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Golf pro honored for Special Olympics efforts

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Don “Chip” Essig IV has given much to the sport of golf, and he would agree it’s given even more back to him.

That goes for his father and mentor, Don Essig III, too.

The honors and superlatives have been significant and numerous for Chip Essig, a Master Professional and PGA director of golf at Hickory Stick Golf Club in the Center Grove area.

He was named recipient of the 2011 PGA Golf Professional of the Year, the organization’s highest honor to a member. Essig also was inducted into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame in 2013.

His most recent honor was the 2013 Conrad Rehling Award for his contributions to Special Olympics Golf. That honor was bestowed at a June 6 ceremony before the opening of the Summer Games for Special Olympics Indiana at Indiana State University.

Essig, 48, was grateful for the recognition but insists the accolades don’t belong to just him.

In his mind, the honor also belongs to management team colleagues Jim Porter of Carmel and Sharon Hollowell of Greensburg. Together, they divided the organizational, instructional and volunteer management duties, chief among many others.

“They’re every bit as responsible for all the growth as I am,” Essig said. “I look at this award as the Jim’s, Sharon’s and my award.”

Essig also noted this is what goes on in the sport of golf, and others in his profession would have done the exact same work if asked.

“There are many other golf professionals who help people learn to play,” he said.

In 1996, when Essig was asked to help grow the Indiana Special Olympics golf program and ultimately its state tournament, he didn’t realize what all he was getting into.

He also didn’t know how much he would get out of it.

Essig accepted despite a limited knowledge of the athletes and the program as he joined the Special Olympics Indiana golf sports management team.

“I was the farthest thing from a Special Olympics volunteer if there ever was one,” he said.

Since then, the state-level program, which started as just one event, grew under his watch from 50 to more than 450 active participants along with four qualifying events. Essig has helped develop the golf coaches training program and hosted numerous training sessions and clinics for athletes.

Golf is one of 32 Olympic-style summer and winter sports offered by Special Olympics.

It didn’t take long for the Special Olympics work (and play) to give Essig the opportunity to learn how to work with people who are physically challenged and learn how to interact with them.

“You’re dealing with friends,” Essig said.

More to the point, Essig noted, all golfers would do well to emulate the positive spirit of Special Olympics athletes and those who so fervently cheer for them.

“I cannot remember ever seeing an unhappy or disappointed player after the state games. There’s no way that doesn’t rub off on you,” he said. “What I hear from the volunteers is, ‘That was great – please make sure I’m on the list for next year.’”

“Chip Essig’s love of the game of golf carried over into his love of the Special Olympics athlete,” said David Breen, director of sports management for Special Olympics Indiana, as quoted in an organization news release. “He has used his passion, talent for management and leadership into making Special Olympics Indiana a rousing success.”

Essig, a Westfield resident and 1987 Purdue University graduate, was chosen Special Olympics Team USA golf coach in 2003, guiding a team to the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin, Ireland, that year.

“I’m the lucky one whose name was given out when Special Olympics called down to PGA Headquarters,” Essig said. “A person there knew me.”

Chip Essig is an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree in terms of talent, ambition, accomplishment and dedication. Born in Indianapolis as the only son of Don Essig III, Chip grew up playing the game at then-named Hoosier Links Golf Club, which his dad owned and operated as a golf professional himself.

By the time he graduated from high school, Chip Essig had performed virtually every job at the New Palestine course.

According to the United States Golf Association’s Web site, Don Essig III at 75 is one of the oldest-living U.S. Amateur Public Links champions. He captured his title in 1957 as then (and still remains so) the second-youngest champion in the event’s history.

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