Golf legend has long been linked to Willow Run

Virginia Olson, For the Argus Leader November 22, 2014
Photo: Joe Ahlquist / Argus Leader

Golf legend has long been linked to Willow Run Founded in 1986, Willow Run Golf Course became the first privately owned, publicly playable 18-hole course in the state.

Dave Hanten was the brainchild behind the course and its concept. As a golf guru and banker who saw potential, Hanten convinced others that a 160-acre tract east of Sioux Falls would best serve as a golf course.

Loving its landscape, Hanten saw the vast piece of land as a beautiful place with its elevation changes and many trees.

“With 15 years’ business experience in the banking industry and instinctively knowing what golfers would like, the right people bought into the idea,” Hanten says. “Ironically, not a single golf hole had been built in 16 years. Willow Run would be the first with 18 holes, and I am pretty proud of that.”

Hanten became the general manager, a position he relished for 28 years. “I am one of the few people I know who got to turn an avocation into a vocation,” he says.

Since Willow Run was built, 108 holes have been created across the state.

As the sport grew, Hanten continued to be one of the state’s golf ambassadors.

Hanten was billed as one of the state’s finest amateur golfers. At 15, he finished second in the state’s match play championship. While in high school at Huron, he won two state high school golf championships. In college at Arizona State, he won the conference golf championship in 1967. He went on to win six major state titles and was named the South Dakota Golf Association’s male golfer of the year in 1978 and 2002. He’s also honored in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.

Hanten credits two people as instrumental in his success.

“My father, Richard, introduced me to the game of golf. Hobe Richards Sr. was my longtime instructor in Huron,” he says. “Both men played a big role in my life.”

Three years ago, Hanten helped Willow Run weather the storm when a major stockholder declared personal bankruptcy. Then the golf course’s dim future changed. Willow Run was sold to Tom Walsh in 2012.

“Willow Run itself was financially viable,” Hanten says. “It was simply a matter of Mr. Walsh’s decision to assume complete ownership of the course. Needless to say, myself and the entire Willow Run team are thrilled with his ability to facilitate Willow Run in the process of reaching its full potential.”

Today, Willow Run is part of GreatLife Malaska Golf and Fitness. Now the director of golf, Hanten has watched the golf course become even better than he had dreamed possible.

“Tom has lots of energy, drive and vision,” Hanten says. “He is a real entrepreneur who wants to showcase Willow Run.”

However, the number of people playing golf in general has been dwindling in the past decade.

Hanten thinks Willow Run along with GreatLife Malaska Golf and Fitness has taken a fresh approach to the game that will not only bring people back to the sport but also attract new players. There’s the new three-hole short game practice facility and plans to build a nine-hole par three course. In addition, a new clubhouse and apartment complex are being built.

Golf’s “a lifelong sport,” Hanten says. “There hasn’t been a day where I have felt like I was working.”

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