By Reggie Ellis

In March 2002, then manager George McFarland, an employee of By Design, Inc., said the Woodland Hills based company was planning to reorganize the Exeter Pubic Golf Course and make room for a driving range.

By Design said the driving range was the key to expanding services at the course, but it never happened. The company also boasted of expanding the clubhouse menu and adding beer and liquor sales. He also alluded that former owner Steve Maaske "wore so many hats he did not have time to focus on the small things" and that under new ownership those issues would be taken care of. By Design did little to improve the course during its brief stint and even managed to kill much of the grass.

"I guess the small things didn't include turning on the water," said Steve Maaske, current owner of the golf course. "It looked like the Sahara Desert out here."

Three years ago this month, Steve Maaske tried to sell the Exeter Public Golf Course to By Design, for $1 million. Many patrons left because of the deterioration of the course and rumors that By Design was going to try to convert the nine-hole course to a country club executive course and price locals out of the gate. The steady loss of business eventually led to By Design's inability to secure a loan and foreclosure.

In February Maaske took possession of the property through a public auction. Today business is booming thanks to his efforts in just six short months.

"Ninety percent of business is back from when I left," Maaske said. "It is exciting to be back in business here."

Maaske has already spent $40,000 on improvements including reviving the greens, rebuilding the sprinkler system, repaving the parking lot and restarting the men's club. The men's club is holding its first tournament on Aug. 21. The tournament is open to all members and will provide participants with a free handicap rating. The tournament is $5 entry fee for members and membership fees are $20 per year. Contests, such as hole-in-one and closest-to-the-green, have additional entry fees. The tournament will be held each month for men's club members. To join call the Exeter Public Golf Course at 592-4783.

Maaske has also devoted a full-time schedule to the golf course. He used to work both as a club pro in Visalia and own and operate the Exeter course and lease and operate the Lindsay Public Golf Course. He is now available to give lessons in Exeter by appointment. Adult lessons are $30 for 45 minutes and children lessons are $20 for 45 minutes. Since July 1, Maaske has offered a Roger Dunn commercial counter in the clubhouse. He can take orders for any piece of golf equipment from Roger Dunn and have at the course within two to three days.

Right now is the busiest time for the course. Maaske said from 7-10 a.m. in the morning from March through October is the busy season. He said about two-thirds of his business is seniors from Exeter and Visalia. Because Visalia keeps raising it prices, Exeter is an affordable alternative for many Visalia senior citizens, especially those on a fixed income. During the week, green fees are only $13 for 18 holes and $7 for nine holes. On the weekends prices are $14 for 18 holes and $8 for nine holes. Golf carts are an additional $6.

The 20-acre course located at 510 W. Visalia Road was built in 1963. Maaske started working at the golf course as a lawnmower in 1971. He worked there during high school and while attending College of the Sequoias until he went to Fresno State. Upon graduation from the university, Maaske and his father bought the golf course in 1976. In 1991, they sold the course to Dan Diel and in 1996 bought it back.

"We have put a really good product out there and invite everyone to come and see al the improvements," Maaske said.

The grass is definitely greener when he is in charge.

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