Country Drive Golf Course

WINTER GAME: Jim and Carol Weiss of Elkhorn enjoy a game of golf at Country Drive golf course on a recent warm day. The golf course, located between Ashland and Yutan, was recently purchased by Greg Heldt and his children, Chelsey Wenninghoff and Jerod Heldt. (Staff Photo by Suzi Nelson)

ASHLAND – A family known for growing vegetables is trying their hand at owning a golf course.

Greg Heldt and his children, Chelsey Wenninghoff and Jerod Heldt, have purchased Country Drive Golf Course between Ashland and Yutan.

For the past several years, the trio has been growing vegetables and fruit for wholesale through their company, Heldt Produce. They are known for their watermelons, shipping out semi loads of the refreshing fruit each summer from their farm located north of the golf course.

Wenninghoff said they bought Country Drive as a way to diversify their business interests and as an opportunity for her and her brother. They will still continue to operate Heldt Produce along with the golf course.

“We thought it would be a fun avenue to go down,” she said.

Wenninghoff and her dad played the course often as she was growing up. Jerod is not quite as avid a player, she added.

“Dad plays here all the time, and hopefully now I’ll get to play a lot more,” she said.

Running the day-to-day operations will fall to Wenninghoff, who has a college degree in business management, but the staff will also include her business partners/family members. They will hire seasonal help when the weather warms up and golfing season begins.

Their knowledge of growing produce will help the trio learn how to manage the golf course’s turf and landscape.

“With our experience in the farming side of it, a lot of that knowledge can transfer over in some ways to grounds keeping of the golf course,” said Wenninghoff.

Former owners Jim and Gail Wagner will also offer advice, Wenninghoff said, and they can consult friends with experience in the golf business as well.

After taking over Nov. 1, the new owners were busy getting the clubhouse spruced up for an open house just eight days later. A large crowd enjoyed food, live music and, because the weather was agreeable, there was golfing, even though there was a wait to get on the course because so many people were there.

“People really enjoyed the new energy,” said Wenninghoff.

Over the winter, they will focus on reintroducing food service to the club house. Food hasn’t been served there for several years, Wenninghoff said. Having Don and Rose Cronican, former owners of Don’s Bar in Memphis, as their grandparents will help the Heldt siblings in that area.

“We are adding more varieties of food and beverage options,” she said.

They will also bring the golfing side of the business up to the 21st century by adding online tee times in the spring through their new website, countrydrivegolf.com.

“With changing demographics, younger people are more likely to go online for a tee time,” Wenninghoff said.

They expanded the business hours to seven days a week, and are open any day during the off-season when the tempeature is over 40 degrees and there is no snow on the course, Wenninghoff said.

Future plans include adding live music. Wenninghoff also has several other ideas, including instituting couples golf nights and kids clinics down the road.

Wenninghoff said they want Country Drive to appeal to those who do not golf by adding events like wine and craft beer tastings.

“I want this to be a place where everyone can come, not just golfers,” she said.

Golfers of all levels are welcome at Country Drive. The course does not require a membership. There is a new fee schedule and they offer weekday senior and junior deals, Wenninghoff said.

Country Drive started nearly 20 years ago as a driving range, sand volleyball court and restaurant. It was later expanded to become a 36-par, nine-hole course.

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