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About Utah: Finally, living the dream in Paradise

Published: Sunday, April 20 2014 10:20 p.m. MDT

FILLMORE — Funny the twists and turns life takes. The longer you’re at it, the more you realize that sooner or later you end up doing those things you always wanted to do.

Take Ron Abegglen for example.

Here he is, the head professional at Paradise Golf Course, a nine-hole layout that for two reasons is the pride of Fillmore.

First, the beautiful green entryway it provides for anyone approaching the central Utah town from the direction of Salt Lake City.

Second, before Paradise was completed in 2001, if you lived here and wanted to play golf you had to get in your car and drive 50 miles to Beaver or Nephi.

Abegglen has been the host pro from Day One. His son, Kris, also a golf pro, designed the course and then turned it over to his dad when the city of Richfield, Utah, impressed by his work, asked Kris to remodel and expand its golf course and take over that operation.

Ron was 63 years old in 2001 and looking for a change of pace. To that point in his life he’d been coaching basketball for 40 years, his profession of choice ever since he graduated from BYU in 1961 after playing on its basketball team for four seasons.

If the name rings a bell, you know your basketball history.

By any standard, Ron Abegglen qualifies as a coaching legend. Few men, if any, in the history of wearing a whistle around their necks and questioning the eyesight of referees have done what he’s done and won what he’s won.

Name the level, he excelled there. His first job was at Morgan High School, where he won 232 games in 12 years, capped by his 1974 team that went 26-0 and won the state championship. That got the attention of Snow Junior College in Ephraim, where he stayed 10 years, won 212 games and captured six conference championships. Then it was up the ladder to the University of Alaska-Anchorage, where he won 109 games in five seasons and took the Seawolves to the NCAA Div. II national championship game in 1988. That led to a Div. I job at Weber State: 151 wins in eight seasons there, including three Big Sky Conference championships and a huge win over North Carolina in a first-round NCAA tournament game in his last season in 1999.

Add it up and that’s 704 wins even before Abegglen headed to England for the 1999-2000 season to take his first pro job as head coach of the London Towers, who, under his tutelage, won the Southern Division of the British Basketball League.

But one season of traveling in Europe was enough. He came home and looked for somewhere that wasn’t near any airports and had a golf course.

Fillmore fit.

Not only did it have a golf course, Ron could run it.

Being a golf pro was something he’d wanted to do ever since he discovered golf when he was an underclassman at BYU. He liked everything about the game: the challenge, the competition, the camaraderie.

As a player, he got pretty good pretty fast. He did well in tournaments as an amateur. When he moved to Morgan, he won the club championship at Round Valley, the local course there.

His affection/obsession for the game caused him to consider giving up coaching for a golf career either as a player or a club pro. He went so far as to fill out the paperwork to turn professional in 1972. But after thinking it over he called the PGA office and asked them not to process the papers.

“I started looking around at the pros, and they were all starving," he says. "So I rethought my decision.”

No one could argue that basketball didn’t work out.

And now, so is golf.

Paradise may not be Pebble Beach, but it has its own ambience and amenities. There’s a Best Western motel, the Paradise Inn, next door (owned by the same man who owns the golf course), a restaurant next to that called the Garden of Eat'n — and there’s a steady, diverse clientele that comes through the clubhouse door. One-third of Paradise’s play comes from the adjoining I-15 freeway.

People who are tired of driving see the lush green fairways and veer off. Among Paradise’s regulars are long haul truckers who purchase the 10- or 20-round punch pass and get a $2 per-round discount (the regular rate is $12 for nine holes).

And on any given day, a former player, or two, is liable to stop by to say "hi" to his old coach.

It’s the smiling faces coming through the door that Ron enjoys.

“If you think about golf,” he says, “99 percent of the ones who show up, they want to be here. I’m not sure that’s true for a lot of things.”

So every day he opens the clubhouse, checks to make sure the batteries on the carts are charged, the range is picked up and the sprinklers are set. He’ll sell you a sleeve of balls, or a candy bar, or a new putter, or analyze your swing for $30 an hour.

And if it’s slow, he’ll pull his personalized cart out of the cart barn and play nine … or maybe 18.

At 76, he’s living the dream.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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