From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

A Little Slice of Heaven

Imagine, as a parent, your worst nightmare. You lose a child. For William Nobbe of Waterloo, Illinois, that nightmare came true the evening of Super Bowl Sunday, 1990. “About 12:30 that night, the minister and the coroner were at the back door, ” remembers Nobbe. “You kind of know something ain’t right when you see those two people.”

What Nobbe learned was that his eldest child and only daughter, Ann, had been killed in a car accident.

While a parent might harbor a wide range of emotions after such an event, Nobbe came to one important decision in the days and months following his daughter’s death. He would continue to build, and then operate, a golf course—a facility envisioned by his daughter, crafted in her memory and named in her honor: Annbriar.

The real story of Annbriar actually began two years before Ann’s death. Nobbe had been a third-generation car dealer, selling Chevrolets and Buicks. When General Motors told him in 1988 that he had to spend a bunch of money to upgrade his dealership, he said no and sold the business. He decided to retire to his 345-acre farm in a rural area southeast of St. Louis.

Understand that William Nobbe, fifty-nine, is a big man—mostly heart. At six-foot-three and 250 pounds, he has hands the size of baseball gloves. He loves working outdoors. Having been a car dealer, he is also mechanical. After selling his dealership, he was engrossed in his farm and helping out his neighbors.

That lasted until Ann came home one night from her job in real estate and told her dad, “I’ve been thinking about it. How about building a golf course?” Ann, after all, was a good athlete who had recently taken up the game. She was hooked. She also recognized a need for public facilities in the St. Louis area.

Nobbe was floored. “I didn’t play golf then, ” he said. “I thought golf was for people who had nothing to do.”

Ann wouldn’t let the idea die. “I didn’t know anything about golf, ” her father lamented, “but I got to thinking about it, and the more I thought, it made sense.”

Nobbe did his homework. He talked to architects and possible partners. Not until Nobbe met Bob Kelsey, owner of Crystal Highlands Golf Club in Festus, Missouri, did he decide to move forward. “He was wonderful, ” said Nobbe of Kelsey. “He showed me his books and everything.”

By late 1989, everything was in place. Nobbe had hired course architect Michael Hurdzan, and although there were some concerns about routing, Ann’s dream was seemingly going to come true. Nobbe had found the money he needed to fund the course, some through friends and some by offering equity in the course in exchange for labor. Ann was ready to quit her job and help her dad run the course.

Then Ann Nobbe died. After the tragedy, Nancy, Nobbe’s wife, didn’t believe the course should move forward. “Ann and her mom were real close, ” says Nobbe of his wife. “But there was no doubt in my mind. I had to. It was her [Ann’s] idea. ”Work on the course started that May.

Enter Dana Fry, Hurdzan’s design partner and the on-site person selected to oversee construction of the course. “The guy [William Nobbe] is just literally as good of a man as I have ever met in my entire life, ” says Fry.

“I’ll never forget the first time I went there and met William and Nancy. William tells me the story of what happened to his daughter, and by the time he’s done, everybody’s crying. He told me how important this golf course was and how they need to build it in her memory. It just became way more than a job. It became part of your heart.”

Fry was on-site for a year and a half. He and his crew moved almost 1 million cubic yards of earth to fashion the course. “Everybody who worked on that job is personally attached to it because of William, ” says Fry. “He was just like one of the guys, [he] did everything.”

Annbriar Golf Course opened for play on May 28, 1993. Since then, it has garnered rave reviews both locally and nationally. Annbriar is public, and no homes will ever be built around the course. Nobbe wouldn’t have it any other way.

Since the opening, Nobbe has been a fixture at the course, sometimes spending twelve to sixteen hours a day to ensure everything is right. He’s been known to cook breakfast or make lunch for customers, even change flat tires in the parking lot. He absolutely loves what he does. “People come in here for fun, ” Nobbe says. “They’re coming in the right frame of mind.” He feels his job is to have them leave the same way.

The experience has turned Nobbe into an avid golfer. He and his wife travel constantly, comparing their course to others more well-known. “I wouldn’t trade even-up for Torrey Pines, ” says Nobbe. “I’d trade for their scenery.”

William Nobbe is honest, caring and outspoken. He maintains fierce pride in his facility and a huge soft spot in his heart for why it happened. “If you think it’s good and you know it, that’s all I need, ” says Nobbe about the course. “I really think this has been the best ten years of my life.”

The only way they could have been better is if Ann were alive. But Annbriar, William Nobbe’s personal legacy, thrives in her absence.

Gordon Wells

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