I did a double take Saturday while scrolling through my Facebook feed.
Other than a passing glance when driving by the old property out on County E, I hadn’t thought much about Hackbarth Hills in about 20 years.
An old sign was one of few reminders of the par-3 golf course, driving range and miniature golf course that dotted the landscape of my youth.
But on Saturday, there on Facebook, was a picture of that sign and the words: “Range Open Sat 12-4”
What? Hackbarth is back?
I’m sure I’m not alone around here in remembering the little course as a place where I learned how to play golf.
It had nine holes, with most of them ranging from 85 to 130 yards, if I remember correctly. But then, you came to No. 5, or was it 6? A 190-yard behemoth of a hole, lined the entire way down the right side by a grove of trees. At that time, to a middle schoolish golfer like me, 190 yards was probably the equivalent of a 700-yard par 5 to Tiger Woods.
In the late 90s, Hackbarth was a place where your parents felt safe dropping you off with a little cash for a couple hours, let you get some golf swings and a good walk in and then they could come back and pick you up.
In the year 2020, was that about to all come back? I had to find out.
The short answer is: Not really. But kind of. Maybe.
Tim Cullen (not the state senator, that’s his uncle) has got the driving range up back up and running. For five bucks, you can stop out there this Saturday afternoon and hit a bucket of balls. Amidst everything going on in the world, that sounds like a pleasant little escape with the potential for a trip down memory lane.
Cullen said he bought the property about a year and a half ago because it was tied into the purchase of a storage unit he was looking to buy.
“But I don’t have any plans to open the golf course,” Cullen told me Monday. “I don’t know how to maintain a golf course, and they had sold off some of the acreage that had some of the holes.
“It’s just going to be a driving range on Saturdays for a while. Maybe I’ll have time to clean up the mini golf and get that available to the public. But for right now the range on Saturdays is about all I can do.”
Cullen estimated nobody had been in the Hackbarth clubhouse in about a decade. He might try and get that spruced up to be available for group rentals when gatherings return in a post-pandemic world.
Meantime, the driving range is an activity available to folks as they inch back closer to some normalcy. Cullen, who does not have a golf ball picker and thus must collect all the balls himself with his dog, has safety precautions in place.
“It’s a big, open space outside, with plenty of room to spread out,” said Cullen, who is the president of Roundhouse Partners in Verona and is a lifelong Janesville resident who is on the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Board. “I pick the balls up and wash them off, put gloves on before I touch them again, try to keep it clean.
“The driving range was already there, a nice concrete pad. So I bought some new mats to hit off and bought some balls. And away we go.”
This past Saturday was the first day Cullen had the range open, and he said he had a few customers, as well as some other folks stop in to say hello because they saw action at Hackbarth for the first time in a long time.
“One guy brought his grandson out because he wanted to hit a bucket of balls with him and he thought it would be a good place to do it,” Cullen said.
“We’ll see how it goes. If it doesn’t take off, it doesn’t take off. But for now, if you’re looking for something to do, there you go.”
Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at email@example.com.