News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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May 30, 2014

Second generation makes sure Mark’s Par Three reaches 50th anniversary

TERRE HAUTE — On May 15, 1964, Mark LaGrange was known around Terre Haute as a boys basketball and golf coach and math teacher at the now-closed Schulte High School on Ohio Street.

Admirable employment for sure, but surviving members of his family remember this date for something that’s carried on a much longer tradition and created a bigger financial impact on their lives.

That’s when LaGrange collected his first green fees from golfers wanting to play the new nine-hole course that he and his wife Pat opened at 2401 N. Chamberlain Road in eastern Vigo County.

Named Mark’s Par Three, it remains a popular family-operated business 50 years later.

According to the www.markspar3.com website, the idea for the course started in the early 1960s when LaGrange needed summer work to supplement his Schulte paychecks.

“He had worked in a factory, on road construction crews, sold insurance and taught a few courses,” the site explains.

It goes on to say “the income from these odd jobs was not enough to support a growing family. So while his wife Pat was teaching elementary school and working on her master’s degree at ISU, Mark would load up his four children in an old car and drive around the outskirts of Terre Haute looking for suitable land on which to build a course. The land had to be for sale, the right size, with a good water supply, near a major road and close to the city. He found his dream in a cow pasture between Terre Haute and Seelyville.”

Roughly two years after hammering out the financial details, the course opened.

Cost to play nine holes in 1964? A whole $1 ($1.25 on weekends). A season ticket? That was $10.

The early years

The LaGranges somehow found time to raise five children — daughters Candy McCord (Terre Haute) and Connie Mukherjee (California) and sons Neil (Lafayette/Terre Haute), Terry (Terre Haute) and Louis (California).

Neil LaGrange, now president of Mark’s Par Three, Inc., shared some of his recollections of the course’s early years.

“My oldest memory here is probably from when I was 6 years old,” he said. “We would go out and just play on the course [using short clubs] while Dad worked. We basically grew up on the course. We lived in town then, but moved out to the course in 1970. So I would have been about 11 then. … After we moved here, I basically lived here [on the course]. We started watching the clubhouse, all of us, once we were old enough to make change correctly and count money. We had the driving range then, so we would pick up driving-range balls.”

Neil said his parents had an interesting way of reimbursing their children for performing chores at the course.

“My mother and father were very astute business people,” he explained. “They paid us, but we didn’t get the money until we turned 18. They tracked how much each of us worked and kept track of it. Then once we were 18, we got the money, which we used to help pay for our college educations.”

In Neil’s case, that helped him get into Indiana State University. Connie and Candy went to Indiana, then Terry went to Rose-Hulman. And Louis, who wasn’t born until 1970, ended up at Notre Dame.

Neil LaGrange also said Pat’s parents — his grandparents — helped run the business in the late 1960s and early 1970s while Mark and Pat were busy teaching school.

Since then, Neil hasn’t spent all of his adult time on the family golf course. He worked 24 years in financial services in Lafayette and West Lafayette, although he frequently drove to Vigo County to help out on weekends. Then he returned to the course full time in 2007.

“I was always involved, but I kinda came in after the fact,” he pointed out. “This has been a total team effort the whole time.”

As it turned out, Neil’s timing couldn’t have been much better.

Transition from tragedy

With their children grown, Mark and Pat LaGrange had a new house built on the back nine in 2006. That enabled Kenny Walsh, who had become the course superintendent, to move into the previous LaGrange house around the same time.

But Mark LaGrange died Dec. 2, 2008, from injuries sustained in an auto accident while on his way to an ISU men’s basketball game. He was 79.

Besides the obvious impact on his family, Mark’s death affected course operations as well, although there was never any doubt that Mark’s Par Three would remain open for Wabash Valley golfers.

“Fortunately, my dad was smart enough to think ahead,” Neil LaGrange explained. “His health had been deteriorating somewhat before that. I had left my previous job about a year before his passing and was more active here [at the course]. Plus, Kenny was here full time and my sister Candy was here full time.

“Losing Dad was huge, obviously. His input was invaluable and we still miss it today. But between Kenny, Candy and I — along with input from Terry, who’s somewhat involved, and my other siblings and my mother — we carried on the business.

“The transition went smoothly. We knew what we were doing. We had all been doing it a while, so keeping it going was not a problem. But his wisdom, his knowledge of the course, all the people he knew, how to get things done … that’s all still missed today.”

Pat LaGrange also suffered injuries in that 2008 accident. Neil said his mother needed about a year to recover, but she’s doing reasonably well now.

“When this started [in the 1960s], my mom was as big a part of running this business as my dad,” Neil LaGrange emphasized. “She was the bookkeeper.”

Pat, now 85, owns shares of stock in Mark’s Par Three, Inc., as do all five siblings.

“She’s not as mobile as she used to be,” Neil noted, “but she’ll still add her two cents’ worth when she sees something that she doesn’t like. She’ll let us know about it. She has some good suggestions.”

Looking ahead, Neil LaGrange said he’s not sure if the next generation of family members will keep the business alive.

“It’s doubtful at this point,” he admitted, “but things could change.”

Neil, Candy McCord and Walsh are all in their 50s, so they hope to keep running the course for several years.

“As long as our health holds out,” he said, “we’ll continue to do it.”

Neil acknowledged that down the road — perhaps waaaaay down the road — selling the business may become an option “if our health changes or we get closer to retirement.”

Meanwhile, Walsh is happy to be the only non-LaGrange in a supervisory position at the course.

“Mark asked me [in 1996] if I wanted to take the superintendent’s job,” he recalled. “I had been a printer for 16 years at Woodburn Graphics and I got laid off. I never had been a big golfer, but I came by and asked Mark if he needed help and he said, ‘Sure.’

“It’s been a marriage made in heaven ever since.”

Neil LaGrange said Walsh is in charge of maintaining the course and McCord is the clubhouse operations manager. Neil said his job is to make sure they have the tools and resources they need.

“I’ll help Kenny mow grass if he needs it,” he added. “We all run the outings. I’ll do the books. I’ll help in the clubhouse if needed.”

The course itself

Neil LaGrange said many original customers from the 1960s have come back to Mark’s Par Three over the years with their children, then their grandchildren.

“We have a lot of people who play out here because we have relationships with them,” he mentioned. “We know a lot of our customers on a first-name basis. We really need to thank our customers because they’re the ones who keep us going.”

There have been plenty of physical changes at the course since 1964. For example, it expanded to 18 holes in 1995.

“We now have at least one sprinkler head on all 18 tees,” Neil stressed. “For years, our tees — being a par 3 — would get beat up by all the irons and all the divots that people would take. But now we’ve got a fairly good stand of grass and we’ve expanded some of the tee areas so it keeps us in better shape.”

Regarding course difficulty, Neil LaGrange said Mark’s Par Three is underrated, adding that many players shoot the same amount over par at Mark’s Par Three (where par is 59 over 18 holes) as they do at Hulman Links (where par is 72).

“As an executive-style course, ours doesn’t take as long to play,” he pointed out. “Although it’s very challenging, it’s not as difficult as, say, a Hulman Links. … You have to be a good chipper and putter out here. You have to be a good iron player. The holes are different lengths, so you can hit every iron in your bag. And there are four opportunities to hit the driver.”

“Our market is maybe a little bit bigger because Hulman is really in the golf business, but we’re in the golf business and the entertainment business,” Neil said. “We get the players who just want to come out maybe five, 10 times a year, who just want to come out for fun.”

Although the cost to play isn’t as inexpensive as in 1964, Neil said $22 gets a golfer 18 holes and a cart for roughty 31⁄2 hours.

To show their appreciation for decades of support, the LaGranges and Walsh have proclaimed Saturday to be “Customer Appreciation Day” for current and past season-ticket holders and regular customers at Mark’s Par Three. Food and refreshments will be provided from 1 to 6 p.m.

Fun fact

• The LaGrange family estimates that more than 410 holes-in-one have occurred at Mark’s Par Three since 1964. Four have occurred in the last two weeks.

Through the years

• 1962 — Twenty-six acres purchased in eastern Vigo County.

• 1963 — Original par-29 course is built.

• 1964 — Official opening of nine-hole course May 15, 1964.

• 1967 — Driving range is opened.

• 1969 — New home built.

• 1982 — Driving-range land sold to research firm.

• 1992 — Land purchased for back nine for total of 641⁄2 acres.

• 1995 — Official opening of 18-hole course May 25, 1995.

• 2000 — New clubhouse built.

• 2006 — New home built for owners on back nine.

• 2008 — Course founder Mark LaGrange dies, but children continue tradition.

• 2014 — Mark’s Par Three celebrates its 50-year anniversary.

Source: markspar3.com

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