Ohio Valley Unsung Hero: Brunner likes to keep the game of golf fun

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – For Butch Brunner, teaching golf seems so natural.

For many that step onto a course it can be a frustrating, teeth-clenching, hair-pulling endeavor.

Yet, Brunner makes his pupils feel at ease with a calm, assuring demeanor that makes the game fun and relaxing.

Just like he said it’s meant to be.

”I just wanted to get out and play and have fun and enjoy the game,” he recalled. ”But once I got out and started to see the kids struggle with the game, I realized there wasn’t enough people teaching it and helping them.”

Golf wasn’t Brunner’s first love, though. A 1966 Powhatan High School graduate, he played baseball and ran track, but eventually earned a football scholarship to Salem College.

Brunner was a late bloomer himself when it came to golf. His wife and daughter were playing and, soon, a friend got him going.

”It was about 1979, thereabouts,” he said. ”You get addicted to it.”

Soon, Brunner became a regular at area courses like Switzerland of Ohio and Moundsville and Cadiz country clubs.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that Brunner turned to teaching the game.

”We started the golf team back up at Shadyside High School,” Brunner explained. ”My wife (Karen) and I stayed with that for about six or seven years.”

Along the way, 1990 to be exact, the Tigers won the OVAC Class A crown. It’s the school’s first and only OVAC golf crown.

On that team were Ron Baker and Joey Angelo. Brunner had no idea then, but the duo would later become PGA professionals. Baker is the current pro at Belmont Hills Country Club, where Brunner has spent about the past eight years teaching.

Prior to that, Brunner taught at Black Rock driving range, Crooked Creek, and a shop in the Moundsville Plaza. While there, he also became involved with club fitting and club repair.

As it stands, Brunner is well-versed in most aspects of the golf industry. He enjoys telling tales of golfers who’ve had their games enhanced by improved equipment and know-how. Both, he said, are keys, in enjoying the game.

”Golf advances, your equipment advances … things change,” he said.

And, Brunner isn’t stuck in his ways. He’s always willing to learn. He spends countless hours learning new trends and updating himself on new teaching methods. He’s attended the Leadbetter Golf Academy and the Butch Harmon School of Golf several times.

And his students are the beneficiaries.

”I try to watch what everyone teaches,” he said. ”Everyone teaches a little bit different. It’s a neverending process.

”If you’re not trying to learn and find out what other guys are doing, you’re not getting better yourself.”

Brunner’s philosophy is ”keep it simple.”

”As instructors, you have to be careful not to overinstruct,” he said. ”Because, if you clutter a guy’s mind and he gets out there and he’s thinking about a million things, that’s not good.

”I try to do a little bit here, a little bit there.”

Teaching the game has come a long way. Now there are computer programs that, along with video, can analyze a golfer’s game, down to the littlest thing.

”It’s unbelievable,” Brunner said.

Still, all the high tech gadgets can’t replace human interaction, which Brunner said is what he enjoys most.

”My satisfaction is when that kid does well,” he said. ”They’ll text me all the time. I did this or that.”

Brunner said he currently works with about 20 youngsters, and that number fluctuates depending on the time of year.

”I’m supposed to be here two days a week, but I’m probably here six,” Brunner said laughing. ”We give a lot of lessons … a lot of fittings. There’s always something going on.”

Most of those players are high schoolers. runner is quite active with the St. Clairsville High School golf team, which has had two teams and an individual reach the state tournament in recent seasons. He’s also tutored many youngsters who’ve earned golf scholarships.

The father of two daughters – one, Stacy, played golf at Bowling Green State University – Brunner thinks of his pupils like family.

”It’s great when they do well,” he said. ”I have two daughters and three granddaughters. So, it’s always been girls with me. So these kids, especially with the boys, they’re kind of like sons. They all have different personalities.”

Each golfer is different, and that requires a different method of instruction. Brunner follows both conventional and unconventional methods all with the goal of producing quality linksters.

”Most teachers don’t spend enough time on the course,” he explained. ”From 100 yards on in is where your game is at.”

Brunner uses many teaching tools. He even tells students to keep notes in their golf bag, which is something he does.

”I tell my students, don’t read a lot of books, don’t do a lot of reading and don’t watch a lot of videos because it’s going to confuse you.”

All told, Brunner’s main goal is to get – and keep – youngsters on the course and grow the game for the future.

”Our goal is to get more people involved and get more golfers on the course,” he said.

”Golf people are great. The people here at Belmont Hills have been fantastic. What a family the have been to me.”

If you know of someone involved in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com or via Twitter at RickThorp1