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January 11, 2012

Golf spots- of birdies, mulligans and holes-in-one

Amid the hustle and bustle of Indianapolis, one of America’s most thriving cities, it may be hard to believe that there are acres - and acres - of well-groomed greens where physicians can spend hours swatting little white balls. The fact is that there are some 35 PGA-recognized golf courses within the Marion County boundaries, with about 20 just a few miles beyond.

In another context, the city is hardly lacking when it comes to health care. The list covers no fewer than 11 full-service hospitals, from IU Health Methodist to St. Francis Hospital - Mooresville. The university is home to the state’s sole medical school, the nation’s second largest (after Illinois).

But the overarching appeal of this Midwestern metropolis may be its rejuvenation as a thriving place to live, practice and enjoy life. It’s been enough to convince Stephanie Wagner, M.D., that it was time to come home after years of training and practicing in other cities. "I felt there was more of a vision here as far as my specialty," she says. Wagner is a neuro-oncologist with IU Health Physicians and the medical director for the neuro-oncology program at IU Simon Cancer Center and IU Health Methodist Hospital - and one of two such specialists in the state. "I think in the last five years it’s changed so much for the better. It’s become more progressive and a little more diverse."

Three other American cities across the country are among communities that offer the best of two worlds for physician golfers.

Rapid City, S.D., as its tourism promoters boast, is the "hub to more than a million acres of breathtaking scenery…dotted with dramatic rock outcroppings." The two most famous features of the surrounding Black Hills National Forest are probably the four-president memorial on Mount Rushmore and, more recently, mountain-sized Crazy Horse Memorial. But Rapid City itself, with 68,000 residents, holds its own, touted by local tourism leaders as "the hub for urban pleasures."


The Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo by Ron Linton.

Today, Rapid City Regional Hospital resides in a striking modern building. And some of the city’s nine golf courses are nestled in striking mountainous settings punctuated by dramatic rock outcroppings.

About a thousand miles to the southwest, St. George, Utah, sits among some of the nation’s most astounding national parks.

Early pioneers were charged with turning the area into a cotton belt like the Deep South. But even as the experiment ended, the nickname "Dixie" stayed on, as in Dixie Regional Medical Center, Dixie State College, Dixie Center (a huge convention facility), a resort, at least one school and several streets. DIXIE is painted large on a hillside to the north, and a giant-sized "D" decorates a bluff to the west.

The climate is warm, its flaming red rocky surroundings are sensational, and there’s an easy drive to Utah’s outstanding national parks and monuments, plus immense Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

As for golf courses, the St. George area, according to tourism officials, offers at least a dozen "challenging courses with inspiring terrain."

Although the famed "fountain of youth" explorer Ponce de Leon actually got to St. Augustine, Fla., first, in 1513, the city’s founder, Spanish Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, seized naming rights. He arrived on August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo. The settlement on Florida’s northeastern coast would become, in long-winded terms, the oldest continuously occupied European-established city and port in the continental United States.

Today, St. Augustinians like to taunt a certain group of New Englanders, says Jay Humphreys of the area visitors and convention bureau. "They claim that when the Pilgrims were asking Indians for food for Thanksgiving, St. Augustine people were on their third urban renewal project."

Today’s Augustinians have preserved most if not all of the historic buildings and lore that have made their small town a tourist mecca.

Four cities, big and small, each with its own irresistible lures: big city, balmy oceanside, four diverse seasons or spectacular scenery, but all united by their irresistible sporting venues. These are their stories.

 

Indianapolis, Indiana -  Crossroads of America

Let’s be clear about Indianapolis. Once upon a time it might have been forgotten in the middle of flyover country, but over the years, city leaders have labored to change that perception - with greater success than they might have expected.

In 1970, city and county governments were consolidated into one political unit called UNIGOV, mostly as a means of reducing costs and increasing civic efficiency. The Consolidated City of Indianapolis, its official title, covers the entire area of Marion County, which includes 11 other participating communities. City officials have helped turn Indianapolis into a spectacular sports capital and convention destination.

There’s hardly an American who hasn’t heard about the "vroom-vroom" capital of the U.S., the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A truly unusual add-on: golf at the Brickyard Crossing, with four holes in the center of the track and the rest on the east side.

The football Colts and the basketball Pacers alone attract fans by the millions, and a AAA baseball team, the Indians, has its own enthusiastic following.

But wait! There’s more. The city is headquarters for the Indiana Sports Corporation, which oversees amateur athletics and has hosted no fewer than 400 major contests there since its founding in 1979. The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) also "lives" there.

Meanwhile, construction has skyrocketed, including a new convention center and other public buildings. Skywalks now connect 12 hotels with the convention site. One of them, the J.W. Marriott, with 1,005 rooms, is the chain’s largest in the world. An immediate reason for the explosion in rooms: Indianapolis will host the 2012 Super Bowl. Comments Morgan Greenlee of the Convention & Visitors Association: "The landscape has changed immensely in the last 10 years."

But what endears the Hoosier capital to the hearts of its residents has more to do with amenities such as six new or updated cultural districts and the ease of getting around town.

Aside from the city’s wholesale plunge into the 21st century, the appeal for Stephanie Wagner, M.D., the neuro-oncologist, was that "the goals of the IU system here were more in line with my goals." She adds, "I felt there was more of a vision here, since they’re building a new science center. It’s going to have all the different neuro specialties." Another appeal of her current position: "I was blown away by the quality of my colleagues!"

Medical-related businesses, along with the large health care employee base, are the city’s major prosperity makers, especially pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company, Roche Diagnostics and WellPoint, Inc., the health insurance firm.

A newcomer on the scene, OurHealth.org, develops and staffs on-site medical clinics for corporations. According to president and co-founder Jeffrey Wells, M.D., OurHealth.org is currently seeking physicians and assistants for several of its clients.

Christopher Doehring, M.D., now the vice president for medical affairs with Franciscan St. Francis Health, is finding job satisfaction in helping improve relationships among physicians as more and more of them become hospital employees. But he’s also reveling in the opportunities for pursuing his favorite sport. "The best way to define my game is that it’s a work in progress," he jokes.

Doehring’s golf "career" started in his hometown, Vandalia, Ill., when he and his friends alternated swimming in the summer with trips to the local nine-hole course. He followed his leisure passion while in medical school at Johns Hopkins, trained in Indianapolis, and lived in Augusta, Ga., while in the U.S. Army, a period highlighted by attending the Masters Golf Tournament "a number of times."

In Indianapolis, he says, "My main passion for golf is to enjoy just being out on the course," he explains. "Some people like to go hiking and get out in nature. I like walking around the golf course." He has a good reason. "We have some beautiful courses here, an embarrassment of riches, with at least 35 within a 30-minute radius of downtown. We’re probably in an overbuilt situation as far as golf holes per capita." The good news for greens addicts? "They’re all competing over a dwindling supply of golfers, so it’s very cost effective."

St. George, Utah - Rocky terrain, hospitable atmosphere

"The first two weeks I was here, I was a little nervous," says Lloyd Perino, M.D., who recently relocated to St. George from Pullman, Wash. Why? "Because everyone was so nice. This is different from any other place, and the work environment is tremendous."

In other words, Perino, an internist and GI specialist, is discovering that life - and his work with Redrock Digestive Health - is much less stressful than in previous positions. (Redrock is an arm of Intermountain Healthcare, which operates 23 hospitals, including Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George.)


St. George, Utah: "This is different from any other place, and the work environment is tremendous." Lloyd Perino, M.D., is finding time to golf a couple of times a week. He is pictured here at Entrada, near the mouth of Snow Canyon. Photo by Jimmy Bishop.

He’s finding time to golf a couple of times a week. And he hasn’t had to look far for places to revive his best-ever 6.3 handicap.

If he wishes, he can diversify his game-playing scenery among a dozen courses within city limits and in nearby Washington and Hurricane. Five others are a mere 30 minutes away. Greens fees, he notes, are "relatively inexpensive." So far, his course of choice is the par 72 Entrada, beneath sandstone cliffs and near the mouth of Snow Canyon. "There are lots of vistas," including rolling dunes, black lava beds and winding arroyos. It covers 710 acres, opened in 1996 and was named Utah’s best private golf club in 2008.

Among other golfer possibilities, Coral Canyon in nearby Washington offers "breathtaking views of Zion National Park," according to tourism publications. Not to mention 55 sand bunkers, two lakes and a labyrinth of dry washes. Sunbrook winds above the Santa Clara River and is dotted with lakes and waterfalls. Southgate is known as one of the area’s most player-friendly courses. Eight of its front nine holes go over or around water. Fairways on the second half wind around Tonaquint Mountain.

St. George is no cultural dead zone, either. Perino mentions two outdoor amphitheaters, Tuacahn and Zion, with huge stages. There’s also a symphony orchestra, a musical theater and a concert series at Dixie State College. If there’s one thing missing, says Perino, it’s professional football, baseball and basketball. He confides that he solved that problem, though: "I got Direct TV."

Recreation aside, Gregg McArthur at the Chamber notes that "a lot of manufacturers like it here because of the city’s location. It’s near the Arizona border and close to Las Vegas (about 110 miles on I-15), and the weather’s good."

Examples include large distribution centers operated by Walmart and hardware giant Orgil; a manufacturing facility for Litehouse Foods, major producer of salad dressings; and other tenants at a large business park.

"There was a day when this was a small town with a small hospital," says Terri Kane, CEO of Dixie Regional Medical Center. "We now provide services for parts of three states and five counties," thanks to a continuing influx of modern-day settlers seeking climate-friendly territory.

One of 23 hospitals owned and operated by Intermountain Healthcare, Dixie offers services on two campuses. It has achieved "gold plus" status for stroke and heart failure care, its Spine and Pain Center was recently cited as a Blue Distinction Program, state-of-the-art linear accelerators are part of oncology treatments, and its NICU consistently earns top scores, with outcomes the best among all Intermountain hospitals. Dixie is also ahead of the pack with new preventive programs, such as Gateway to Wellness and an online/iPhone enticement titled LiVe to promote health and fitness among teens.

Its literally highest achievement is purchasing a new helicopter this year that can make pickups from very low altitudes to about 10,000 feet above sea level, similar to rescue models in the Swiss Alps. Perino comments, "Where I used to live, a helicopter took people out. Now (in St. George), it brings people in."

St. Augustine, Florida - Where history meets the fairway

You could say that America’s oldest city has worked its way through three lives so far. St. Augustine holds a glittering celebration every year to commemorate its founder, explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who set the tone for the Spanish flavor that lives on in a historic neighborhood with more than 60 restored homes and buildings.

Some 300 years after Avilés’ arrival, Henry Flagler, railroad magnate and partner with John D. Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Company, made his way south to this beguiling haven on the north Florida coast. Flagler envisioned it as "America’s Riviera," and his high-society friends helped make it happen. It became one of the state’s earliest resort locations.

Flagler’s everlasting contribution included a collection of ornate churches and hotels. He also financed a hospital, eventually named for him, and organized a group of influential women to oversee its maintenance.

Today’s modern Flagler Hospital sits in a 75-acre Health Park, a beacon of space-age care that includes such innovative techniques as the minimally invasive Spider Sleeve Gastrectomy for bariatric surgery and balloon Sinuplasty™. It also has a Brain and Spine Center, and a new NICU opened in August.

After growing up and attending medical school in Nebraska, Todd Batenhorst, M.D. made his way south, first to Virginia for a residency and, in 2001, to his current position with Flagler Family Medicine.


Christopher Zub, D.O., and his wife, Megan, at Marsh Creek Country Club in St. Augustine, Fla.

Christopher Zub, D.O., was 4 when his family relocated to Jacksonville from Connecticut. Through medical school and residency, he stayed in Florida, then joined the family practice group in 2002.

Both found fertile ground for pursuing their mutual hobby - golf.

Says Batenhorst, "We’ve had patients and people around here who basically say, ’Your handicap is so high because you’re a good doctor.’" Zub’s version: "I was in a tournament a couple of months back. One of the guys said, ’I can tell you’re a good doctor because you play terrible golf.’" His response: "My handicap is about 20, but I’m enjoying the game."

"It’s almost ridiculous how many golf courses there are," Batenhorst marvels. Both he and Zub have opted for Marsh Creek Country Club, which doubles as a nature preserve on a barrier island between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. Fairways border marshland, and birds and wildlife abound. "It’s only eight minutes away, so if it’s not raining and there aren’t a lot of people, I love to get out there and walk," says Batenhorst. "I can combine a little exercise and a little relaxation."

Zub adds that players usually have to cross marsh areas to get to the greens, not to mention water on "just about every hole, sometimes twice on one." He’s become enchanted with the wildlife neighbors, too. "One time in the spring," he recalls, "I was looking into the hazard for my ball in the marsh and almost stepped on a newborn fawn. It was in the first couple of hours of its life; it had shaky legs and was slowly trying to walk away."

But he cautions against other "living" hazards. "With nature and the marshes there are a lot of snakes, so you have to be careful and always use a ball catcher to get your balls from (one of those places)."

On a grander scale, Jay Humphreys of the area visitors and convention bureau points out that St. Johns County is "one of the major golf destinations in the world." That includes Ponte Vedra to the north, which is partway to St. Augustine’s neighbor, Jacksonville, with its own big-city attractions.

The road between the two could be called Golf Boulevard. It passes three of the game’s most famous venues. The World Golf Hall of Fame, relocated from Pinehurst, N.C., to the area in 1998, attracts "north of 250,000" visitors per year, says spokesman Travis Hill. Also attracting thousands is its World Golf Village, with "two of the most famous courses in the world."

The Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, at Ponte Vedra Beach, is the second largest of kind in the U.S., with no fewer than five courses, including the home of the Tournament Players Club and the world-famous TPC event. Its 17th hole is known as the most photographed in golf history. But it comes with a warning: "It’s fiendishly designed."

As for greens fees throughout this paradise coast, they vary "from very, very cheap ($35) to $350 at Sawgrass," according to Travis Hill at the Hall of Fame.

"St. Augustine is one of the few places where the vast majority of residents live there because they want to," says Humphreys at the visitors bureau. As a serendipity, he adds, "We have 42 miles of pristine beaches."
Also worth mentioning: In 2015 the city, spurred on by a commission established by the U.S. Congress, will mount a grand celebration of its 450th anniversary. Don’t cry, you Bay Colony Pilgrims. Your chance will come - in another five and a half decades.


Mount Rushmore is 20 minutes outside of Rapid City, S.D. Photo by Ron Linton

Rapid City, South Dakota - The golden city of the Black Hills

Michael Hogue, M.D., is a North Dakota boy who followed the historic Horace Greeley advice ("Go west, young man."), sort of. But he went south. Or, as he likes to embellish the story, "Somebody in South Dakota gave me a green card and let me into the state."

In plain words, he went from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine to a residency in Sioux Falls, S.D.

He fell in love with the area, but his wife was from the Black Hills and was homesick, so he agreed to move west.

His take on that move: "I ended up married to a girl from the Black Hills. She dragged me here kicking and screaming - and I’ve thanked her ever since. It’s gorgeous!"

Today, although he practices at the Massa Berry Regional Medical Clinic in nearby Sturgis, his employer is Rapid City Regional Hospital, and he lives halfway between the two cities, making occasional trips to the big city to satisfy his craving for good golf.

He’s not alone. "Rapid City is a pretty rabid golf community," he says. "You can find all manner of golf out here." Within the city limits are four championship courses, plus par and executive courses. He singles out three, for various reasons.

The first: Meadowbrook Golf Course. "It’s a very traditional course," he reports, but with "a pretty challenging layout, good distances and a lot of ups and downs." A creek also adds to the challenge on five of the holes.

"The Golf Club at Red Rock," he continues, "is a top rate, excellent course, with 18 very challenging holes, a lot of elevation change, narrow fairways and very fast, challenging greens." A third venue, Arrowhead Country Club, "has exceedingly good greens."

Beyond the city, a good number of courses can be found in the Black Hills. Hogue enjoys the variety, with "a lot of elevation changes in the Hills." But true enthusiasts don’t mind traveling longer distances, too. "We consider courses all the way over to Devils Tower (in Wyoming) as local courses," he reports. "And they’re all within an hour and a half."

But even for an addict (he once played seven days a week), the western Dakota world has other attractions. A confirmed outdoorsman, he’s also a biker (motorcycle), boater, fisherman and even a skier - pursuits that are all available in an area with "beautiful weather," albeit snow that varies with altitude. One example: "The first year I lived near Rapid City, I swept snow off the deck at my house one morning. Then I got to Deadwood, 30 miles away, which had gotten 118 inches of snow in five days."

In the city, there’s a happy medium between the intense heat of the desert farther west and the crippling cold of the mountains, even though a mountain range, aka the Dakota Hogback, splits Rapid City into two.

The city is hardly bereft of culture. As a kind of Renaissance man, Hogue can report, "There’s plenty of music and a lot of musical entertainment." That includes concerts in town and in the Black Hills as well as Broadway roadshows.

Mount Rushmore memorializes four presidents in stone, and, two miles away, all 44 are represented at the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone.

But now Rapid City has a new outdoor tourist lure - its "City of Presidents," life-size bronze statues of presidents standing on downtown corners to "greet" visitors.

"Visitors absolutely love it," says Michelle Thomson at the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A couple of other things for residents to love: the state tax structure and an uncommonly good air travel system. Natural beauty and golf aside, Hogue recalls that the lack of a state income tax "was the one thing that made me look at South Dakota."

"And, with our tourism industry and an incredible volume of visitors, Rapid City has the best airline connections of any small city you’ve ever seen."

Eileen Lockwood is a regular contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.



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