Christmas Lake Golf Course superintendent Kevin Laswell with, well, you know who. (Santa Claus’ real name is Ron Smith.) Photos by Rhonda Hunter
It’s always looking a lot like Christmas here.
In Santa Claus, Ind., you’ll find Frosty’s Fun Center, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, and Santa’s Candy Castle. Then there’s the post office — in December, it’s inundated with requests from folks around the world who want a holiday postmark from Santa Claus (the ZIP code, by the way, is 47579). Every year at this time, half a million postmarks come out of Santa Claus, population 2,400.
You’ll also see homes that keep their Christmas trees up for the entire year in Santa Claus, a southwest Indiana town that just in the past four years got a McDonald’s and Subway. Homes here will adorn their Christmas trees anytime depending on the holiday. At Halloween, for example, expect to see spooky ornaments.
It also probably comes as no surprise that where people play, golf gets into the act.
At the turnoff leading to Christmas Lake Golf Course, where Kevin Laswell, 40, is the superintendent, the 20-foot sign fits the town’s theme. It’s an image of Santa Claus, beard and all, swinging a golf club. In the background, of course, is a decorated Christmas tree. In fact, there is a lighted Christmas tree in the Christmas Lake Golf Course clubhouse. Years ago, 8-foot-tall evergreens served as 150-yard markers throughout the golf course.
His own story may not rank as a Christmas miracle, but Laswell’s rise in the golf industry has been nothing short of spectacular. He never attended a turfgrass school, and he worked in construction — nothing signaled becoming a golf course superintendent. Not until his in-laws purchased a golf course.
Russ and Linda Winkler bought Christmas Lake Golf Course in 2001. They needed a superintendent. Who better than their daughter Julie’s husband, Kevin, they thought.
“I kind of fell into this,” Laswell says.
Maybe so, but Laswell, who has been a member of GCSAA for 13 years, eventually dived into it, learning from people such as Harrell’s sales rep Matt Schreiber and Larry Hall, who used to work for Harrell’s.
“He definitely is a self-made superintendent,” says Andy Minnette, salesman for Tenbarge Seed & Turfgrass Supplies. “He has relied on people such as myself and didn’t act like he knows everything. He’s not scared to ask questions. You feel he needs you, which makes the sales guys feel good. He just has always tried to better himself.”
Laswell’s mother-in-law, Linda Winkler, thinks she and her husband made a wise hire in Kevin. “He knows what needs to be done, and he’s going to get it done,” she says.
At one time, Golf Digest ranked Christmas Lake Golf Course one of the top 75 public courses in America. Christmas Lake PGA professional Tom Nelson credits Laswell with making the facility notable. “The fairways used to be bare dirt, and the greens were an old strain of bentgrass,” Nelson says. “Kevin showed that if you have the right work ethic and keep an open mind that you can be successful. He doesn’t make rash decisions, doesn’t panic, which is a good thing.”
Yes, Santa Claus — the town in southwest Indiana — is real. It’s home to more than 2,000 people.
Steve Merkel, who is a part-time laborer for Laswell, says, “Anybody that saw this course before they (Winklers) took it over and see it now would be amazed. Everything has improved. The biggest thing about Kevin is if he didn’t know something, he wouldn’t pretend and wouldn’t do something haphazardly. He would find out the correct way to do it.”
Laswell, father to son Hunter and daughter Halle, admits it gets pretty festive at Christmas Lake Golf Course this time of year. They even stage a tournament called “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” an event that usually has a waiting list and sometimes calls for Laswell to scrape ice and remove snow from the course. If that or anything else needs to be addressed, Laswell always seems to come through like Santa on Christmas Eve.
“I’m just an old farm boy who has had a lot of help,” Laswell says.
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.