Hutton: Bob Farag taking on the task of restoring Gleason, his hometown course
By Mike hutton email@example.com/648-3139 May 5, 2012 11:18PM
Bob Farag, photographed Thursday May 3, 2012, is the new general manager of the South Gleason Golf Course. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 7, 2012 8:31AM
GARY — Bob Farag looks resplendent in a yellow golf shirt with his collar open and his face a deep brown from the hours he has spent on the mower at South Gleason Park.
Farag gets giddy when he talks about how he worked a full day on a Progressive Mower, a lumbering five-deck cutting machine that he rented to trim the deep, snarled thatches of weeds and grass that had overrun some of the low spots on the fairways on the front nine.
Farag loves South Gleason like his own child. He grew up playing golf there as a kid, hitching a ride from his Brunswick neighborhood, playing a full round for 50 cents. It never loved him back — at least not the way he wanted it to — until this year, when Farag was named the manager of the course in March. That’s OK for Farag. His love for the place was always unconditional.
“I like it,” he said of working at Gleason. “It’s in my blood. You do something for 25 years and you sit at home for a couple of three years and you say, ‘What am I doing?’ ”
Farag’s absence from the game wasn’t by choice. The same flood that rendered Gleason unplayable for a year nearly knocked Farag out of the golf business for good.
He still owns the Griffith Golf Center — what’s left of it. It turned into a lake after the storm in 2008. Then, Farag lost everything functional about the place: the course, his clubhouse, the parking lot, the 55 acres it sat on and the hundreds of thousands of dollars he thought it was worth. His retirement job — he had worked in the Richard Hatcher administration in economic development — was in shambles. Farag still is mired in an acrimonious lawsuit with the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission about the status of the property, which he says should’ve been protected financially because it was in a flood zone.
That same flood practically wiped out the back-nine fairways at Gleason, turning it into a barely functioning course for the last four years.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for the golf calamity.
With the economy tanking in 2008, the city had no money to fix up the fairways or mow the greens properly.
The situation reached a low point last year when the course had no manager, only a part-time greenskeeper, a building full of equipment that was mostly in disrepair and a handful of volunteers that couldn’t do any substantive work because the city was fearful of liability issues if they got hurt. Navigating the course for a round at Gleason was an adventure, with the shaggy greens and patchy, long fairways. Playing, for the most part, was optional.
Farag had tried hard to get back into the business, applying for a job at Centennial Park in Munster when it opened and at Gleason in 2008 after the city let John Lowe go. He lost out both times.
Politics kept him out of Gleason last time.
This time, when Lowe and Farag applied for the job again, new mayor Karen Freeman Wilson decided to go with new blood and Farag, with his Gary roots (he still lives in Miller) and more than two decades of experience in the golf business, was the perfect fit.
Farag also had support from the regulars that still congregated in the clubhouse, talking about the issues of the day before meandering out for an adventurous round.
“We twisted his arm,” Abe Spencer, a volunteer said.
Said Farag: “I was happy to come.”
Farag really is spending his days fixing up the course for practically nothing. His salary for 2012 is $14,000 — a number that was so embarrassing he wouldn’t reveal it.
His turnaround plan involves accessing help from different layers of people in the city and regulars who want to revive the course. Spencer, a certified welder, and two other volunteers, are cutting grass, fixing up equipment and shoveling dirt.
Farag brought in Donnie Plough, the former pro at Lost Marsh who was laid off this year. Plough is mowing the grass. He’s one of five paid members of his staff.
Farag said he hopes to have the course in good shape by the middle of summer, and great shape by next summer, when they can reseed the fairways on Nos. 9, 11, 13 and 16. In the meantime, they are rolling out the welcome mat for the wayward golfers who took Gleason off their play list until it gets a facelift. Soon, they are running a $10 special for cart and greens fee to welcome back old customers.
Farag is digging in the dirt, dreaming big thoughts. He wants to get 20,000 rounds there in a couple of years.
Working in the dirt again has been rejuvenating.
“I got used to doing nothing,” he said. “My weight went up 30 pounds. I had do something or I wasn’t going to be able to go through the damn door. Retirement is fine for six months or a year, but after that you’ve got to do something. I was playing a lot of golf but I was playing so bad I didn’t want to play. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“I really wanted to take this job. I want to get this course back.”
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