Hole In Their Hearts
Continued (page 2 of 2)
"For months and months we couldn't even think about it. But then we figured, she'd be telling us to get on with it," Nancy said. "That was the hardest part, just getting started again. But once we did, we were so determined to get it finished, even if we had to build it ourselves."
Settling on a name for it was difficult, however. For the longest time they had merely been referring to it as "Ann's golf course." They would write names on little slips of paper. Nothing sounded appropriate. Then somebody said, "AnnBriar," one of the investors, nobody remembers who exactly, but that was it. There was no discussion. "AnnBriar just sounded right," Nancy said.
Construction began May 13, 1991. Eventually, AnnBriar Golf Course would cost more than $7 million to complete, far more than the Nobbes could afford. But Waterloo being the kind of town where one car salesman would alert his rival to a potential sale, friends stepped up to invest without getting in the way of what the project meant to the Nobbes.
"She was the driving force for us," said William, who used to ride horses with his daughter on parts of what are now fairways. "There are times when I might go for a walk in the woods and I still think to myself, 'Maybe I'll see her down here.'"
AnnBriar Golf Course, awarded 4.5 (out of 5) stars by Golf Digest Places to Play, reopened all 18 holes just one week after the accident. The 18-foot sinkhole eventually turned into a yawning void in the landing area of the 14th hole, a par-5 that measures up to 509 yards. It took several thousand cubic yards of rock to fill it in, and the area is roped off as ground under repair until the warm weather returns and allows for the replanting of the zoysia grass.
After seeing that Milar told a newspaper that he might have trouble returning to AnnBriar, Russ Nobbe worries that business might suffer. "Will people stay away? That's the fear we have," Russ said. "I mean, reporters are asking us if it's safe to play here."
"That would be a shame if golfers think they can't go back," Hurdzan said. "People are afraid of what they can't see, but when it comes to golf, people don't stop playing even though they could get struck by lightning, and that's a much bigger risk. There are sinkholes all over the country. But people don't stop building houses or driving down the road."
Interestingly, William has a different take on the incident. "I don't know, maybe people get curious about it and want to come see where this all happened," he said. "And then maybe they learn a little bit more."
Last fall, there was another scare at AnnBriar that didn't make the news. A man suffered a heart attack, and Russ was summoned from the clubhouse. He carried with him a defibrillator, which he had just been trained to use. The club had purchased the defibrillator the month prior. Russ restarted the man's heart right there on the 13th hole, saved his life.
"That's something that if you stop and think about it you almost can't believe what happened," Russ mused. "What if we hadn't gotten it? What if I weren't around? I was the only one at the time trained to use it. To be able to save someone's life like that, it makes you feel good. The circumstances were kind of amazing."
Well, the circumstances of AnnBriar are amazing, as are the events that thrust it into the spotlight, however briefly. And it was all right there, if anyone had bothered to dig down a bit further.
Come this May, the Nobbes will celebrate AnnBriar's 20th anniversary, and in October, they will quietly mark what would have been Ann's 50th birthday.
They are astounded by how quickly the time has passed. And how slowly time heals.
Several times the Nobbes have been approached about selling AnnBriar to a golf course management company. William politely declines. A management company would run AnnBriar as a business. The Nobbes simply let it live as it was intended, as a manifestation of their daughter's spirit.
"After all these years," Nancy said, "it feels like Ann is still here."