CARTERVILLE — The 11 o'clock group tees off every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Crab Orchard Golf Club.
A longtime tradition at the Carterville golf course, the men compete with whoever shows up whichever day. They pay for their round if they're not a member, a cart, and give a few extra bucks toward a flower fund that helps to pay for the pretty things that are required at hard times. The group, which has lost many over the years, has a memorial just outside the first hole with a list of names those flowers honored.
Kevin Howerton, one of those 11 o'clock golfers, feared the tradition may have to move when longtime owner Steve Heckel put the place up for sale earlier this year.
"We all know each other. We have people that come from different cities, that come in, and this is where we take 'em," Howerton said. "They fall in love with it. Now we've recruited them to come play here."
The 6,400-yard, par-70 course, nearby residential lots, a four-bedroom house on the premises and a nearby condo went up for sale in May. Heckel, an SIU Hall of Fame golfer, has been the pro at the course since 1972 and run it after his father, Phil, ran it before him. The online auction was supposed to close in October, but a local retired doctor bought the place before that.
Dr. Russell Brown, a longtime family physician in Carterville who has known Heckel for years, signed the papers earlier this month. He and his wife, Janice, hope to close on the facility in November, and plan to keep it an 18-hole course.
"Just a lot of memories and a lot of things with (Heckel), and a lot of connections," Brown said. "I just think he made up his mind, and I had heard that he had someone, it looked like a serious deal and he had made an offer, and the terms of that deal had the golf course going down to nine holes, possibly, or even possibly eliminated. That bothered me, so I reached out to Steve, and since he had not closed the deal, my family and I sat down and we decided to preserve the community and the golf course. It's kind of a keystone of the community."
The Browns have a longstanding history with the course, and will continue to. Russell and Janice both took golf lessons there, and their grandson took lessons there. Their son, Russell, learned how to play at Crab Orchard. He and his wife, Leah, will manage the course full-time. Heckel will stay on, Brown Sr. said, as a consultant for the next two years and teach lessons.
None of them plan any major changes. Brown Sr. wants to open up the restaurant, a big community meeting place, once COVID-19 subsides.
Howerton is glad he doesn't have to look for a new tradition.
"When you think of Southern Illinois golf, this is the first thing you think of," he said.
On Twitter: @THefferman
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