Written by Jeff Falk
Guess what they did at the Lebanon Country Club on ‘Mike Swisher Day’? Played golf and had fun.
Not necessarily in that order.
On Friday at LCC, Swisher and hundreds of his closest friends celebrated a professional golf career chocked full of humor, touched lives and fond memories. Swisher, Lebanon Country Club’s colorful head pro for the past 42 years, will retire at the end of the 2010 calendar year.
An early afternoon shotgun start on the golf course was followed by an early evening testimonial dinner feting Swisher and his accomplishments. Among those attending were former and present players Stu Ingraham, Greg Lesher, Tom Lape, Chris Gebhard, Brian Auman, Joe Faller and Lara Peffley, all of whom Swisher took under his tutorial wing at one time or another.
Swisher himself chose not to play golf, instead parking himself in a golf cart at the ninth green in order to greet those who had come to honor him.
The event also raised $2,200 for the Mike Swisher Scholarship Fund.
“I thought I would ride around and kabitz with every group,” said Swisher, in typical dry ‘Swish’ style. “When I learned they were going to do this my first reaction was ‘Why?’ and ‘Don’t do it’. I just want to go out quietly. But as usual, they didn’t listen. I’m honored and humbled by it all.
“It’s just nice to see all these people,” he added.
“He taught me how to play golf,” said Lesher, a former member of the PGA Tour. “He was a fantastic player and a great teacher. I could never come close to beating him. As a growing, aspiring player, I got to learn how to play golf. He can play, and he knew how to teach too. He has all the facets.”
“His influence on me came through Greg (Lesher),” said Gebhard, who played at Division One Vanderbilt. “Because growing up, I played everything through Greg. Greg was so excited about golf and that all came from Mike, and it worked its way to me. Swish’s enthusiasm is contagious and everybody he comes in contact with is stricken with it. Now we’ve kind of passed it on to the next generation. The legacy he is leaving behind is really exciting.”
Through his quirky outer shell, Swisher has made a name for himself as a golf instructor who has a knack for connecting and bringing out the best in each of his students. He is recognized as one of the top teaching pros in Pennsylvania and has produced about a dozen players who have gone on to play Division One college golf.
“Seven or eight guys who played Division One golf out of little old Lebanon, Pennsylvania,” said Lesher. “That’s remarkable. At the end of it all, he just has a heart for kids. He just pours himself into the juniors. He’s just a fabulous man.”
“Think of how many Division One players came out of little old Lebanon,” said Gebhard. “It’s amazing. You’d be hard-pressed to find that percentage anywhere else. And all the credit goes to him. He tirelessly works with any junior who wants to play golf. That enthusiasm really encourages kids to want to play golf.”
With the help of then-Cedar Crest coach Fred Sherk and then-Elco coach John Witter, Swisher helped found the widly popular Lebanon County junior golf program, which gives local youth a chance to learn the game of golf despite financial status. He also elevated the W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners tournament at LCC into one of the premiere golf events in central Pennsylvania.
“What a faithful guy he is, and he always did the honorable thing,” said Lesher. “He was just always there for me. He’s a quiet guy. But when I lost my PGA Tour card in 1994, he got in my face and said, ‘You’ve got to get back out there.'”
Upon his retirement, Sean Smyth, Swisher’s current assistant pro, will assume his duties. Swisher has vowed to stay associated with LCC on a part-time basis and to continue teaching.
“It’ll be just another day,” said Swisher of his offical retirement, “because I’m still going to be here part-time and still teach. Come golf season, I’ll be as busy as I want to be, not as busy as I have to be. It’ll be nice not being the person in charge.”