At first, Bob Ebels hesitated to even take a swing at applying to coach the Hope College men’s golf team.
Twenty-six years and many drives, chips and putts later, Ebels is grateful he was recommended for and received the opportunity to lead the Flying Dutchmen on the links.
The 78-year-old Ebels has decided to retire after overseeing the most successful stretch of men’s golf in Hope’s history, which this spring included the Flying Dutchmen’s first national champion in sophomore Josh Gibson and their highest team finish at nationals.
Ebels will be succeeded by Scott Lokers, his assistant coach the past five seasons.
“After a lot of prayer, God has shown that the time is right to retire,” Ebels said. “The program is in good shape with a strong, skilled team. It is time for new leadership. It is time for me to enjoy the memories that I’ve experienced in the last 26 years.
“It’s been a privilege to be a coach for a school like Hope and make relationships with fellow coaches, parents, their sons and recruits. God changed my life through this time at Hope.”
In good health, Ebels said he plans to spend time in retirement traveling with his wife of 57 years, Marilyn, and seeking other opportunities to use his God-given skills.
Co-athletic director Tim Schoonveld said Ebels is a man of integrity who invested in his golfers like they were his own children.
“It is hard to put into words what Bob has meant to Hope College and more specifically to our men’s golf program. His wins, league championships and national-championship finishes have been outstanding, yet his love for Hope College and his athletes are what will live on,” Schoonveld said. “We cannot thank Bob enough for the legacy that he is leaving on the program and in our men’s golf community.
“Personally, he has become a great friend and mentor. I will miss our time together. We will miss him as he retires, but are excited for the next chapter that God is going to bless he and Marilyn with.”
Since becoming head coach in 1991, Ebels guided the Flying Dutchmen to 10 NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship appearances during his tenure, including each of the past four seasons. Nine of the trips to nationals came in the past 12 seasons.
Hope College finished in the Top 10 twice at nationals: sixth in 2017 and ninth in 2009.
Ebels has coached a national champion in Josh Gibson (2017); three All-Americans in Josh Gibson (2017), Steven Strock (2010) and Tommy Yamaoka (2007); a national freshman of the year in Eric Wohlfield (1999); a national all-freshman team member in Winton Munch (2013), and 12 Academic All-Americans.
Ebels developed the Flying Dutchmen into a MIAA powerhouse. Fourteen of Hope’s 20 MIAA titles have been earned under his leadership — a dominant stretch that started in 1999 and covered 18 seasons. The Flying Dutchmen posted five consecutive titles from 2003 to 2007 and four in a row from 2013 to 2016.
Ebels coached 16 different MIAA medalists, including multiple winners in Eric Wohlfield (1998-99, 2001), Tommy Yamaoka (2005, 2007), Steven Strock (2008-09) and Winton Munch (2013-14).
While Ebels has enjoyed watching his golfers succeed through the years, he treasures more the time he has spent with them as a mentor. He has relished helping them mature and bolstering their Christian faith.
“Being a golf coach is more about getting a team that bonds, getting a team where the kids like and love each other, lift up and support each other, challenge each other,” Ebels said. “I’m going to miss the kids the most and opportunity to speak to their hearts. It’s a challenge, but it’s the most rewarding part of the game.”
Ebels laughingly recalls that it took two visits to his golf retail store from friend, and former Hope College basketball standout, Clare Van Wieren, to get Ebels to interview for the open coaching position at Hope with then-athletic director Ray Smith.
Unbeknownst to Ebels, Smith, while waiting for Ebels to call, spoke and received an endorsement of Ebels from their mutual friend, future Hope College president Jim Bultman. Ebels’ and Bultman’s children attended the same school together, and the two also served together on the school board.
While meeting, Smith told Ebels “he was the right guy for the job.” Ebels soon accepted the position.
“The rest is history,” Ebels said.