Niskanen hangs it up as coach of Bemidji State men's golf squad
In 1992, at the age of 60, Don Niskanen retired from Bemidji High School where he taught industrial arts and coached, among other programs, the middle school golf teams.
An avid and accomplished golfer, Niskanen was ready to enjoy retirement and was anxious to continue testing himself at the Bemidji Town & Country Club.
Although he didn't know it upon his retirement, Niskanen was destined to spend more hours at the golf course than anyone could imagine.
"Dave Lehmann was the men's golf coach and he became ill," Niskanen said. "Bob Peters was the athletic director at the time and asked me if I could take over the program for the rest of the season."
The rest of that season expanded into 17 years. During that span Niskanen guided the Beavers to four NSIC titles and seven runner-up finishes. He helped 35 players develop into all-conference golfers, five of his athletes won the NSIC individual title and Niskanen was named the NSIC's Coach of the Year four times.
Several of his teams qualified for the NCAA II national championship meet. The 1999 team finished second in the District 5 tournament. In 2006 the Beavers won the Central Region crown. This spring Niskanen guided BSU to the NCAA II West-Central Super Regional tournament.
There isn't much in the conference or NCAA II ranks that the Beavers haven't accomplished under Niskanen's guidance.
"I enjoyed the young men I worked with," Niskanen said. "Coaching at the college level was a challenge and as the program grew I grew with it."
Niskanen will now look for different challenges as he has officially retired as BSU's men's golf coach.
"It's time," Niskanen said. "I am somewhat remorseful but the travel is extensive and during the last couple of years it has become too much. Some of our trips are 11 and 12 hours and that's too long for someone who just turned 78 years old."
Niskanen held the responsibilities of being the head coach but he admits that others have helped him develop the program.
Financial backing to provide scholarships, including three that are endowed, has come from alumni and friends of the men's golf program. Niskanen's extensive network of friends and alumni has funneled leads about possible recruits and, once contacted, those recruits found plenty of reasons to attend and play golf at BSU.
"The main positive I had to show a recruit was the Bemidji Town & Country Club," Niskanen said. "You will not find a nicer golf course.
"And I was fortunate to have such a strong feeder system in my own yard," Niskanen added. "I had my son Eric coaching in Bemidji and so many of the area high school coaches are personal friends of mine. They could direct kids to me and direct me to kids."
Bemidji State officials are yet to name the new men's golf coach. Niskanen's wish for whoever is chosen is that his successor will enjoy the kids and the position as much as he did.
"My advice would be to work hard and continue to make a genuine effort to recruit quality kids to play at the university," Niskanen said. "The coach must be a mentor as much as a coach. Hopefully, the new coach will get 17 years of enjoyment out of the kids and the program like I did."