Reported by Bill Knight of the El Paso Times ~~Monday, October 24, 2005~~
The man, quite simply, owns the most precious of gifts. He carries it deep in his heart, way down there in his soul.
Bill Eschenbrenner journeys into each new day with a joy, a love … with a deep passion for what he does.
“It’s funny,” he said. “I can’t explain it. But it’s something I’ve loved since I found my first club in the neighborhood back in Fort Worth. And there was never a doubt. I knew what I would do. And I still love it. Every day. It was like I was born to do it. I’ve never had a single day where I didn’t want to go to work.”
Bill Eschenbrenner is 67 years old now and still spends much of each day on his most beloved turf — a golf course. Any golf course. He has long been a very visible face in the city, one of the faces of El Paso. And the passion on that face — and within — has never waned.
El Pasoan Kristi Albers, a 20-year veteran of the LPGA Tour, said, “Bill cares so much about people and he just cares so much about golf. He is really passionate about golf. I was injured and I told him I took three months off without hitting a ball. Bill couldn’t believe it. I don’t think he could take even a week away from the game.”
Eschenbrenner, still professional emeritus at El Paso Country Club, recently received one of the nation’s highest golf awards, being named National PGA Golf Professional of the Year. “It’s the biggest honor I could ever receive in my career,” he said quietly.
He grew up in Fort Worth, learning some of the more colorful intimacies of the game from some of the sport’s more colorful characters. He was a 14-year-old caddie at Worth Hills Municipal Golf Course when he began learning to play. Soon, he was a high-school kid playing in the madcap midst of writer Dan Jenkins and his cronies at what they called Many of the stories ended up in the now defunct Fort Worth Press.
Laughing, Eschenbrenner said, “Those stories were hilarious and the sad thing is, they were all true.”
They played everything for a buck or two or more and the games were hardly restricted to any stuffy structures. They chipped onto porches. They putted onto a crack in the sidewalk. They once played from the first tee to the 12th green and from the 13th tee to the 18th green at Goat Hills. And then they expanded.
Laughing at the recollection, Eschenbrenner said, “We once played from the first tee at Goat Hills to the first green at Colonial Country Club. We played through a parking lot at TCU, through a vacant lot, right through a barbed wire fence and right through the Colonial members onto the first green. There were about 10 of us.”
Eschenbrenner is almost a permanent part of the landscape of this city through his love of golf. He became the assistant pro at El Paso Country Club in 1961. He served two years as head professional of a nine-hole course in Jal, N.M., from 1963 to 1964.
“That was like getting your PhD in golf; you learned every aspect of running a club,” he said.
He then settled in as head professional at El Paso Country Club in 1965 — and has been an integral part of that scene since.
Before all that, though, he was quite the talented young golfer. And he stepped alongside some of the game’s legends back in Fort Worth.
“I won the Fort Worth Junior City Championship when I was 16,” he said. “Ernie Vossler (PGA professional) got me a junior membership over at Colonial Country Club and I was able to meet all the members.”
He won Colonial’s club championship twice, when he was 17 and 18. He also won the Fort Worth Men’s City Championship while still in high school.
“The final of that tournament was 36 holes, and Ben Hogan came out to watch me play nine holes,” he said. “That was pretty awesome.”
Eschenbrenner got a full scholarship to the University of North Texas, playing on one of the country’s elite teams. They were second to the University of Houston by one shot at the NCAA Championships one of those years. He finished his degree at North Texas and followed Horatio Alger’s age-old advice. He went west … all the way to El Paso.
And he has been here ever since — save that two-year sabbatical in Jal.
“Bill is such an excellent teacher,” long-time professional Steve Haskins said. “One of the best in the country. He is the consummate golf professional and businessman. The number of people he has touched is amazing.”
Eschenbrenner has worked with the great and the near-great, helping hone the game of many young golfers along his journey. But he has also been an influence on the city’s golf in other ways. He helped get the UTEP golf team going by starting the program’s fund-raising arm, The Century Club. He is also responsible for the idea of the city’s best golf event, the Sun Bowl’s Western Refining College All-America Golf Classic — a tournament that has brought young collegians like Tiger Woods and Davis Love III and Payne Stewart and David Duval and John Daly and … literally a Who’s Who on today’s PGA Tour, to El Paso Country Club.
“I was so proud to be the head pro at El Paso Country Club,” he said. “The club was struggling a little when I first got here. Coronado Country Club had just been built, so the membership was split. And the course was not in real good shape. But the membership allowed me to do the things to make it the great course it is. Those were a lot of fun times.”
For many years now, Eschenbrenner has extended his golf influence. He has leased the old Cielo Vista Golf Course from the city and turned it into a much nicer public course, with the new name of Lone Star Golf Course.
One long-time fixture at El Paso Country Club has been former UTEP basketball coach Don Haskins.
“I met Bill the first day he arrived here,” Haskins said. “The thing I remember most was the course was in terrible shape, and within a couple of years Bill had that turned around. There were fairways with no grass; half a fairway. Now it is just luxurious. Bill is a great teacher and he is a perfectionist. He will be out there playing at Lone Star, riding in a cart and he will see a couple of weeds and he’ll go right over and pull them up.”
Eschenbrenner has also always found time to take care of his own game, his own passion. He shot a 62 in his youth. He also has nine holes in one. Nine.
“Those are always exciting,” he said. “Every one is a special moment. My first one was very special. I was still in high school, and I was playing in an exhibition. There was Babe Zaharias, George Bayer and Ernie Vossler (all professional golf greats). Someone had dropped out and they put me in there, and I aced the 15th hole. That was pretty special.”
But then again, every day is special when you have that gift.
It has been a long journey since that teenager in Fort Worth picked up a 5-iron and began swinging it all over the neighborhood.
“I don’t know why. As I said earlier, it was like I was born to do it.”
He was given that special gift. And it has been a joy forever. He has taken good care of it, shared it with others and nurtured it for a lifetime.
Bill Knight may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6171