We're talking about Christmas Lake Golf Course, which isn't located at the North Pole, but in the southernmost portion of Indiana. The town's name is Santa Claus, and there's a theme park called Holiday World. Each Christmas, the local residents exchange gifts, drink egg nog and decorate, perhaps with a little more enthusiasm than most communities. And the only day Christmas Lake Golf Course is closed is Dec. 25.
Appropriately, the front nine of Christmas Lake winds its way into the Christmas Lake Village gated housing community. The back nine is routed through a beautiful hilly forest with some great elevation changes. When covered with snow, it's a winter wonderland postcard, of course.
Around Christmas time, merchandise from Christmas Lake Golf Course is quite popular, especially with the Golfing Santa Claus/Christmas Tree logo. Director of Golf Tom Nelson, however, says the course doesn't do much to promote itself during the holidays; it just sort of happens all by itself.
'We sell a little bit of everything to all over,' Nelson said. “Outerwear, golf shirts, caps, logo golf balls, windshirts – they all make great Christmas gifts for your friends who play golf. People like to surprise their friends or family who have never heard of our facility with a piece of logoed merchandise for the holiday season. A few years back, we shipped items to 41 different states in November and December.'
Nelson added that it's not uncommon for folks to spend more on shipping than what the merchandise is worth, especially with logoed golf balls.
'They like to drill holes in the balls and use them for Christmas ornaments,' he said.
The golf course, which was designed by Ed Ault, opened in 1968. At nearly 7,400 yards, it was way ahead of its time. A renovation a few years ago to zoysia fairways makes it play even longer. With its bentgrass greens and challenging layout, the course has been named on national lists of best public courses, so it has a lot more going for it than its holiday moniker.
But how did Christmas Lake Golf Course, and more specifically, the town of Santa Claus get its name? It happened more than 150 years ago, sort of like this:
T'was the night before Christmas, when all met at a church.
The town had no name, so the citizens were in a lurch.
They suggested the preacher's name, but he declined.
So they sighed, and they shrugged until they got a sign.
Suddenly, the wind blew the door open, and winter appeared,
Sleigh bells were heard; it must have been reindeer.
The grown-ups grew silent, but the children all knew,
That had to be Santa Claus, and they knew what to do.
They shouted out his name, and all without pause,
Knew the name of their town had to be Santa Claus.
Okay, not exactly a classic, but that's what led to Christmas Lake and Christmas Lake Golf Course.
The golf course was purchased by Russ Winkler of Santa Claus in 2001, and has been steadily improving ever since. It enjoys a local following, and during peak season, golfers from the surrounding areas know the drive to Christmas Lake Golf Course is worth it.
Every year, Christmas Lake hosts a tournament called 'Golf's Nightmare Before Christmas.' It's a two-man scramble conducted on the first Sunday of each December. With the tees set about as far back as they can go, the golf can be a little scary.
And so are the names of the flights – Grinch (championship), Heat Miser (first) Snow Miser (second) and Burgermesister Meisterburger (third). While the golf course is open all year weather permitting, playing conditions can be a bit frightful, which they were at this year's 'Nightmare' tournament.
'We filled our event again this season at 56 teams with a winning score of even par 72 (and scores ranging all the way up to 99),' Nelson said. 'It was 38 degrees and overcast with the majority of the field bringing cart covers and cup holder heaters as standard equipment. We finish the event off with a huge pot of homemade chili.'
Yes, December is a busy month for Nelson and his staff, who must feel a little like Santa Claus and his elves working in their golf toy shop.
It's no wonder the course is closed on Christmas Day. It's the only break Christmas Lake gets from the holidays.