It’s been a whirlwind last five months for Mark Bergman.
Bergman, who was the head PGA professional at Merrill Hills Country Club in Waukesha, was approached by his cousin about possibly investing his passion for his career into a golf course.
By mid-October, the 43-year-old learned that Old Hickory Golf Club was on the market. He immediately jumped at the chance to own a course that has a wide reputation in a state with a rising national golf profile.
“It happened so quickly,” Bergman said. “The sale was taking place on Nov. 22, so we had about five weeks to do our due diligence.
“I knew it was the right fit for me.”
Bergman and his cousin purchased Old Hickory for $1.1 million and closed the sale on Jan. 2. As fast as the sale came together, he admits he’s still getting used to the idea of being a golf course owner.
“It’s surreal,” Bergman said. “In a lot of ways, it’s a bit overwhelming.”
A native of Wauwatosa, Bergman graduated from Lawrence University in 1993 and was a financial planner for four years.
But he always found himself on the golf course.
“I’d rearrange my schedule to play a lot of golf,” said Bergman with a smile.
Four years later, he decided to leave his job in Appleton and moved to Vero Beach, Fla., where he went to work doing odd jobs such as washing carts and shagging balls on the practice range.
By 2001, he earned his PGA membership as a club professional. He has worked at four different courses — Bristlecone Pines Golf Club (Hartland), Westmoor Country Club (Brookfield) and Chenequa Country Club before serving as the head pro the last seven years at Merrill Hills Golf Club (now known as The Legend at Merrill Hills).
Bergman is a two-time PGA Merchandiser of the Year (2009, 2012) and has certification in six areas — retail, instruction, general management, ownership, executive management and golf operations. Of the more than 27,000 PGA professionals in the country, less than 2 percent have all of those designations.
But the decision to purchase Old Hickory provided him with an opportunity to start something on his own. He said the course is in excellent shape and all of the infrastructure was essentially intact.
He added that the board and membership at Old Hickory were very proactive in coming to this decision.
“Unlike most clubs, they sold it before it was too late,” Bergman said. “They could have operated it themselves for several years without any issues.
“Honestly, that’s not the case at most clubs.”
Bergman feels that having one owner make the tough decisions takes the burden off the membership and allows them to get back to the reason why they joined in the first place — to have fun.
“Now, they can focus on coming out here to enjoy a round of golf or a beverage and dinner,” Bergman said.
Bergman also said he wants Old Hickory to become a larger part of the Beaver Dam and surrounding communities. He said he wants to reset the dues structure for the club to make it more approachable for golfers and to become another place for great dining in the area.
He is even open to the idea of restarting a city golf tournament.
“We want to embrace the local community,” Bergman said. “This year, we want to have people come out and experience the course.
“Being successful in any business comes down to providing great customer service and giving them that great experience.”
Bergman said that he will be starting some cosmetic changes to the clubhouse soon to upgrade the look. There will also be an open house scheduled in February to invite the public to see the facility.
Bergman currently lives in Oconomowoc with his wife, Sarah, and four children, ages 3 to 11. He said he he won’t be moving in the immediate future, but it’s something they’ll look into once things settle down after the sale.
He’s excited to get started and to play the course as an owner for the first time.
“I love mature courses and that’s one of the real draws of Old Hickory,” Bergman said. “If you’re playing well, you can score here. But if you’re not, it’s tough.
“There’s something about being on a golf course where you’re in that natural setting and it’s just you and the golf course. I like that.”