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Family business remains on “course” after 40 years

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By Lorrie Kinkade

By LORRIE KINKADE

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As an employee of Madison, Indiana’s Clifty Creek power plant during the mid-1960s, Jerry Stark regularly overheard co-workers regaling others with golf stories. Though he, nor his wife Sharon, had ever taken a swing on the links, she said those tales encouraged the couple to transform 104 acres of Trimble County farmland into Cardinal Hills Golf Course. That was 40 years ago this month.

“It was just farm land, a few barns and a couple of houses out here. Then he came up with the idea to do this,” Sharon said during a recent interview. “Neither of us really knew anything about golf, but it turned out okay.”

Sharon said that while Jerry continued his career with the Indiana company, and later at Kentucky Utilities generating station in Ghent, Ky., she was left to tend to the daily operations of the course, which officially opened in August 1968.

“[Jerry’s] dad, Hubert, helped mow the fairways. And John Ogburn lived here and helped out, too. Then as our boys got older, they helped out quite a bit, too,” Sharon said. “All the boys have taken their turn here.”

The couple sold the course in 1988, during which time it was known as Deer Run, however they regained ownership in 1994 and returned the facility to its former name.

“You just hate to give up on a family business,” Sharon said. “I guess it wasn’t time for us to let it go.”

Sharon said owning a business dependant on Mother Nature has been far from stress-free, however the family has tried to maintain a positive attitude during overly rainy seasons and sweltering summers.

“You just think, ‘next year will be better.’ And then hope you’re right,” she said.

Typical of such a business, Cardinal Hills is home to the local school golf teams and hosts various tournaments, including a state department of corrections competition, which Sharon and her son’s wives will cater, and the annual benefit for the area’s senior citizens. But unlike many, Cardinal Hills has been the home to one wedding – the nuptials of Terry and Barbara Burkhardt on July 7, 2007 – and one funeral.

“Last year, one of our members passed away,” Sharon said. “He was in his 80s and lived in Carrollton. He never played one hole because it was up on the hill. When he died, his wife asked to have his [service] here, on that hill. How could we say ‘no’ to that?”

The Starks’ sons, Stephen, John and Jared are now part owners in Cardinal Hills and remain active in the family business along with their spouses and children. Their daughter, Stacy, is unable to play such a direct role due to living outside the area.

“Our grandson, Scotty, went to college on a golf scholarship and another of our grandsons could have but he wanted to devote himself to [academics] and not play on the college team,” Sharon said. “Golf has been good to us.”

Today, there are no signs of the tobacco that once grew on the Starks Lane property nor anything to remind golfers or passersby of the cattle that grazed on the gently rolling hills. However, after 40 years in business, Sharon is still behind the counter, accepting greens fees, selling a variety of typical golf items and fixing simple breakfast and lunch sandwiches. And now, since his retirement, Jerry is there, too.

Cardinal Hills Golf Course is located on Starks Lane, less than one mile from Hwy. 421 South in Bedford. The course is open from daylight to dark, seven days a week. For more information on the public course, call (502) 255-7770.