I can now say I know what it's like to find a pot of gold. I met Gary Holland.
Holland no longer has to work for a living. The gig at the golf course allows him to keep busy and gives him an opportunity to coach some of the younger staff through life. "They're good kids," says Holland. "But some of them could use my help."
Coaching, like mowing, is something Holland loved to do. When he was 25 he was given the boys basketball head coaching job at Springs Valley High School in French Lick. Holland inherited a 6-foot-7 senior by the name of Larry Bird.
This past April, my friend Kevin Price (a huge basketball fan) and I met Holland at the Springs Valley gym one evening after his day at the golf course. Holland walked us around and told us stories of Larry Legend.
I wasn't sure I would get to speak to Bird about the story I was writing for Golf Digest. But after some help from one of my spiritual coaches and friends, Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum, I got the call 10 minutes after I sent Bird the e-mail request.
"Hello," I said. "This is Matt."
"Matt, this is Larry Bird."
"Hello, Larry." And then I scrambled for a pen and paper. Half of me wondered if it was one of my friends playing a practical joke.
Bird gave me about 15 minutes. He told me he was happy for the town of French Lick--that the new Dye course, restored resorts and things like the water park would help create jobs and stimulate the local economy. He said he used to caddie at the Donald Ross course, which is also in French Lick and one of Bird's favorites, and he used to run the hills where the new Dye course was built. Bird played to a 5-handicap before he started suffering from back spasms and before he got the job as president of the Indiana Pacers. He says he doesn't have much time for golf right now.
Bird told me how much he appreciated Holland and all that he did for him when he was in high school and beyond. Holland says he and Larry were kindred spirits. "I was in the right place at the right time. I was quiet. Larry was quiet. And we both wanted to win ball games."
In 22 years as Springs Valley's head coach, Holland won six sectional titles. He still thinks back to the 1973-'74 season, when he was just a rookie head coach, working with a kid who had NBA talent, and he wishes he would've had more experience. "I would've used my bench better," he said. "If I had a couple more years of experience I don't think we would've lost in the regional finals. We could've beat Bedford."
Here's a link to the Away Game in the current issue of Golf Digest about my trip to French Lick, a review of the Pete Dye and Donald Ross courses, and some other things to do while you're in town.
And here's the video interview: