Bethel Golfer Finds Sweet Spot as Course Owner
Tim Firestone ’96 found his passion at Bethel College –and it wasn’t at all what he expected. The new owner of Blackthorn Golf Club, a sprawling 226-acre course in South Bend, Ind., came to Bethel in 1992 on a partial basketball scholarship. Around that same time, the athletic department was re-launching the golf program and looking for players.
“[Head Men’s Basketball] Coach [Mike] Lightfoot wondered if I might be interested,” Firestone says.
Though Firestone had family members who were avid golfers (his father played collegiate golf at Bethel), he never considered golf to be his sport. However, since the college was willing to maintain his athletic scholarship, Firestone was willing to try it. And under then Head Men’s Golf Coach Lorne Oke ‘86, he thrived.
“It was at Bethel that I started working at Blackthorn [as a cart boy] and fell in love with golf,” Firestone says. “Not just the game –but the business of golf.”
After graduating from Bethel, Firestone went on to advance his career at Blackthorn, working in the pro shop, serving as an assistant golf pro for two years and becoming the youngest general manager in the state of Indiana in 1999. With the promotion to general manager came the challenge of obtaining PGA (Professional Golfers Association) membership and earning golf pro status.
“I had to become a member in just 18 months,” Firestone says. “It was all the training I needed to run a golf operation. Sometimes, it takes guys four or five years.”
His hard work paid off, and he served as general manager at Meadowbrook Golf (the managing company for Blackthorn) from 2001-2006. In 2010, he was hired to manage multiple courses in the South Bend region (including Blackthorn). However, the turning point of his career, he says, came in 2014 when the City of South Bend started talking about selling Blackthorn.
As part of a private investment group, Firestone made plans to purchase the property.
“The challenge was to figure out a way to buy it – to put together a winning bid,” Firestone says. And the stakes were high. “If we hadn’t won the bid, I wouldn’t have a job. But my driving force was to reap the rewards of all I was able to accomplish [as general manager].”
Since becoming owner of the course in March, Firestone continues to look for ways to improve Blackthorn and impact the community in positive ways.
“We’re off to a great start. We’ve done things to save money so that we can invest in other areas,” he says.
One of his proudest achievements has been bringing the LPGA Symetra Tour (for up-and-coming female golfers) to Blackthorn for the past four years. In 2015, this charity event raised $230,000 for Memorial Children’s Hospital.
“It’s the premier event on the tour,” Firestone says. “The city has been active and involved, and it’s been great for the community.”
Firestone has big plans for Blackthorn, with a vision to grow the course from 18 to 36 holes and add a hotel near the U.S. 20 Bypass so that it can become a destination.
“I want Blackthorn to be a shining star in the community,” he says.