Few knew it at the time, but John Olson received notice in September that he’d become part of Brownstown Central High School’s history.
The PGA Professional/Superintendent at Hickory Hills Golf Club Inc. would be presented what is considered the ultimate and most prestigious award given by the athletics department — and he kept the news to himself.
Until that information went public on Jan. 13.
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At halftime of the boys’ basketball game against Silver Creek, BCHS athletics director Mark DeHart turned the crowd’s attention to center court with Olson by his side.
“Eight years ago, the Athletic Hall of Fame was created to specifically honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the athletics programs at BCHS,” DeHart said. “Tonight, we will be adding another member to this exclusive group. For his years of service and contributions as a local golf professional, coach, and instructor, we are officially inducting John Olson into the BCHS Athletic Hall of Fame.”
For Olson, the golden plaque symbolizes 30-plus years of dedication and commitment to the community.
“Brownstown Central has no shortage of athletics heroes — there’s plenty to choose from,” Olson said. “For me to be chosen, I was shocked. I was told in September and I never told anyone. It kind of worried me, because there have been all of these athletes and coaches who have done so much.
All I do is try to teach the kids how to hit a golf ball. I will say this, there’s nothing out there awaiting John Olson of this magnitude. Other than my wife and kids, it’s the greatest honor of my life.”
Olson, who graduated from Logansport High School in 1975, took the job at Hickory Hills in 1983.
“I’m strict on fundamentals,” Olson said of his teaching methods. “I also like to get my students to get the ball up in the air immediately. I follow my teacher, Mal McMullen. My teacher was elected into the Indiana Hall of Fame in 1981. His nickname was the ‘stroke doctor.’
He got started at Harrison Lake Country Club in Columbus before going to Kokomo Country Club. He instilled in me that golf is a game of spin. Your golf club is almost like holding a ping-pong paddle. If you can understand what the face of the club does, you have a better chance of playing the game instead of swinging away and hoping to make contact.”
In his job contract, Olson would serve as more than a golf pro — he was responsible for almost every aspect of operation at the nonprofit club.
“That’s one thing I had no experience with at all — being a greens-keeper,” Olson said. “It’s part of the job. I maintain the golf course, clubhouse, everything.”
Since he got into the industry, Olson has created and worked in youth programs.
He’s hosted a summer youth golf program for 34 years in Brownstown, and worked with every member of both the boys’ and girls’ golf teams.
For 25 years, he put on the Hickory Hills junior golf invite, which has become the IGA/Pepsi junior event for the past six years.
From 1984-85, he was the BCHS girls’ varsity coach.
He has also hosted BCHS summer physical education classes and instructed Brownstown Central Middle School P.E. classes.
Of all the things Olson has accomplished at the club, he’s most proud of three things: fundraising, course improvements and volunteerism.
“Hickory Hills is a non-for-profit corporation, and that’s the way it’s set up to be,” Olson explained. “Fundraising through golf has become big for us. The club has a fundraiser for itself. When I came here, it was very small. I took it upon myself to grow it, and I had a lot of help along the way. That’s one thing that I’m proud of: how big it got.”
In 1995, the course saw major changes as they converted to zoysia grass. Olson said that the course is ever changing with improvements.
“That was probably the biggest undertaking ever,” Olson said of the zoysia project. “We’re always changing. It seems like something is always chaining, and that’s kept me young.”
Of everything, Olson most enjoys the people that he interacts with at Hickory Hills.
“The best thing of all is the volunteerism of the membership,” Olson said. “If you need help with anything, someone is always there. That has probably been the biggest thing for me over the past 35 years — all the help I’ve received.”
Through the years, Olson’s love for golf hasn’t wavered.
“Golf is a sport where it’s just you,” Olson said. “It’s a team, but also an individual thing. Nobody can swing the golf club for you. It’s governed by a strict set of rules and etiquette. The very first section of the rule book is etiquette, and that’s something we stress. How you conduct yourself on the golf course and how you take care of the golf course is stressed by us. It’s one of the only sports where you call penalties on yourself.”
Retirement is a few years away for Olson, who plans on continuing 70 and 80 hour work weeks until he no longer can.
“I have some ideas of how long I’d like to stay,” Olson said. “Hopefully five or six years. I realize I can’t be here forever, but I’m still young and go out and repair irrigation and golf carts.”