Over the years many golfers have, under their breath or out loud for all to hear, cursed the greens on the Snow Hill Country Club golf course.
Love them or hate them, as Bud Lewis says, “They are by far … the greens are the signature piece of Snow Hill.”
Dr. Willard Lane spent two years designing and hand raking a lot of those greens at Snow Hill more than 30 years ago. Lane and many others led the way in taking Snow Hill Country Club from a nine-hole layout to an 18-hole course with some of the most tantalizing putting surfaces in the area.
Lane passed away April 23, 2022. He was 98 years old. A memorial service will be held at a later date.
“One outing (at Snow Hill) we were playing together and Willard was a great putter. He was making all these putts. He was making 20-footers, 10-footers. I was laughing. At the time, I was struggling to putt the greens here, just being my second year here. I asked him how he was able to putt the greens so well here and he said, ‘I designed these greens. I know where they’re going to break,’” said Snow Hill Country Club Pro Michael Deters.
Dennis Acomb is a golf course owner and designer and was a consultant on Snow Hill’s redesigned layout back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“In 1989, 1990, I had the pleasure of working in close association with Dr. Willard Lane for the redesign and construction of Snow Hill Country Club,” said Acomb. “After our two-year collaboration on the Snow Hill project, Willard and I had remained very good friends. Hearing that he has recently passed brings me grief and sadness.
“On the other hand, knowing that he had such a long, active life brings me admiration and respect. What a great guy. Energetic, industrious and driven — some might say to a fault. He knew and liked everyone. My impression of Willard is that he would step up and do anything possible to help anyone who needed it. He sure stepped up to help me with Snow Hill Country Club. He and I made a great team. I will never forget Willard and the friendship we had.”
As a young boy, Lane delivered the Wilmington News Journal in the area around Wilmington College and knew many of the college’s professors. He attended WC just one year, 1941-42, but later said, “I owe everything to Wilmington College. I don’t know where I’d be if not for Wilmington College.”
After attending four colleges, doing two tours of duty in the military and a marriage to his beloved Ruth, Lane returned to Wilmington for good. His dental practice on North South Street was a community staple.
“He’s really been a mentor, almost like a father figure for me,” said Lewis, the longtime Wilmington College men’s soccer coach and Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “He always took an interest in athletics at Wilmington College. I loved to bring him over to the college and have lunch with my players. Wilmington’s story is a beautiful one and Willard is one who loved it and valued it.”
In addition to family, golf was a staple in Lane’s life. He befriended golfing legend Arnold Palmer and played many top level amateur tournaments in the Cincinnati area.
Upon his retirement as a dentist, Lane was called upon to head the expansion of Snow Hill Country Club. Deters said Lane gave credit to Snow Hill’s redesign to Acomb saying, “Denny gets the credit because he designed the golf course. I just moved the dirt around here.”
Deters said much of Lane’s work on the greens was accomplished with his own two hands.
“Sometimes when you go to a golf course, they use machinery to level the greens,” said Deters, who started at Snow Hill in 2015. “Willard actually built those by hand; it’s unique. Those greens are some of the most difficult greens I’ve putted in the state of Ohio. There are little nuances, subtle breaks you don’t see with your eye that makes them so difficult.”
That the greens were so challenging came from Lane’s love of the Green Township layout.
“He really thought this place was special,” Deters said. “He’d played Augusta and other great courses. He told me Snow Hill was special, not only in Ohio, but compared to courses across the country. He really loved this place.”
And the place loved him back.
“I lost a real dear friend,” Lewis said. “He was such a model of living life well to the end. He had a demeanor and attitude and mentality that truly was special. It was uplifting to spend time with him. He will be sorely missed in our community but we are a better community for his time here.”