If you’re afraid the new leasee of the Augusta Municipal Golf Course is going to make extensive changes to the layout and alter its charming character, you can rest easy. Brian Hendry has no such plans.
Regulars at The Patch still cringe at the plans one potential leasee had in 2005 to expand the tiny greens, which are the short course’s last line of defense against low scoring.
His first order of business, if he got the course he said, would be to change the ninth green, the smallest of the small greens.
There was a sigh of relief when the city decided to run the course instead of farming it out at the time.
That changed last year when the city chose to get out of the golf course-running business and put the course up for bids.
Hendry’s The Patch in Augusta LLC won the contract to lease and operate the course. Its seven-year lease (with an option for an eighth) started Jan. 1.
Hendry, who the is the chairman of The Patch in Augusta LLC and his team – director of golf Ronnie McDonald, director of operations Gwynne Chase and golf course superintendent Larry Guy – have been embraced by Patch-loving golfers.
They already have 89 members, about 30 of those are newcomers, Chase said. Nine new members signed up Monday.
When the city ran the course, golfers could pay quarterly, and the membership numbers were between 67 and 177, Chase said. All memberships are now on a yearly basis.
“It’s a blank slate and it’s exciting,” Chase said. “We’re new and they’re trusting us.”
“We want to make it better,” McDonald said. “It’s not our golf course. It’s the members’ and the city. I think there is an ease when people walk in here.”
The outgoing Hendry is an unabashed fan of the layout, which was designed by fellow Scot David Oglivie Jr. in 1928.
“There have been changes over the years like all great courses, but the bones of the course are there,” Hendry said.
For decades, golfers have raved about the layout while complaining about its condition. I once played with a first-timer at the course who called it a “sporty little number” but didn’t have much to say about its condition.
“It’s a nice little course, but it needs some tender, loving care,” said Hendry, who plans to do just that.
“The first time I played it I loved it; I still love it,” Hendry said of the course. “I saw it was in poor condition but absolutely loved it. We think it is to die for.
“If you look at the actual layout, there are risk/reward holes, you use every club in your bag, and a decision has to be made on every hole,” Hendry said.
Hendry was immediately attracted to the course, which has a wonderful balance and rhythm.
“It only took me five minutes when I drove up the drive and saw the clubhouse that I knew I was going to have to bid on it,” he said.
That was about two years ago, when word got out that the city was thinking of either shutting the course down or leasing it out because it was losing money.
Hendry and McDonald are full of ideas to make the course better.
“I’m not exaggerating, but when Ronnie and I walk the course, we see a thousand things to do,” Hendry said. “But you can’t go crazy if you want to keep price under $25” (it’s $19 to walk 18 holes during the week and $22 on the weekend).
The first changes include cosmetic ones such as building a men’s and a women’s locker room and painting the clubhouse.
On the course, the team of Hendry and McDonald have four changes in mind for now, all of which they hope to have finished in the next 16 months. They are all on the back nine.
The first one is a nod to Hendry and McDonald’s Scotish heritage. They plan to build a 6-foot-deep bunker to the left of the 13th green, turning it into a classic risk/reward hole since the green on the 287-yard par-4 is driveable.
“It’s going to have railroad ties standing on their end and you will be stepping down into the bunker,” Hendry said. “You will not be able to see out of it when you step into it.”
Hendry hopes to have this one done by the Masters Tournament.
After that, he plans to spruce up the par-3 14th hole by “giving it a touch of Augusta (National),” he said.
He’ll also seal up the leak in the pond and bring the water level back up in the hazard.
When completed, Hendry said Nos. 13 and 14 will be the course’s signature holes, which makes sense because they are the two holes you see when driving to the clubhouse.
Other changes include building a championship tee on the par-4 15th and moving the green on No. 18.
“It can go back 100 more yards,” Hendry said of the new tee on No. 15. “We’ve cleared the area; it’s a wonderful tee.”
The green on No. 18 will shift to the left. Not only will it be shadowed by the clubhouse, but the service road, which is out-of-bounds, also will become a concern for the golfers.
Instead of the slight dogleg right that the hole is now, it will be straight away.
“What you want is an 18th hole with everything in front of you,” Hendry said.
Hendry said he hasn’t met any resistance to new rules he’s enforcing: no jeans, no T-shirts and no card playing. In fact, the new locker rooms will go where the card-playing room was.
“We haven’t got one e-mail asking us to rescind the jeans policy and bring back the cards, but we have had 20 e-mails saying ‘we’re delighted you made the changes,’ ” Hendry said.
Hendry and his team have grand plans at a course that has been neglected for too many years. In time, they hope to turn the “sporty little number” into a shiny jewel.
“What we have here is a great design, great location and a wonderful little clubouse,” Hendry said. “We’ve got a great chance here.”