‘Steelguy’ fired by two irons • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

‘Steelguy’ fired by two irons

Businessman forges new life for Crown Point golf course

Dave Hegan
Dave Hegan bought Oak Knoll Golf Club in Crown Point after his dad retired from managing it. (Photo provided by Dave Hegan)

Dave Hegan runs a successful steel shearing business. But he has made a success of another business where customers use irons.

Hegan owns Majac Steel in East Chicago. Since 1995, the company has been shearing steel for use in a variety of industries. Its products have been used by trucking and railroad companies, as well as manufacturers of such products as office furniture and garbage bins.

With that business rolling, he received the news that the 95-year-old Oak Knoll Golf Club in Crown Point was shutting down. His father, Chuck Hegan, had been leasing and running it.

But Hegan couldn’t let it go.

Golf lessons

Athletics has always been a big part of Hegan’s life.

“My father was the king of golf in Northwest Indiana,” he said. “He ran a number of low-cost golf courses,” including Oak Knoll, which the elder Hegan originally leased in 1960, and Indian Ridge in Hobart.

The young Hegan learned to play at Oak Knoll, honing his skills in junior tournaments and against older competitors who were his role models.

J.T. Wirth, who is semi-retired from the steel industry, met Hegan 35 years ago playing golf.

“Golf has always been in his blood,” Wirth said. “Some guys are jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Dave’s really kind of the master of both.”

Both played together in pro-am events.

“He was as good as the pros we were playing with,” Wirth said.

Hegan continued playing golf at New Trier West High School in Northfield, a suburb of Chicago, before he was accepted by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Although he walked on the golf team as a sophomore there, he ended up on the rugby team, a sport he had played at New Trier West.

“A lot of my life successes are because I’ve learned that you got to deal with your fears,” he said. “And let me tell you, every Saturday in college when you went to go play rugby, you were scared to death that somebody was going to kill you out there.”

He credits the life lessons he learned playing rugby with helping him succeed in business.

“There’s a lot of times that things aren’t going your way,” he said. “Life is tough. And I overcame a lot of those fears from what I learned playing rugby.”

After graduating, Hegan began working as an accountant, but quickly found he hated being stuck in an office. At 28, he tried his hand at professional golf. Three years later, he was broke.

“I tried to play pro, and I didn’t make it,” he said. “So, I had to figure out another way to make a living.”

But golf came in handy in discovering his niche in sales in the steel industry. He said he was hitting golf balls on a driving range when he met a man in the steel processing business who said his salesmen were ex-college athletes like Hegan.

Hegan soon learned that the business of shearing steel could be lucrative, and with a partner, formed Majac.

“I have processes that make what are called blanks,” he said. “And you do that either by burning flat steel into shapes or shearing, which is like a big pair of scissors for steel, into shapes.”

His suppliers are predominantly domestic, with more than 90 percent from Northwest Indiana. Many of them have workers who have played at his father’s golf courses.

Ken Gospodarek, who takes care of the shop at Majac, has been with the company for 28 years and has known Hegan since they were teenagers.

“He always took the customer’s interest in hand, and they really appreciated that, and they just gave him more and more business,” he said. “That was the No. 1 thing that probably accounted for the repeat business that we got.”

Dad’s legacy

Even with all his success in the steel business, Hegan still felt the call of his first love, golf.

Hegan’s father, then in his early 90s, had been running Oak Knoll for 58 years when he approached Hegan.

“My dad came to me and said, ‘I think I’m going to retire.’” Chuck Hegan passed away a few months ago at age 97.

When Dave asked who was going to take over Oak Knoll, his dad said, “‘Nobody. It’s going to shut down.’”

Hegan decided to take ownership of the 96-year-old golf course. What that meant, however, was an investment in time as well as money.

“It was really run down. The rounds had dropped off. There was a lot of competition,” Hegan said. “I don’t know why I said ‘yes.’ Other than my dad didn’t want to see it go down.”

He worked out a lease with the landowner that included a clause that gave him the first right of refusal to buy it after three years.

Not only did he buy the golf course — and the land with it — he invested in new equipment and improved the greens.

“We went from averaging 9,000 rounds (to) … just under 24,000 rounds of golf,” he said.

This year, he is preparing to see another 20,000 golfers.

“Dave has tried to make (Oak Knoll) a nicer course than what it has historically been,” Gospodarek said. “He has done a lot of stuff with getting kids involved. When you go to his course to play, you will see a lot of families.”

Every year, Gospodarek added, Hegan improves the course, making the greens and fairways better and upgrading the carts.

“It’s a feel-good course, and it makes you want to come back,” he said.

Oak Knoll is what Hegan calls a low-end golf course. However, it fills a valuable niche. South of U.S. 30 in Lake County, he said, there are only three public golf courses. Two of them are high end, while the third is Oak Knoll.

“It’s the kind of place where, if you don’t play, you’re not going to feel uncomfortable playing there,” he said. “It’s not hard. It’s easy. If you wanted to take your son or your daughter to play and they’re not very good, we promote that. We promote grandpas taking their grandkids. We don’t make the price too high. We don’t have a lot of fancy stuff. But you can go there and play golf.”

Oak Knoll has proven as durable as the tree that gave it its name. When Hegan took over in October 2019, there were five golf courses in that market south of Lake County. Oak Knoll is the only one left.

After he opened in March 2020, Hegan ran straight into the pandemic. However, even that worked out. Because his course isn’t within any city limits, he was allowed to have golf carts.

“So when COVID hit, literally, I was the closest public golf course (to) Chicago with golf carts,” he said. “We were just inundated with people. A lot of people thanked me for staying open.”

Steel and golf are two sides of the same coin for Hegan.

“I’m known as the ‘Steelguy,’” he said. “We have a Steelguy plaque on the wall at the golf course. Steel is the history of Northwest Indiana. I’m just a tiny little part of that history.”

Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


  • Steve Zalusky

    Steve Zalusky is a newspaper journalist from suburban Chicago who covers municipal government and dabbles in writing about sports, libraries, old movies and jazz.


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