Valley golf course to become hands-on classroom

Winagamie Golf Course as seen on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. (WLUK/Bill Miston)
Winagamie Golf Course as seen on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. (WLUK/Bill Miston)

TOWN OF CLAYTON – A Fox Valley golf course will soon become a place for people to work on more than just their swing.

The 52-year-old, 27 hole Winagamie Golf Course is now owned by the Appleton Education Foundation (AEF). Its previous owner, Mary Beth Nienhaus, gave it to AEF in December. The group uses grant money to fund area education programs.

Nienhaus was honored at the course Wednesday for the donation – and the hope is the donation will help people prepare for their careers.

More than cutting greens

Fox Valley Technical College student Brett Poppy is in the golf course turf and equipment technician program.

Not in a classroom, but at Winagamie.

“More aspects to it than just going out and cutting greens," said the 29-year-old Poppy.

But now, he is prepping the mowers' blades.

"The reel (blade) is spinning at about 250 rpms," said Poppy as a grinding machine sent sparks flying. "We're just basically sharpening each individual blade."

The course-school relationship has been in place for some time, but it's now set to expand.

A 43-year labor of love

"This is unique,” said Nienhaus of the plans for her old course. “I think this is on the cutting edge."

Nienhaus owned Winagamie since 1993.

The former Appleton West High School phys-ed teacher, coach and golfer started working at it in 1971.

"The corporation said that if I did a good job the first year, I could be a part owner,” said Nienhaus of her first year as a full-time course employee. “So then I took out my first loan."

Now, the 70-year-old is banking the Appleton Education Foundation and Valley students will get more out of it than just discounted greens fees; using it as hands-on classroom for agriculture, small engine repair, hospitality management – and more.

A hands-on, outdoor classroom

“When we think about what we're trying to do,” explained Appleton Area School District Superintendent Lee Allinger, “We have our course work, whether it's small engines, or marketing or accounting – we are providing classroom experiences for those kids, typically out of a text book."

The AEF owns the course and money made from it will go to fund foundation programs.

“What will happen if the money that is coming in from the course isn't enough to cover the course's costs?" FOX 11’s Bill Miston asked AEF’s executive director Julie Krause.

"We are very, quite certain that we'll be fine in that regard," replied Krause.

And the golf course will continue to be run as just that.

Nienhaus will stay on in the pro shop, run the junior golf academy and will serve on course's board of directors.

She says she now hopes to get back on the course, as she hasn't golfed in three years.