After husband's death, woman faithful to Benbrook golf course

BENBROOK -- A plastic flyswatter hangs on one wall.

Used golf balls, priced 50 cents each, sit in a wire basket on the countertop alongside a display of Cracker Jack, salted peanuts and other snacks.

"Golf clubs," one sign says. "$3 and up."

The clubhouse at the Benbrook Lighted Par 3 Golf Course bears little resemblance to those country-club pro shops at Colonial and Timarron, but the greens fees are affordable for most folks and the atmosphere couldn't be friendlier.

"How y'all doin'?" owner Penny Reynolds sang out, greeting two customers.

"Little warm," one replied.

"Aren't we all!" Reynolds said over the determined hum of a Sears window air conditioner.

They paid $9 each for one round -- a buck per hole -- plus $6 to share a riding cart.

When one player asked whether he could rent a putter the woman at the register simply handed him one -- no charge.

"Just be sure and bring it back," she said trustingly.

Off they went, headed for the first tee, leaving Reynolds in the company of Katy, her 13-year-old miniature schnauzer. Curled up, asleep, in her bed in a corner of the shop, the little gray dog has a heart murmur. Her hearing is failing and cataracts have dimmed her eyesight.

Reynolds knows she faces a decision, but for now she can no more bear the thought of telling her sweet-natured companion goodbye than she would entertain the idea of selling her business to a stranger.

"Frank's spirit"

Operating a golf course that measures only 929 yards sounds like fun, but it's not all pars and birdies.

Benbrook's greens are bentgrass, a fine-leafed turf that can be as temperamental as a racehorse.

The putting surfaces are susceptible to dollar spot, brown patch, crabgrass, goosegrass, root disease and summertime heat stress. Too little, or too much, water can be devastating.

Armadillos occassionally waddle onto the 15-acre fenced layout near Benbrook Lake under cloak of darkness.

The armored critters burrow into the greens, hunting for grub worms.

Recently some joy-riding fool cut circular tracks into several greens with the tires of a riding cart and then deliberately drove the buggy headlong into a pond. Only the roof was visible above the water's surface.

Exasperated, Reynolds paid a wrecker service $175 to pull the vehicle out of the drink and spent hundreds more on cart repairs.

The electric bill for lighting the tees and greens at night runs $1,200-1,500 a month.

Maintaining the little golf course and keeping it open to the public seven days a week is a modestly profitable venture. But it is, foremost, a labor of love for a 59-year-old woman who knows the heartache of senseless tragedy and feels an obligation to preserve her late husband's legacy.

"I can't give up this place," Reynolds said simply, gazing out over the course at twilight.

"Frank put his blood, sweat and tears into it. Frank's spirit is here."

"Two peas in a pod"

In late 1992 Penny Wooley decided to take up golf and signed up at the Benbrook driving range for lessons.

She met the owner, and her instructor, 52-year-old Frank Reynolds.

A few months later student and teacher attended a Sunday afternoon movie, Leap of Faith, an apt title for two people who had been married before and questioned whether they might find true love again. Both did.

"We were like two peas in a pod," she said.

At the time Frank was excited, and busily involved, in making his dream come true. An uncle in Colorado lent him money to build a par-3 golf course near Benbrook Lake on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. Frank designed the layout and supervised the construction. A friend who owned earth-moving equipment helped him build the pond.

Shortly after opening the course in 1993 the entrepreneur took his lady friend to lunch at Luby's Cafeteria.

Frank looked up from his plate.

"I'd like for you to be my wife," he abruptly announced.

Normally a chatterbox, Penny was speechless. When she finally found her voice, she heard herself say, "I'd like that very much."

Penny continued to run her own company, which provides personality and aptitude assessments. She also coaches business executives. Frank spent day and night at his beloved lighted par-3 course. The couple regularly golfed there together during the popular Wednesday night scrambles.

"I had to let it go"

On the evening of April 1, 2004, Frank Reynolds was working alone at the course. He and a 25-year-old customer, Charles Bradley Lee II, exchanged words. Lee struck Frank in the face and left. Holding a bloody towel to his face, Reynolds telephoned his wife, who rushed him to a nearby hospital.

Frank, who was taking blood-thinning medication, suffered a brain hemorrhage and slipped into a coma.

Two weeks later, surrounded by relatives, Reynolds, 63, died without regaining consciousness.

Penny's hand was resting on her husband's chest when his heart stopped.

The Tarrant County medical examiner's office ruled Reynolds' death a homicide. Lee was initially charged with criminally negligent homicide, but in 2006 he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of assault with bodily injury. He said he acted in self-defense and received two years of deferred-adjudication probation.

"It was very hard," Penny Reynolds said, reliving the nightmare. "I felt like he should have served some time. Something. Even a month. ... But I had to accept the court. I had to let it go. If you can't, it will just eat you alive."

Lee successfully completed his probation, and the case was dismissed in 2008.

Telling her goodnight

As a gray curtain of rain swept in from the lake, lightning stitched the sky. A tattered American flag mounted on the clubhouse's wooden deck, which Frank Reynolds built himself, rippled and popped in the 35-mph breeze.

Golfers who signed up for the Wednesday night scramble hurried off the course.

"Sorry," one customer said, as Penny Reynolds handed him a refund.

"Aw, don't apologize," the owner said. "We can't control Mother Nature."

Penny Reynolds, who remarried three years ago but kept Frank's last name, hated to lose the revenue but was thankful for the much-needed rain.

A kind-hearted woman, she counts her blessings. She is grateful for her reliable employees, Bill Williams and Blackie and Alice Hollis. After Frank Reynolds died, Mark Hennard, his longtime friend and the superintendent at Squaw Creek golf course in Willow Park, told Penny not to worry. He promised to help her.

He did, and still does, overseeing the course maintenance in his spare time.

"If not for Mark I couldn't have kept this place going," Reynolds said at a long day's end.

With the course closed, its parking lot empty, she climbed into a cart and drove from hole to hole, dutifully stopping at each green to repair a few divots and gather up the flagsticks.

"Hear 'em?" Reynolds said, nearing the pond.

In the darkness she smiled at the serenade of bullfrogs, croaking, croaking, telling her goodnight.