Fate brings young golf pro to club


— Sometimes life's best gifts come when they're not expected.

That's what Greg Koehler discovered one afternoon while standing on the practice green at the Steamboat Golf Club.

It was less than three weeks into the season and the longtime golf club board member could see that the long hours and stress of opening the course had taken its toll on the club's new general manager, George Dalrymple. Koehler feared the manager might not want to stay with the job.

His instincts were right.

"I wasn't overwhelmed," the 68-year-old Dalrymple said. "But I had been working some really long hours and because of health reasons I needed to resign."

That's when fate intervened.

A young golf pro from Virginia approached Koehler, who was busy fine-tuning his putting game before heading out on the course, and told him he was looking for a job.

"It only took five minutes for me to realize that this was the guy we needed," Koehler said.

The guy, Ernie Thiel, had just moved to Steamboat Springs with his wife, Katie, and 18-month-old fraternal twins, David and Ava. Thiel had fallen in love with the valley while visiting his in-laws, Bill and Kathy Cox, and decided it was the perfect place to raise their children.

The PGA apprentice, a designation one step below a fully certified pro, had been working at the Whiteflint Golf Park near his home before the move and was hoping to stay in the golf business when he arrived in Steamboat.

"I had just finished playing a round of golf and struck up a conversation with George (Dalrymple) and another golfer, Jim Denton," Thiel said. "I asked them if they needed any help and they introduced me to Greg. Things just took off from there."

Dalrymple submitted his letter of resignation the following day and Thiel was hired to take his place. Dalrymple said he doesn't have any bad feelings about the change in leadership -- in fact he thinks it's a good thing.

"The success of the club was my number one priority," Dalrymple said. "When I met Ernie Thiel, I knew he was going to be someone of value to the club, so I introduced him to Greg."

Thiel credits his new job to good timing but Koehler thinks of it more like a gift.

"He has a firm grasp on what it takes to run a golf course," Koehler said. "He also has a lot of great ideas, which have been welcomed by the board."

The club lost head pro Dennis Johnson last fall.

Thiel said he would make sure the staff continues to take care of members' needs, while doing everything possible to attract new golfers to the nine-hole course west of town.

"This has been a huge transition in management," Thiel said. "It's going to take a little time to adjust to that."

But that doesn't mean the club will be standing still.

This year, the course received its liquor license, and plans for a new clubhouse to be built this fall are already in the works.

Thiel said the pro shop will upgrade its merchandise and will offer club repair and custom club fitting.

"I want to bring our club up to speed with what other golf clubs out there are offering," Thiel said.

Thiel said he would also offer teaching opportunities to adults and juniors this season.

Steamboat golfers also will be able to cash in on the club's new twilight special on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The special includes unlimited golf and cart use for $20 after 5:30 p.m. A foursome can pay $60 after 5:30 p.m. for unlimited golf and two carts.

Normally, a nine-hole round costs $18, and 18 holes is $27, without a cart. Carts can be rented for $9 for nine holes and $18 for 18 holes.

Thiel hopes the twilight offer will appeal to golfers who want to grab a few hours on the golf course after work. He also hopes it will bring golfers back to the course on a more regular basis.

"This is a beautiful golf course and a great golfing opportunity," Thiel said.

He is excited about his chance to work and live in the Yampa Valley. He has already tested the waters of the Yampa and admits to being an avid fly fisherman and hockey fanatic.

Thiel said he plays a pretty good game of golf but never really had dreams of becoming a PGA touring professional.

"I've competed at the professional level and I know I don't have what it takes to play golf on the tour," Thiel said.

He was a professional motorcycle racer before an accident left him with a broken back. After the accident, he turned to golf to fill his competitive appetite.

-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com


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