Field of Dreams
An early Fishers resident’s dream of building a golf course comes true two generations later
By John Cinnamon
Imagine Fishers in 1935. It was little more than a stop along the railroad with a population you could practically count on your fingers and toes and still leave one shoe on. It was during that era that an Indianapolis entrepreneur by the name of John William Speicher acquired 80 acres of land on the northeast corner of 96th Street and Allisonville Road. By 1949, roughly the southern half of Speicher’s land was plotted for development. J.W. – as he was known – chose a small spot toward the north end of the other half and built a house there for him and his wife, leaving much of the remaining acreage for farming. After a few years in the home, he also built something else on his little parcel of land: a golf hole.
There was no tee, no fairway, no bunkers; just a closely mown area of grass with a hole. J.W. enjoyed golf, but from all indications, his foray into golf course design in the mid-1950s was a bust. He mowed his makeshift green a couple of times, but it was never really-playable and J.W. eventually allowed it to be consumed by the rest of his yard. But 45 years later, J.W. Speicher’s dream of backyard golf was realized when his grandsons, Rick and Lyman Eaton designed, built, and opened Balmoral Golf Club in 1999.
Dr. Rick and Diane Eaton are now the owners of Balmoral and have a home next to the Number 1 tee. “I always tell people it was a big backyard project,” said Diane. Some people plant flower beds or build a patio. The Eatons built a nine-hole golf course. The land J.W. Speicher acquired back in the mid-30s remains in the family to this day, passing through four generations. Rick and Diane Eaton built their house there in 1986. Rick’s brother Lyman and his wife also built a house on the property a short time later. Speicher’s love of golf also was passed down.
Not long after building their home, Rick and Diane decided to build a golf hole in the yard for their personal use. Unlike J.W.’s, this one was actually playable. It was a 150-yard par 3 with the tee box next to the original windmill from when the land was a farm. Lyman followed suit with a golf hole of his own and that was the extent of their golf course design … for a while.
Then came the 96th Street widening project in the late 1990s. Having acquired large amounts of dirt from local construction companies for various projects before, the Eatons were approached to see if they would be interested in 1,500 truckloads of dirt that would need to be hauled from the road construction site. Rick saw this as an opportunity to add seven more holes to the land that had recently stopped being farmed. “There’s not a single person who’s played golf for any length of time who doesn’t look at a piece of ground and say, ‘I can design a golf course’,” said Rick, an orthopedic surgeon at Community Hospital and Hancock Regional Hospital. “The only difference with us is that it came true.”
Rick and Lyman set about designing the course themselves, sketching out holes with design characteristics that fit their particular playing abilities. The construction company delivering the dirt agreed to build three ponds and do the rough grading for the golf course. The Eatons acted as general contractors for the project, subcontracting for the final grading, seeding, irrigation, and getting their own hands dirty. “We planted all the flowers and trees,” said Diane. Rick even tried his hand at bulldozing, with less than successful results.
By 1999, the course was ready for play, but only for family and friends. However, the lack of a clubhouse, combined with the proximity of the Eaton’s home to the first tee and the course clearly visible from Willow View Road, led to strangers knocking on Rick and Diane’s door asking about the course. “We would have people driving up the driveway, stopping all the time and asking if they could be members,” recalls Diane, a member of the Hamilton Southeastern School Board and busy community volunteer. That changed in 2003 with the addition of a clubhouse. Still, maintaining a USGA-rated nine-hole golf course is no inexpensive venture, even if it’s only for a handful of golfers. “At a point, it did become a business,” said Rick. “It had gone from being purely the backyard to being something that was financially draining. If it was going to continue to exist it needed to have some way of at least trying to break even.”
In 2007, the decision was made to open the club to limited membership. Balmoral’s growth continued in 2013 with the addition of its first and only Director of Golf, Sam Foley. “The idea is to introduce the course to more people,” said Foley, a golf pro and owner of Golf365, a high-tech indoor golf facility in Noblesville. “Every person that plays or steps on the property probably will fall in love with it, like everybody tends to do.” Foley also brought his Sam Foley Golf Academy to Balmoral, offering professional instruction and playing lessons.
Balmoral Golf Club, 10101 Hamilton Hills Ln, will host open houses the final two Saturdays this month, including a “Big Break: Balmoral” event Saturday, April 26, featuring Fishers resident and pro golfer Kristi O’Brien, a contestant on Golf Channel’s “Big Break: Florida”. Membership information is available at www.balmoralgolfclub.com.
J.W. Speicher’s original golf hole may be long gone, but his modest ranch home remains. And the golf course that surrounds it would no doubt make the family patriarch proud.