Tim Gaestel says golf saved his life.
A chance round at Lions Municipal Golf Course with his father in Nov. 2005 gave Gaestel, who was injured in the Iraq War, a new way of finding happiness.
“[Golf] allowed me to understand the world again,” Gaestel posted on his blog in 2010, “golf showed me that I could still be competitive, that I could set goals and achieve those goals.”
Gaestel, now 33 years old, is the head golf coach at Vista Ridge High School in Leander. Gaestel’s family moved to Austin when his father, Richard Gaestel, retired from Fort Hood in 1988. Gaestel graduated from Leander High School in 2001 and enlisted in the army shortly thereafter.
Gaestel was injured on a mission in Iraq when two pieces of shrapnel from an IED explosion struck him in the back. He remained in Iraq for six months until he returned to the states from Iraq in 2004 as a disabled soldier. As the months went by, Gaestel started having problems coping with everyday life. While Gaestel was taking classes at Austin Community College he began skipping them and feeling depressed.
His father, Richard Gaestel, noticed his son’s struggle.
“He was taking a lot of painkillers and was feeling sorry for himself,” Richard said. “It was a down in the dumps kind of feeling, I know it happens when someone is active [in the army] and comes back.”
Richard knew first hand what his son was going through after he spent 23 years in the military.
He wanted to help his son, and thought golf might be able to do the trick.
“One day he was pretty down,” Richard said, “so I said ‘Tim, let’s go play golf.'”
It was a fall day in November of 2005 when Gaestel and his father arrived at Lions Municipal Golf Course. There weren’t many people playing, which allowed the two to play each hole slowly.
“We one by one started playing each hole,” Gaestel said. “He told me stories about times he played Lions, all the little tidbits of information he had learned about things that had happened on this course, like the story of Ben Crenshaw getting out of his car, walking to the first tee and hitting the green on his first drive, things like that.”
The two pushed their carts from hole to hole. While they walked, Richard shared the history of the course that had drawn him in over the years and hoped that by doing so Gaestel would be drawn in as well.
He spoke of golfers such as Harvey Penick, Ben Hogan, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite – names that would resonate more with Gaestel after reading “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book.”
“I didn’t know exactly what drew me to the course,” Gaestel said, “but the idea that these guys put Austin on the map with golf and that this course put Harvey Penick on the map of golf drew me in. And now 11 years later I’m a head golf coach…all in that moment at Lions, is what lead me here to where I am today.”
Lions Municipal Golf Course opened in 1924 as a facility for the public to play golf. For almost a century many people like Gaestel learned the game on the course, and now, many of those same people are trying to keep Lions Municipal alive. Currently, The University of Texas owns the property on which the course is located. University officials have decided to let the lease expire in May of 2019 in order to develop the land. Therefore, citizens locally and nationally continue to join in efforts to prevent the demolition of the historic golf course.
Gaestel continued to play Lions and focus on golf as often as he could for the rest of that year.
“Instead of me committing suicide or falling into drugs, or any of those things, I got hooked on golf,” Gaestel said.
Eventually, Gaestel realized his dream was to be a golf coach and that he wanted golf to be apart of his everyday routine. He was accepted to Texas State in 2008 and through the connection of one his friends, got the opportunity to work as a golf coach at the course run by the Texas State recreational center. He was coaching and playing golf every moment he could. When he wasn’t in San Marcos he was at Lions.
“I didn’t know what was happening to me when I got hooked and I didn’t know how much it would help me,” Gaestel said, “but I knew I wasn’t thinking about all the bad things I saw. I wasn’t thinking about all my friends who had died or IED’s going off. I was thinking about golf.”Gaestel graduated in 2011, moved to San Angelo and worked at Bentwood Country Club for two years. He then got a job as the assistant coach of the Central High golf team and after his second year of coaching in San Angelo, Gaestel was invited to play in the Warrior Open. An annual tournament hosted by George W. Bush in Dallas. After the tournament Gaestel became a candidate for a head golf coach position in Leander ISD. He jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m so happy to be back home in Austin,” Gaestel said.
Gaestel’s wife, Adria Battaglia, can attest to her husband’s happiness that this sport, and the opportunity to coach this sport has brought him.
“From my perspective I think golf has empowered him to serve others,” Battaglia said. “Tim has taken everything golf continues to give to him – physically, mentally, and spiritually, and uses it to give to his student athletes. He encourages them to view golf as a life-long activity that sharpens your mind as well as your body.”
Gaestel continues to play and coach the game everyday. He and his father continue to compete for their family golf trophy that’s given to whomever wins the most rounds throughout the year.
Golf has given Gaestel so much, but mostly the sport has given him a reason to compete in every aspect of life again.
“I thought I was down and I thought I was out,” Gaestel said. “Golf let me be a competing person again…someone that can compete in all aspects of my life.”