Suburban Sanctuary Balmoral evolves with the Market
By Ann Craig-Cinnamon
Balmoral House is an island within the busy city of Fishers
Looking at all the growth and changes in the city of Fishers over the past few years, it is hard to imagine that at one time there was nothing much here at all. Rick Eaton can imagine it because he has lived here since 1954 when Fishers was mostly farmland.
Eaton, who is an orthopedic surgeon, is the third generation to live on 80 acres of land that his grandfather, JW Speicher, acquired through a business deal in 1935. It is a triangular piece of land that today is bordered by 96th Street to Willowview Drive to Allisonville Road just west of the Metropolitan Airport. Back then, the land was out in the middle of nowhere and Speicher leased it to farmers to farm on.
Speicher eventually built a home on the property and, later, two of his children did too. One of them was Eaton’s mother. She and her family moved onto the land in 1954 when Eaton was two years old. He grew up there surrounded by sheep and horses and hay, which he baled for many years. “We baled a lot of hay”, said Eaton who added, “the hay paid for college and med school”.
Eaton and his wife, Diane, who served many years on the Hamilton Southeastern School Board and is very active in the Fishers community, built a home on the land themselves in 1986 and live there today. Eaton’s brother also built a home on the family’s land and the tradition continued. But that’s not the end of the story. It’s just the beginning.
The Perfect Plot
Rick Eaton, like his grandfather, had an interest in golf and with such a perfect plot of land around him, he and his family decided to build their own private golf course. First one hole and then another and then when 96th Street was undergoing a major widening, they took the dirt from the construction for their golf course and at the same time created ponds and graded the property. Before you knew it Balmoral Golf Course was born. By 1999 they had a full-fledged nine-hole golf course.
At first, friends were invited to play and then friends of friends and, finally, the Eatons opened up their course to members around 2007, which was their first foray into opening their ancestral home to the public. Where once there was a barn, now there was a pro shop and where once there was a sheep pen there was a putting green.
Footgolf was added to the course in 2014, making Balmoral the first footgolf course in Hamilton County and the second in the state of Indiana and it quickly gained a following. Then in 2016 the Eatons remodeled a 10,000 Square foot house on the grounds that had belonged to Rick’s brother and turned it into an event center called Balmoral House.
“When we built the Balmoral House, we thought that it was going to be a nice addition to our golf business to have a larger place where we could do events. So, that was our thinking that we could have golf events and footgolf events and now we had a place to have luncheons and corporate events and weddings”, said Diane who added, “what we learned was that Balmoral House was a stand-alone business. So, rather than the footgolf and golf feeding the Balmoral House, the Balmoral House business is feeding the footgolf.”
At the beginning of the 2017 golf season, the Eatons decided to close the golf side of the business. “We decided to do footgolf exclusively and we’re the only golf course in the state that just does footgolf” said Rick who adds, “the bottom line is that we don’t share it with golfers”.
The Eatons describe Balmoral House as an elegant, intimate and unique event space. They stress that they are not a banquet hall but can handle any kind of event or outing including weddings, corporate outings, corporate events, corporate team building, private events, parties, and wine tastings.
They distinguish themselves from other event centers by the fact that they offer outdoor recreational activities such as footgolf and cornhole and most centers do not. Additionally, they have a very private space where you can step outside and not hear traffic going by. “We have that great connection with nature. We’re much more private than some of the other places. You get that more intimate, private, nature feeling here,” Diane said and added that it is not unusual to see deer on the property and an egret land on a pond.
It wasn’t easy turning a home into an event center open to the public. The Eatons had to deal with multitudes of regulations from numerous government entities such as Homeland Security and the Fire Marshall. They had to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and they were forced to undergo expensive and intrusive installations of sprinkler and alarm systems and exit signs.
But, all in all, they are pleased and proud of the end result. “When you have clients come here and you see how happy they are, it was all worth it. The joy really of doing this is to help celebrate life and life experiences. It is so much fun”, said Diane.
It’s also a very personal business since it is literally out the Eatons’ back door. Many people own businesses but not many live on the same property with it. The Eatons say it has advantages and disadvantages. They merely have to look out their window to see what’s going on, but, by the same token, they can never really leave it. They say it also forces them to make decisions differently since they live on the property.
Rick Eaton has seen a lot of changes in Fishers since he first moved here as a young child in 1954 and he is happy with what he sees from both a personal and a business perspective. He and Diane say they enjoy the young, vibrant feel of Fishers and the people that have come because of it, which feeds their business. But they also enjoy their prime, private location within this vibrant city.
“We are still an island here. That’s one of the unique things about Balmoral. We are very secluded. We have our own little paradise within this growing, booming area,” said Diane.