Longhills' lasting legacy
Mark Twain is credited with the quote, "Golf is a good walk spoiled."
Obviously, Twain never experienced a round of golf at Longhills among the rolling hills and tree-lined course that became a part of this community over a span of six decades.
Longhills is more than a golf course, it's a piece of county history woven into the fabric of many lives and families.
Longhills opened as a 9-hole course built by Bill Martin in 1955 and through various renovations and growth, the course extended to a full 18-hole, 6,400-yard layout in the 1960s.
The Martins were the original owners.
The golf course became the home of local high school teams. When a large pool with diving boards replaced a smaller wading pool near the course clubhouse, swim teams from area schools soon made Longhills home for training.
In 1986 Bud Busken and Jeff Hamm purchased a majority interest in the course. The course, swimming pool and clubhouse were improved and the popularity of golf soared in the 1990s.
At the height of the golf boom, more than 35,000 rounds were played at Longhills each year. In the early 2000s, the popularity of the sport began to level off and rounds played at the course started a decline that continued until the course closed in 2012. Rounds played had dropped to approximately 16,000 in the final year of operation, a decrease of nearly 20,000 rounds per year.
Bud Busken says the increasing cost of maintenance measured against the drop in revenue from decreasing rounds played on the course led to the decision to close the course.
"People often ask me: 'What has happened to golf? What's wrong with golf?'
"I tell them nothing's happened to golf," Busken said. "It's always taken four hours to play a round of golf. What's happened to the game of golf is that the world's too busy."
Busken says that in today's economic climate, golf courses survive on subsidies from private membership dues or from city parks department budgets. Busken said Longhills' survival was based on "the subsidy of the people who walked through the doors of the clubhouse" as a community golf course.
Busken says the possibility of Longhills being revived under a plan by Lindsey Management Company is the opportunity to bring back the course as the community icon it been historically.
The Junior Golf program at Longhills was started by Martin and continued by Hamm.
"I started at Longhills on March 12, 1976, and the rest is history," Hamm said. "I will never forget the opportunity Mr. Martin gave me. He simply said 'you've got six months and if all goes well, we are good. If not, we will part friends.'
"I've been there ever since," Hamm said. "The people of Benton, Saline County and all over the state have been very kind to me and my family and we truly cherish that. Having been given the opportunity for Bud Busken and me to purchase majority stock in Longhills Golf Course in 1986 has been a blessing and I think Bud feels the same way."
Busken and his wife, Mary Jean, concur with Hamm. "The people of this community have always been behind us and we have been blessed," she said. Numerous groups and organizations utilized the course for tournaments and fundraisers, each paying their own way, except for the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County.
"We always supported the Boys & Girls Club," Bud Busken said. "The work they do is phenomenal and we always did what we could to help."
Both of the Buskens feel the support they have received from the community has been a blessing, especially during times of personal hardship.
One of Bud Busken's favorite moments at Longhills occurred when two golfers came through the course during a series of tournaments and qualified for the Nationwide Tour.
The Buskens and Hamms have been friends for decades and continue to have contact with each other. For many in the community and county, they are considered as close as family and responsible for memories that will last a lifetime.
That's the legacy left by Longhills.