CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Located on the highest point in Chesterfield County, Nichole Inkel sees nothing but possibilities at Windy Hill Golf Course & Sports Complex.
"I think that I could make this into everything that I've wanted to do my entire life,"Inkel, who owns the complex, said.
Inkel, who previously coached golf at the University of Illinois-Springfield, came to Chesterfield over a decade ago to be an instructor at Windy Hill. She said she loved coaching, but has enjoyed teaching the game even more.
"Just yesterday, one of my students thanked me and brought me flowers because she hadn't played golf in years and enjoying it and knows that she can do it," Inkel said.
In her youth, Inkel was good enough to play in three LPGA qualifiers and events. That experience allowed her to know how she can help fix the mistakes of amateur players.
"The number one thing they do wrong is watch the pros and expect to swing like that," she said. "They don't understand the sequence of the swing."
Inkel was offered the chance to buy Windy Hill the first time she came to work here, but she wanted to learn more about golf course maintenance.
A decade spent in Arizona picking the brains of some of the best agronomists and superintendents in the industry gave her the confidence to be her own boss. She envisions the facility, which also has batting cages, mini-golf, and go-karts as a one-stop entertainment shop.
"Bring your kids. Let them play putt-putt," she said. "Something for everyone. That's my vision."
Owning a facility was not always her dream. Playing professional golf was the goal. But an accident at age 22 nearly cost her her life.
"A school bus ran a red light going 65 miles per hour," she recalled. "I had a traumatic brain injury. I lost my short-term memory."
Inkel suffered broken ribs, a herniated disc, and eventually brain seizures.
"I had to learn how to add. I do remember that. My speech was pretty bad. Golf club. I knew what a golf club was but I couldn't say it," she said.
A year after the crash, and slowed by a traumatic brain injury, she tried golf again.
"It was difficult for me to do anything because I had a back brace when I played. But when I went out on the range, I was just swinging the club, hit the ball and it went far and we were like what's happening?" she said.
Inkel was told she would never work, read, or write again.
"When I bought this, I called my mom and said I wish I knew who those doctors were because I would call them right now," she said.
Golf became a sanctuary of sorts. A place where she wasn't judged for what she couldn't do, but where she found hope in what she could do.
"It totally saved my life because it was a safe place for me to realize I can drive on, I can do this," she said. "Golf actually made me work harder on my rehabilitation."
That experience gave Inkel a new perspective on golf and life. She said she hoped Windy Hill will be a place where people will want to hang out with friends, get better at their game, bring their families, or just get away from whatever might be holding them back.
"You don't know what everyone is going through. You have no idea. When they come out and take a lesson, maybe this is their safe place? This is their out to get away from the world," she said. "When I get flowers and I hear people say you have no idea what you did for me, I'm thinking I know exactly what I did for you."
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