Local native Jason Wenk purchases ‘hidden gem.’

October 6, 2020

Jason Wenk, at right, and Creative Designer Andy Dull.

Local native Jason Wenk purchases ‘hidden gem.’

Story and photos by Contributing Writer Fred Inglis.

BENONA TOWNSHIP — Oceana County native Jason Wenk always dreamed of owning a golf course, but he never imagined buying two renowned courses in West Michigan — both located in the Shelby area — within the last seven months.

Wenk officially bought the Benona Shores Golf Course last week. He had already purchased the Oceana Golf Course in March and now owns the two courses where he developed the love for the game of golf.

“You know Oceana Golf Club was fate. It seemed everything developed naturally,” said the 40-year-old Wenk. “Things aligned in a way that it was meant to be. Benona Shores was more serendiptious. I have no way to explain it, but I kept hearing people call it a ‘hidden gem.’ I think that pretty much describes it. The plan is to offer a combined membership at one low price, likely lower than any other local course’s single course membership.”

Benona is a par 60 executive course that was developed and owned by the Hukill family since its inception in 1974. Brian Hukill operated Benona GC for the past 20 years, but he died in January of 2019 after fighting a two-year battle with cancer. Brian was just 47 years old and his wife Dawn knew maintaining the business without him was going to be a big challenge.

“The stress is just overwhelming,” said Dawn. “I mean Brian did so much and nowadays golf courses aren’t making what they used to. It was just too much of everything.”

Wenk, a highly successful pioneer in the wealth management and technology industry, paid 50 percent over the appraised value of the 137-acre site. It’s an all inclusive cash deal, and while the exact terms of the sale were not disclosed, Wenk did confirm it was the highest price paid for a golf course in the area.

Dawn Hukill

“We feel very comfortable with the price,” Wenk said. “I knew Brian, and we had some of the same friends. Dawn has been great to work with and I think it’s only right to honor the Hukill legacy. I want to make sure anybody that comes to Benona knows and understands the contributions of the Hukill family.”

“I had other buyers, but I had to take the time to find the right person,” said Dawn. “Jason was a local who played here and knew the course and what it meant. I saw what he did at Oceana and he seemed a perfect fit.”

“I wanted Dawn to feel that she’s comfortable enough to move on with her life and to heal,” said Jason.

The 1998 Shelby High graduate played golf for the Tigers and eventually became a scratch golfer, although his handicap is far higher these days. He has a special affinity for Benona because he spent a lot of his youth staying at his grandparents’ cottage at Stony Lake. He would take his grandma’s hand-me-down clubs and ride his bicycle a mile north to the course. It’s the home of his one and only ace in his 30 years of golf.

Jason Wenk

“The par 3, 110 yard sixth hole. With an 9 iron,” recalls Wenk. “The funny part was that it was kind of a bad shot. It missed the green to the right. It bounced off the mound onto the green and rolled right in the cup. So my only hole in one trophy ball has a Benona Shores logo on it.”

The late Robert and Mary Ann Hukill bought the fruit farm from her parents in 1962. Bob took the brave move of hiring Warner Bowen to design the executive course. The par 30 front nine was built on the rolling terrain and cut out of a thick wooded portion of the property. It opened in 1974. Two years later the par 30 back nine was completed. It’s a rolling journey through apple and pear trees. Water comes into play only on two holes.

“This is our favorite course,” says Kina Lynke. “We come up from Muskegon all the time to play it. It has everything. You just feel like you are surrounded by nature with all the woods and fruit trees.”

“Oceana Golf Course is known for its incredibly smooth, yet challenging greens,” said Wenk. “And Benona is just so pristine in terms of its overall condition. The tee boxes, the fairways, the rough. It’s always green, always lush.”

Course Superintendent Shawn Pranger is excited about the ownership change. “I know Jason doesn’t want to change it,” says Pranger. “He’s not going to turn it into a corporate course.”

“This is a turn key operation,” says Wenk. “The course needs nothing. I think Shawn could use some new equipment to make his life easier, but that’s another benefit from owning Oceana. Instead of two courses buying an expensive piece of equipment, we can share.

“People think, ‘It’s an executive course, it’s too short, I don’t want to play it’, but in my opinion it’s the hardest course around to score,” adds Pranger. “Because for a lot of the par 3’s you need to use long irons and they’re the hardest clubs to hit. But once you can play well here you can play anywhere.”

“My in-laws always intended this place to be a family friendly course,” said Hukill. “That’s why we are an executive course. A place where seniors, ladies, and little ones can come play without feeling overwhelmed.”

Jason lives on a golf course in Southern California. He’s very busy as founder and CEO of the recently launched Altruist Corporation, but now that he owns two golf courses in his native Oceana County, Jason and his wife Kayla intend to spend more time in Michigan.

“I love golf. I may not look like a typical golfer, but I owe a lot of things in my life to the game golf,” said Jason. “I’m so grateful for the friendships I made, the lessons I learned through the game. So these are not things I’m purchasing to get rich, you know. These are special opportunities and I just feel fortunate to be part of it. I hope there is a sense of pride in the community, and that people feel good that there is somebody who wants to help out.”

Even before the sale was final Jason helped Dawn purchase a log cabin in the Upper Peninsula. She says her two children Brianna and Tyler will receive a share of the sale, but it marks an end of a proud and popular family business that lasted for nearly 50 years.

“I will miss the people, and the staff,” said Dawn. “You know, you take for granted seeing everyone every day. It’ll take some time to adjust.”

Jason will maintain the integrity of the Hukill legacy, but expects to refresh and restock the pro shop. New carts are also a much needed addition. He has employed Creative Director Andy Dull to assist in rebranding Benona Shores GC. Dull’s Spring Lake based company “Concept A Creative Studio” previously designed OGC’s new logo and upgraded its website. But perhaps most importantly, Jason wants to beautify the entranceway.

“We want someone who sees the sign and pulls into the property to feel the same sensation that they will when they get on the beautiful course,” says Wenk. “We’d like them to feel like they truly discovered a hidden gem.”

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