Photo by Lachlan Lennox
Local golf legend Denny Hepler takes a quick break while working to restore Stonehenge Golf Club back to elite status after it closed lae last year.
Photo by Lachlan Lennox Local golf legend Denny Hepler takes a quick break while working to restore Stonehenge Golf Club back to elite status after it closed lae last year.
WINONA LAKE – The Kosciusko County  golf community was taken aback in November 2018 when Stonehenge owner Ravi Shah decided to close the club’s doors. Even though the course was widely regarded as one of the most challenging and immersive in the area, there was little optimism for a buyer. After all, Shah had been attempting to sell the property for over a year. While nobody wanted to see the Warsaw landmark shutter its doors, Stonehenge appeared to be a lost cause.

That all changed in late April, when the Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation announced its intention to purchase the course. Stonehenge reopened on April 25, not even six months after closing.

The group tasked with restoring this once-proud club is headed by former Racoon Run owner Denny Hepler, who has poured in countless hours alongside his wife Cindy and local businessman Matt Hoskins. Together, they have managed to both restore and update the course, adding new amenities while maintaining the top-notch Bent Grass fairways and greens.

The course was designed originally by renowned architect Ron Garl, who designed and built over 250 golf courses, winning dozens of awards on the way. Since its construction, Stonehenge has become a large part of local culture. It hosted numerous tournaments and meets and was the home course of the 2005 State Champion Warsaw High School Boys golf team.

With members from across the region and contracts with Warsaw High School and Grace College athletics, the sky was the limit for Winona Lake’s esteemed course.

Since Dec. 15, when a local investment group made a bid to purchase Raccoon Run with the intent to build a new housing subdivision, Hepler has found his new challenge. He sold the course, now in its last season, with the greater good in mind.

The planned neighborhood would include 134 lots, mostly including homes in the $300,000-$450,000 range.

When the sale became all but finalized, another group approached Hepler and his wife about ensuring the survival of Stonehenge. By Hepler’s account, it was the right thing to do for himself and his community.

“It seems to increase the value, with the beautiful upkeep. Weeds and tall grass everywhere would not be very attractive so there’s some value. We just feel like the town of Winona Lake is coming east and we hope that one day the next town center for Winona Lake [could be out here.]”

At first, Hepler was thunderstruck by this new opportunity to save a landmark in the golf world.

“The vision went from ‘so this is really going to happen?’ Then if it does, I’ve got to be on my A-game. I’ve got to now take this on,” he said.

Despite the clear challenge, the grandfather of eight refused to shy away.

“It was kind of an adrenaline thing. Many nights of thinking about what I need to do and prioritizing what needed to be done first... All these things so that, if it did come true, [we were prepared to] get everything ready in a systematic order [so that] nothing would blindside us. Then we could get this place back in business.”

Hepler’s immediate priority was to ensure the course’s condition remained high.

“When we got the keys to this facility, we immediately started focusing on the golf course. We wanted to make sure it was pretty well in shape before we opened the doors.” When surveying the picturesque course, it would be tough to find fault in their efforts. Between the level fairways, brilliant greens and well groomed bunkers, Stonehenge looks as good as ever.

Not that Hepler plans on stopping with the course. With the grounds maintenance out of the way, the ownership group has shifted its focus to new amenities for golfers. The pro shop has been fully restocked with a vast collection of clubs, attire, and merchandise bearing the iconic Stonehenge logo.

The pub, located behind the pro shop, now features a fully-loaded bar, multiple televisions and modern decor. Hepler has even introduced new carts, complete with GPS navigation and Bluetooth speakers, and he’s far from finished.

“Once the whole deal gets finalized in the next couple weeks, the entire project is then going to move forward with remodeling the buildings, probably (installing) a new pool, and refinishing the halfway house.”

The ownership’s vision ought to inspire hope in all who once enjoyed hot summers at the country club. In fact, Hepler hopes his actions can have an impact on the entire Winona Lake community.