The Legends named 2021 Indiana Golf Course of the Year!
The Indiana Golf Course Owners Association is excited to announce The Legends Golf Club of Franklin has been named the 2021 Indiana Course of the Year by the Board of Directors. Among other things, the award is based on the exceptional quality of the ownership and management and the contribution that the course has had to the game of golf and the community. The Legends has consistently demonstrated that they understand the importance of not only welcoming new players into the game but also offering something for more skillful golfers. All levels of golfers can benefit from their top-notch practice facilities and a course layout that is as accommodating for beginners as it is challenging for seasoned players. The staff at the Legends has a stellar reputation for keeping up the tradition of warm Hoosier Hospitality and the management team is always looking at ways to improve the course, facilities and to be outstanding stewards in their community. Congratulations as our much deserved Course of the Year!
-Michelle, Wittig – President of the Indiana Golf Course Owners Association-
The Ultimate Challenge- “All things to all people!”
The Golf Course
When Jim Fazio was hired to be the golf course architect for The Legends Golf Club in 1991, he was given a stiff challenge by Ted Bishop, PGA General Partner. Build a course on a 330-acre corn field that can handle championships at the highest level, and at the same time, make it fun and friendly for the average golfer. That would define what The Legends GC would become in so many ways- all things to all people.
Over the years, The Legends has hosted more championship events than any other course in the Hoosier State including:
- Both Men’s and Women’s Indiana PGA Opens
- Both Men’s and Women’s Indiana Amateur Championships
- Numerous other IGA/PGA events
- Five USGA qualifiers
- PGA Tour Web.com qualifier
- Indianapolis Women’s CityChampionship
- 30 Combined Boys and Girls IHSAAState Championships
- Numerous other IHSAA Sectionaland Regional competitions
- Big Ten/Big 12 Women’s Golf Shootouts
- The Legends Men’s Intercollegiate Championships
- Numerous other college tournaments for Indiana University, Ball State, Franklin College.
However, like any other semi-private/daily fee operation, these championship events only tell a small story about our existence. We depend primarily on daily fee and member play to comprise the vast majority of our 45,000 plus annual rounds.Jim Fazio gave us 27-holes with multiple sets of tees and an overall design that allows every golfer to enjoy The Legends and complete 18-hole rounds in less than four hours even on the many days when our tee sheets contain over 300 players. Jim once said, “This golf course will be a great test to the best players. If recreational golfers play the right set of tees, The Legends will probably look scarier than it actually is, but they will feel good about their round and want to come back.”
A Diverse and Sustainable Business Model
In 2018, we made the decision to offer an affordable two-year 25th Anniversary membership that could be purchased for $198. The result was gaining 4,791 new members in 2018 and taking in close to $1 million is membership revenue. These new members rented golf cars, purchased balls, gloves and clubs, drank beer and ate hot dogs, hit range balls, etc. The increased revenue in all areas allowed us to retire debt, purchase new equipment, increase our maintenance budget and hire more staff. Many of the new members were casual and non-golfers, meaning they typically played less than ten rounds per year.
On November 1 of this year, we will embark on our third Anniversary membership campaign. In 2020, our course played 55,751 rounds from March through November during the Covid-19 crisis. In 2021 we will have over 47,000 rounds during a less than ideal season of weather. Consistent annual revenues have also allowed us to refinance with our bank at much lower interest rates as we now comfortably cash flow the operation.
Our clientele has totally changed and it is the most diverse in the 30-year history of our
business. We have gone from a high-end semi-private/daily fee facility to a reasonably
priced public golf course that anyone can afford to play. Everyone is welcome and the quality of our product is the best it has ever been thanks to this sustainable business model. Even our loyal, longtime annual and lifetime members are happy and satisfied!
The Legends Golf Club is owned by DHB LLC which consists of a small group of family members and one longtime supporter of the golf course. Larry and Marcia Davidson, Dan and Debbie Hillenburg, Ted and Cindy Bishop are all related through family or marriage. Harry Short has been a longtime supporter of The Legends.
Bishop is the General Partner and PGA General Manager. These days he spends much of his time serving in the golf course superintendent’s role. He got into golf after graduating from Purdue University with a degree in Agronomy/Turf Management. Bishop oversaw the construction, financing and operation of The Legends dating back to its formation in 1991.
Over the years, Bishop has dedicated his career to the Indiana PGA and the PGA of America. He has received nearly every award the Indiana PGA has to offer including Golf Professional of the Year and most recently the 2021 Bill Strausbaugh Award for mentoring and character. He is a member of the Indiana Golf Hall of Fame.
Bishop served as President of the PGA of America in 2013-14. He should be remembered for leading the opposition to the USGA ban on the anchored stroke. During his time, relationships between the PGA Tour and the PGA dramatically improved. He named two public courses- Bethpage Black and Harding Park as PGA Championship sites. Bethpage will also host the 2024 Ryder Cup. The Deacon Palmer Award was created recognizing a PGA member who has overcome a severe obstacle in their life. He also established the Ryder Cup Task Force. His greatest impact was developing a revenue sharing plan between the PGA and its 41 Sections after a $440 million Ryder Cup television rights contract was extended with NBC Sports. This will drive millions of dollars to local PGA Sections for perpetuity.
Crystal Morse is the head PGA golf professional at The Legends. She became the first female to serve in this capacity in October 2018. Crystal was an outstanding junior golfer at nearby Center Grove High School making two appearances as an individual in the IHSAA State Finals. She had a successful playing career at Western Kentucky University where she was a Captain earning All-Sun Belt Conference honors.
Growing the game and inspiring youth are Morse’s main trademarks. She has received the Indiana PGA Youth Player Development Award from the Indiana Section two years in a row which is unprecedented. Her junior programs at The Legends involve over 300 kids each year. Her magnetic personality and smile have become the face of the day-to-day operations.
Jim Morse is the PGA Director of Instruction at The Legends GC. Jim moved with Crystal back to Indiana from Southern California where he enjoyed a 20-year stint at Eldorado Country Club starting in the cart barn and winding up as the head professional. He has transformed the teaching and fitting program at The Legends with the addition of Morse Golf Academy. Jim and Crystal have two children, Carson and Cali.
Ted and Ashely Davidson serve as co-assistant general managers and operate The Legendary Kitchen food truck. They perform so many valuable tasks at the golf course, it is impossible to list them all. The Davidsons have two children, Reid and Remy. Ted is the son of Larry and Marcia Davidson. Ashely is the daughter of Ted and Cindy Bishop.
Cindy Bishop walked away from a 24-year teaching career to serve as food and beverage coordinator/snack bar manager at The Legends since 2001. She also became an investor in the golf course. She is in her 45th year of being married into the golf business. She understands what it takes to operate a golf course. Both Cindy and Ashely fought breast cancer in 2018 and ’19. They continued to perform their duties as best they could while undergoing cancer treatments. There is probably nothing that defines our family’s commitment to the golf business better than that.
Expanding Revenue Sources
No business can ever rest on its laurels and The Legends GC has continued to seek new revenue sources. When our longtime outside caterer decided to get out of the business a few years ago, we were in a real bind for golf outings, weddings and parties. Legends’ ownership decided to purchase a new custom-built food truck- The Legendary Kitchen- that would allow us to do our onsite catering.
We have 15,000 square feet under roof at The Legends GC including our main clubhouse, a member club room and a banquet facility. The Legendary Kitchen is staffed by Ashely and Ted Davidson, the daughter and son of two of the families who own The Legends. The Davidsons do all of the booking and cooking. Their specialty is an Indiana hand-breaded tenderloin, but the LK can customize menus to fit any budget.
What we never dreamed of when we purchased the food truck was our ability to generate revenue off- site at festivals, businesses or simply selling our food to the general public in high traffic areas.
Growing the Game
The quest for new business opportunities continued in 2019 when Jim Morse, our PGA Director of Instruction approached ownership with a proposal to build an indoor golf academy and fitting center. The course gave him a small parcel of ground to build the Morse Golf Academy (MGA), which contains three teaching bays, state of the art technology including Foresight GCQuad launch monitors and cameras plus an indoor putting green. MGA opened in January of 2020.
The impact on our golf shop sales has been incredible thanks to this incredible partnership between Morse and The Legends. Our entire PGA staff is now able to teach all year. This allows us to develop players and improve skill levels for anyone who desires- even during the harshness of Indiana winters. The Morse Golf Academy is a certified Callaway Fitting Center and is one of the finest of its kind in the Midwest.
In 2017, Crystal Morse was brought on as the Director of Player Development with the main focus being to grow the junior golf programs and bring more families and juniors to the club. The first year, there were approximately 50 unique juniors that were either involved in leagues, clinics or private instruction – that has grown to over 300 unique juniors in 2021. This has been accomplished by Crystal’s efforts to grow the programs, but also, just as important is the willingness of ownership to allow course and range access for these juniors to learn the game.
Among the programs that have been the most successful are PGA Jr League which allows a weekly playing opportunity for kids ages 4-13. We had 100 kids register for the summer program which utilized the Par 3 and Championship Course and 40 kids signed up for the Fall League. Other programs include the First Tee of Indiana which introduces juniors to the game and focuses on character development (sportsmanship, integrity) along with golf skill development. Crystal also established The Legends as a site for the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf Initiative which is designed to empower young girls through the game of golf. This program has grown from 12 girls to 50 girls from 2017 to 2021.
Crystal and her husband Jim, after opening the Morse Golf Academy at The Legends in 2020, have given over 3,000 golf lessons to a database of over 600 students. The Legends has truly become, not only a staple in community, but has a positive reputation for player development and golf instruction that has spread throughout the entire Indianapolis area.
Ted Bishop and Crystal Morse were named as co-head coaches for the Franklin Community High School boys and girls teams in 2020. FCHS recognized the unique opportunity it had to utilize two local PGA professionals and improve their golf programs. The benefits have paid off in a very short period of time. The Franklin boys and girls have a combined record of 341-115 (.747).
The 2021 FCHS boys made their first appearance as a team at the IHSAA State Finals in 35 years. The
squad also upset State Champion Center Grove to the Johnson County Boys Championship. Damon Dickey won the IHSAA Fred A. Keesling Mental Attitude Award and was the first FCHS boy to be named All-State since 1975.
The 2020-’21 FCHS girls have had three different individuals reach the State Finals in the past two years. In the 2021 IHSAA State Finals, Ava Ray shot 74-72 and finished third individually. She was named All-State and became the first FCHS girl to receive this honor since 1999. Both boys and girls teams have won every Mid-State Conference championship in the Bishop/Morse era. Every boys and girls team has also achieved top ten rankings in the IHSGCA polls. Four FCHS players from the Class of 2021 are playing collegiate golf at Butler, Huntington, Taylor and Savannah College of Art & Design.
In January 2021, Bishop and Morse formed the Franklin Golf Club- a 501C3 non-profit which provides scholarships to graduating seniors in their program. The FGC was able to sell over 200 memberships in a few months and generate private funding from community members and former players which has allowed the boys and girls in Franklin to have the resources necessary to compete against the best teams in Indiana.
Giving Back to the Community
Our course ownership feels that being a part of the Franklin and Johnson County community is so important- not just because it enhances the perception of the golf course, but because we want to use golf to help positively impact lives.
For eight years, we have given the course up for Pay It Forward Johnson County. We work with the Savvy Dames, a local group of business women, raising over $250,000 for local non-profits. We love our involvement because we touch so many lives outside of golf.
Several years ago, PGA Tour player Chris Smith from Peru, IN tragically lost his wife in a car accident on Father’s Day. A few months later, The Legends brought the entire Indiana golf community together for an outing and $145,000 was raised for Chris and his kids. The Smith family also owns Rock Hollow Golf Course.
After Ted Bishop, Legends GM concluded his term as the 38th President of the PGA of America, the Horizon Financial Group in Indianapolis dedicated a night to Bishop at The Legends. The evening was part of The Mulligan Open- a charity event creating second chances. Tom Watson, eight-time major champion; Tim Finchem, then Commissioner of the PGA Tour and Steve Stricker, PGA Tour player and victorious 2021 Ryder Cup Captain joined Bishop in a fireside chat. The evening included 250 attendees and raised $50,000 for Little Red Door Cancer Agency, PGA Tour Wives Association, Indiana Golf Foundation and the Steve Stricker Foundation.
From 1998-2021, the Indiana Golf Offices were located on site at The Legends GC. This includes the Indiana PGA, Indiana Golf Association, Indiana Women’s Golf Association and the Indiana Golf Foundation. For nearly 25 years, The Legends was a valuable partner for Indiana Golf helping raise thousands of dollars and ultimately gifting its 18-hole par three course to the Foundation.
In the fall of 2021, The Legends donated the course to ESPN 1070 Radio- The Fan and hosted the JMV Teachers Treasures golf outing. For the second year in a row the day raised over $25,000 for teacher supplies in Central Indiana. It’s just another example of our course giving back to the community. We would estimate that in our 30 years of existence, over $3 million in charity dollars have been raised through golf outings we have hosted.
Thirty years ago, trying to be all things to all people seemed pretty overwhelming. Now, it is just what we do at The Legends Golf Club.