N tractor he drove when he was 12 years old! For a guy who’s 84 years old to help us with stuff like rebuilding the carburetor to get it running again…it’s wonderful and handy to have a neighbor like that. And the knowledge about the course. He built the place, so he knows where everything is, from hidden and overgrown sprinkler heads and irrigation, to how everything is designed to work. Any changes we ever think of doing, I always want to run past him because of his experience.”
The Riley’s had a proven sense for business, but the learning curve of maintaining a golf course is different.
“We became voracious readers of magazines on the topic of course maintenance,” Steve said “and we’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos, believe it or not. There’s a lot of good information on ‘how-to’ out there on the web, and you can find answers to nearly anything, and hopefully they’re the right answers (laugh).”
There have been changes since the Casper’s broke ground 29 years ago.
“One of the biggest modifications is the conversion of one of the existing buildings,” Steve said “into the new clubhouse. We did some extensive remodeling, and because of the building’s location, we changed the order of the holes. We changed one of the tee boxes too because, at some point, we’ll be putting an addition onto the old clubhouse and that will become our home. We wanted to direct the golfers a little bit away from what will be the house, so they’re not right on top of our living area.”
“It’s a relatively new sport,” Steve said “which is similar to golf except you use your foot as your club, and a soccer ball rather than a golf ball. The holes are 21inches wide and located next to the greens. So, all the people who grew up playing soccer, and now have nothing to do with their soccer talents, can now enjoy a round of foot golf!”
And there are availabilities for golf leagues, both regular and foot golf.
“We’d welcome folks who’d like to organize or join a league,” Steve said “I know with other activities going on, everyone’s free time is short, so we’re open to whatever time periods…say for example you’d like to form a short league that only lasts a month or six weeks long, we’re certainly open to that idea.”
The gem that is Thornbrook Golf Course, now has a new sheen.
Visit thornbrookgolfcourse.com 920-922-2722.