|For ‘Swish’, Happiness Emanates from a Grateful Heart|
|Written by Jeff Falk|
| Everything Mike Swisher has can be traced directly to golf. But what he has gotten from it pales in comparison to what he has given back to the game, to the members of the Lebanon Country Club and the local golf community.
At the conclusion of this calendar year, Swisher will retire after 42 years of service as LCC’s head golf professional. It is safe to say that no one has profoundly impacted Lebanon County golf more than the man they affectionately call ‘Swish’.
With his flair for dealing with people, Swisher is one of the most highly respected teachers of golf in the state of Pennsylvania. He was also instrumental in the founding of the wildly successful Lebanon County junior golf program and the escalation of the W.B. Sullivan better-ball-of-partners tournament to the status of one of the premiere events in central Pennsylvania.
“I can’t emphasize enough how lucky I feel,” said Swisher. “I feel the Lebanon Country Club is one of the finest facilities in the area and I was lucky to work here. I’m a lucky guy, that’s the only reason it happened.
“I really just wanted to go out quietly,” Swisher added. “Just slide out of here, sort of like when I hear a member yelling in the pro shop.”
Swisher has been planning his retirement for the past few years and has been afforded the opportunity to groom his successor, current assistant pro Sean Smyth. Swisher, 65, will be eligible for full social security benefits next year and plans to continue giving lessons at LCC.
Swisher’s 42nd and final year as the head pro coincides with the Lebanon Country Club’s 90th anniversary, as well as the 65th edition of the Sullivan. The Country Club will fete its retiring pro with a Mike Swisher Day on Aug, 6.
“It’s kind of a celebratory type of year,” said Swisher.
“My main job was to make sure my members and guests had an enjoyable experience when they came to Lebanon Country Club,” he added. “As head golf pros, we’re teachers, we’re organizers, we’re promoters. We wear a lot of different hats. I always enjoyed playing. But it’s probably the least important thing I do.”
A graduate of Cornwall High School, Swisher took over the head professional position in 1969, after serving as the club’s assistant pro for three years.
“No, absolutely not,” said Swisher, when asked if, at the time, he thought he would be doing something for so long. “I always had a vision of playing on the (PGA) tour. I certainly didn’t think I’d be at it 42 years. I’m just very, very lucky to be a local guy with no college education and be here for so long. It’s a miracle.
“Certainly they (LCC members) treated me well,” Swisher continued. “They couldn’t have treated me better. Not that I didn’t apply for other jobs. But I was never disappointed that I didn’t get them. It was great stuff.”
In the early 1970s, Swisher teamed with then-Cedar Crest High School golf coach Fred Sherk and then-Elco High School golf coach John Witter to establish the Lebanon County junior golf program. The idea was to introduce the game to golfers at an early age and provide them with an opportunity to play local courses they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed.
“It was a great thing for all of us to do. And it’s still going strong,” said Swisher. “My first thing of importance was to promote the game of golf, to everyone. I thought I could be of help.
“I would just hope to be looked at as someone who promoted local golf,” Swisher continued. “Hopefully I was a nice supervisor, and I was a nice person.”
Under Swisher’s guidance, the annual W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners tournament has evolved into one of the most popular in the area, attracting teams from as far away as New Jersey, Maryland and northern Pennsylvania. Players groove on the match-play championship flight, the first-class treatment they receive and the challenge that LCC’s tight and well-manicured course presents.
“I’m very proud of how my club promoted that kind of event,” said Swisher. “We couldn’t have done it without the cooperation of the members. As far as myself, that was one of my responsibilities. I just tried to do the best I can do and work hard.
“One of the out-of-town teams would win it and the next year they would bring four or five teams with them,” Swisher added. “It just kind of mushroomed and kept growing. We wanted it to be the best. We all worked hard and I had great staffs. I yell out orders and they do all the work.”
Over the years, Swisher’s calm approach and attention to detail has helped shape the games of players like Jim Furyk, Greg Lesher, Stu Ingraham, Blaine Peffley and Steph George. But it is his patience and respect for other human beings that has allowed him to reach Average Joe Golfer simply looking to lose his slice.
“Thsoe guys all have grown,” said Swisher. “It’s a long list.
“It’s (teaching) something that’s kind of evolved over the years,” he said. “I was probably a poor teacher at the beginning, but I would go to clincis, and I certainly wanted to learn and listen. Hopefully I helped great students move on to great things.
“I need to learn a lot about you. Your expectations. Your goals. Your aspirations. That’s the key thing, learn a lot about your students. If you don’t relate well, you’re probably not going to come back. We have fun together. We work a little bit, but we have fun together.”
Swisher stopped a sand wedge short of calling what he is about to embark on ‘retirement’.
“I never want to get away from the game of golf, away from teaching it,” said Swisher. “I guess you could say I’m retiring, or cutting back. I’m actually looking forward to playing a little more golf. That’s one thing I probably didn’t do enough of over the years, and now I’m going to.”
Actually, Swisher is Charles E. Swisher (nicknamed ‘Mike’ by his grandfather) son of Charles W. Swisher, who at one point worked for him at LCC.
“I always tried to be like my dad,” said Swish. “He was the nicest person. That’s (a people person) just naturally how I am.”
And that’s how he will always be remembered.