Chances of a lifetime
David Beanblossom’s knack for defying death eventually set him on the unlikely path of becoming a golf course superintendent.
Photos by Kim Jones Photography
When he peers into the bathroom mirror, David Beanblossom reflects on his past. It isn’t pretty. The 8-inch, half-oval-shaped scar on his left cheek is, as he describes it, “big and gnarly.”
More than four decades ago, as Beanblossom’s family was traveling home on rain-soaked State Road 135 in Brownstown, Ind., disaster struck. David, then only 8, sat wedged in the Buick’s front seat between his father, Jim, and mother, Anna. His sister, Sherry, was in the back seat with a friend. A pickup truck coming around a curve lost control and smashed into the Beanblossoms head-on.
“Nobody wore seat belts then. My head ended up between the gas and brake pedals. That’s how I got the gash on my cheek,” says Beanblossom, who suffered the most serious injuries. “Mom held me in her lap like a baby, and she pressed a handkerchief against my face to stop the bleeding. I was unconscious. When I woke up and saw the blood, I passed out again.”
The scar serves as a poignant reminder to him that life is fragile. That every day is a gift. It also shows that he is a survivor — something he would prove over and over.
“I should have been dead twice over,” he says.
The second time he was spared — 15 years ago — would be a real life-changer. A successful harness racing driver, Beanblossom was catapulted 20 feet in the air during a race and was left bloody and mangled after the mishap. At least one person thought he was a goner.
As is his style, though, Beanblossom regrouped. “I cheated death,” he says.
The golf course industry should be thankful that Beanblossom cheats. Facing a crossroads in his life following that perilous ordeal in 2002, he gave up harness racing. In one of those it-was-meant-to-be scenarios, Beanblossom eventually landed a job as an $8-an-hour crew member at Chariot Run Golf Club in Laconia, Ind., whose logo depicts a horse pulling a passenger in a chariot. The faceless figure in the logo may as well be him.
“Isn’t that the craziest thing?” Bean-blossom says.
Crazy, it appears, works. “Our course is in fantastic shape. It comes from the drive David has,” says Jeff Krohn, PGA professional and director of golf at Chariot Run.
Beanblossom, a 10-year GCSAA member, was a late-bloomer and a quick riser in the profession. He did not work on a golf course until 2006, when he was 39, yet Beanblossom had played the game (he’s an 8 handicap) and, after becoming established at Chariot Run, took online turfgrass courses through Penn State. In 2011, he was named Chariot Run’s head superintendent.
Beanblossom, schooled by faith, has certainly defied the odds in life’s journey.
“I think everything that happened to me happened for a reason. It happened to put me where I am right now. I am lucky to be anywhere,” says Beanblossom, 50.
Most 18-year-olds have their license. Not many of them, though, have this type of license.
At 18, Beanblossom earned a pari-mutuel license to participate as a harness racing driver in events in which betting was permitted. Early on, you could have wagered that Beanblossom would eventually pursue this line of work. It was all he knew, really. The family farm in Indiana — on the Ohio River and 45 minutes west of Louisville — featured Standardbred horses and a half-mile oval training track that included banked turns. After school, Beanblossom would clean stalls and jog horses. “Something about the horses I fell in love with,” he says. “It was fun. I liked the reward of preparing them to race.”
Jim Beanblossom, 84, knew the youngest of his four children had a knack for horses. “If you were afraid of one, you might as well forget about it — they knew it. But he got along with them,” Jim says. “David’s always been smart. Whatever he did, he did the best he could, I’ll put it that way.”
David wasted no time showing that he belonged on the harness racing circuit. In July 1984, not long after obtaining his license, Beanblossom won his very first race on a horse named She’s Hilarious. “She was petite, not much bigger than a Great Dane, and as red as the ace of hearts,” he says.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Beanblossom was establishing traits that would prepare him to be a superintendent. “Working with horses and turfgrass is so much alike that it’s scary,” he says. “With horses, as you do with turfgrass, you come up with a plan of attack, you nurture every day, and you’re working on ways of peaking the golf course, whether it’s for an event or a certain time of the year.”
Harness racing became a serious moneymaking proposition for Beanblossom, who won more than $1 million from horses he trained. He eventually moved to New York to train horses at Yonkers Raceway, but he wasn’t in his happy place. His second marriage — which included the birth of a daughter, Nicole — was ending in divorce.
To find solace during those troubled times, the self-professed childhood bookworm (his favorite was “Barney Beagle”) found himself at the library less and less, and at the bar more and more. He became a binge drinker. “Tequila. Chased it with beer. Not every night. But when I drank, as everything I did in life, whether it was training horses or being a golf course superintendent, I always gave 120 percent. It was the same way with bad things. I didn’t know how to quit,” he says.
Beanblossom moved back to Indiana in 1995, and started harness racing again. And, at a high school reunion, he reconnected with Lisa, the sweetheart of his youth. “We had dated in high school, but it got way too serious. I needed to sow my wild oats,” he says.
Lisa, meanwhile, had an inkling that he was meant for her. “Even in junior high, I think I knew he was the one,” she says. “He wrote me a love letter. It showed how much compassion he has, how caring he is.”
Obviously, he wised up. The couple will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this year, two days after Christmas. “It took me all of those years to realize she was the one I needed the whole time,” Bean-blossom says.
July 24, 2002.
Nothing has been the same for Bean-blossom since that day at the La Porte (Ind.) County Fair. Beanblossom was there for a harness race, but Lisa was concerned before it even began. “The track was bad to start with. They’d had a lot of rain. They were working on it by dragging bedsprings around the track,” she says. “It seemed to me an accident was going to happen — it was just a matter of when.”
Her fears came true. In David’s race on the limestone track, the horse of the driver in front of him tumbled, causing a chain reaction that launched Beanblossom out of his sulky (the two-wheel cart in which he sits directly behind the horse). He flew high into the air after his horse, Bubba Tubba, trampled the horse that had fallen.
Beanblossom (right) with assistant superintendent Brad Mercer. “I owe a lot to Dave. We really do work well together,” Mercer says.
What happened next can be best described as violent pandemonium. Bean-blossom was thrown into a metal guardrail (for safety reasons, nowadays these are made of more flexible material), leaving blood trickling down his left ankle and ripping his black, size 9½ boots off his feet. Perhaps the most gruesome detail is that although he was lying on his back, Beanblossom’s feet were twisted, facing the ground.
“I have not seen feet facing the other way, but I have seen dislocated hips and knees facing the wrong way. Very sickening,” says Steve Wolf, a harness racing expert who this month will be inducted into the national Harness Racing Hall of Fame.
As people scrambled to aid Beanblossom, another harness racer told Lisa, who had hurried to the scene from the opposite side of the track, that he thought her husband had died in the crash.
“One of the guys said, ‘Do you want me to call an ambulance?’ I said, ‘Yeah. He’s not getting up,’” Lisa says. Even now, speaking about it is difficult for her. She pauses. Gets choked up.
Beanblossom’s brand-new Columbia blue, royal blue and bright gold one-piece racing uniform had been cut off his body by EMTs. The blunt force of the wreck had torn chunks out of his riding helmet. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors determined he had suffered a concussion, a fractured shoulder, a bicep tear and a partial tear of his left Achilles’ heel. “Lisa was scared to death. She later told me her biggest fear during the ambulance ride was whether they were going to amputate my (left) foot,” he says.
Randy Dever, another harness racer, wasn’t a participant in the race but was in attendance that fateful day. “I was one of the first people there for him. I thought he broke both legs. I heard about an hour later that he was going to be OK. I thought, ‘How did that happen so soon?’ He’s tough,” Dever says.
The recovery period would reveal personality changes in Beanblossom. His memory would also suffer. In the days before GPS technology was common, he once had to call Lisa as he drove to the orthopedic surgeon. “I got lost going to a place I’d driven many times before,” he says.
He still struggles with his memory. Recently, Lisa was wearing a gold University of Indiana necklace that David had given her back when Bob Knight coached the Hoosiers’ men’s basketball team. “He asked me, ‘Where did you get that?’ He had given it to me a long time ago when we were still dating,” she says. “God bless him. His memory’s not the best.”
Neither is his balance. “It’s hard to walk uphill. I can’t get that (left) foot flat on the ground,” Beanblossom says, “and I’ve fallen into a wall more than once. My first steps each morning remind me of the wreck every day.”
A new direction
When Beanblossom’s demeanor around his horses shifted, he knew it was time for a change.
“I used to be patient with horses. From then on (post-accident), I’d fly off the handle if something didn’t go right. I did a complete 180,” he says.
Although he would race again, his time in the sport didn’t last long. Lisa even stopped watching him race. Instead, she’d turn her back, find a quiet place, and pray. “Another accident happened right in front of me. I told David I couldn’t do it anymore,” she says, concerned that he’d be severely hurt or worse. “The joke was that I was too young to wipe drool from his chin.”
At that time, Beanblossom’s brother, Steve, was employed at Chariot Run, and Steve suggested that he apply for a job there. He followed through, and even with no golf course experience, he landed a position on the maintenance crew and washed his hands of harness racing. (Beanblossom admits to being a germaphobe — he washes his hands about 20 times a day and plows through lots of Germ-X.) “My plan was to keep three or four horses, work 40 hours, and get health insurance,” he says.
In time, Beanblossom gained superintendent Roger Meier’s affinity. “He had patience with me,” Beanblossom says. “For 45 minutes, in the middle of a workday, we’d stand in the middle of a green. Basically, he was saying ‘Let’s have class right here.’”
When Meier departed for Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, he recommended that Beanblossom replace him. Beanblossom was named interim superintendent in 2010. The following year, Chariot Run dropped the interim tag and made Beanblossom head superintendent. And perhaps it truly was fate all along: The original owners of the piece of land that would become Chariot Run in 2003, Gordon and Jean Brown, were like a second family to Beanblossom growing up, and he’d actually baled hay on the property during his younger years.
“He is one of those guys, in this day and age, that are few and far between,” says Meier, a 20-year GCSAA member. “He did whatever you asked, was engaged, didn’t let money outweigh what he’d get in growth and experience. I just put the playbook in front of him, and he ran with it.”
David and Lisa Beanblossom still enjoy time with horses at their home in Indiana. They will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary on Dec. 27.
Beanblossom, now a board member for the Kentuckiana GCSA, oversees a links-style course, with bentgrass from tee to green, that totaled 23,000 rounds in 2016. Chariot Run assistant superintendent Brad Mercer says Beanblossom’s engagement doesn’t cease at the maintenance facility door.
“He likes to ask about my personal life, how I’m doing, how my family is doing. That, to me, is the biggest thing that stands out about him,” Mercer says. “He can be demanding. He wants to make sure everybody keeps up with the high standards we have here.”
Some of Beanblossom’s crew members are men and women who have come from nearby Butterfly Transformation House, a halfway home. “Giving them a safe place to work and a positive environment to get a fresh start in life has been a blessing for me,” says Beanblossom, who serves as a father figure to some of his employees and has regained some of the patience he temporarily lost following the racing accident.
David and Lisa Beanblossom still dabble in horses — Zipadeli and Gus are what Beanblossom calls “our yard ornaments.” Talk to him long enough, and you get the feeling that, while he may have shelved the idea of racing again, he hasn’t completely ruled out training horses for others to race. “Haven’t gone down that road yet. Not saying I won’t,” he says.
Beanblossom, whose favorite book now is the Bible, doesn’t fret over what the future holds. He gets it — how fortunate he is, that his expiration date was delayed on more than one occasion. That is out of his hands, he says. And he can live with that.
“I’m not scared of death,” Beanblossom says. “When God’s done with me here, he can take me home.”
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.