AIKEN -- Nearly 70 years after amateur golf great Bobby Jones built what he called his dream course in Augusta, here comes Aiken real estate developer Weldon Wyatt.
Wyatt's dream course, Sage Valley Golf Club, is taking shape in the western reaches of Aiken.
Ground was broken in March, the site was graded and cleared by August, the irrigation system was completed last week, and sodding is under way. The course is scheduled to open Oct. 1, 2001.
"It's fun to watch it being built from the ground up," Wyatt said.
"He's always talked about building his own golf course," said Jackie Seawell, Sage Valley director of operations and golf.
Seawell and Wyatt became acquainted when Seawell was head pro at Woodside Plantation from 1988-98, and Wyatt was a member at the Aiken course.
Sage Valley is not Wyatt's response to Jones' Augusta National Golf Club, but there are striking similarities between the two.
Like Augusta National:
Sage Valley will be a national golf club of about 300 members (100 of them local, or within two hours' drive of Aiken).
Sage Valley is centered around a spectacular course that is traditional in design. To that end, Wyatt hired famed golf course architect Tom Fazio of Hendersonville, N.C. Fazio, whose brother Jim designed the River Golf Club in North Augusta, is one of the top men in his profession and is the Augusta National's current consultant.
"I told him we wanted a world-class golf course," Wyatt said. "He has produced that. I couldn't be more pleased with the architect we selected. This is something special."
Traditional touches on the par-72 course that will measure 7,182 yards include short distances between greens and tees, no cart paths and a caddie program.
Sage Valley is strictly a golf club. Even though Wyatt is the president of Wyatt Development Co. in Aiken, no houses will be built adjacent to the course.
"It is truly golf," Wyatt said. "When I first met with Tom Fazio, one of his first questions was, `How many houses are you going to have?' I said none."
Sage Valley will be what Wyatt calls "the very ultimate golf experience. Everything will be taken care of at the highest level."
Sage Valley is ultra-exclusive. At Wyatt's insistence, the project has been a low-key affair. During a recent interview, Wyatt stressed that he was "not out to publicize this."
In keeping with the private nature of the club, the membership roll never will be released, Wyatt said.
Wyatt foresees the membership as a closely knit group, much like Augusta National's.
"It will start out with our friends, and we hope that our friends will have other friends," Wyatt said. "Our goal is to have a group of people who, if you show up at the golf course, you'll have somebody you know to play with if you don't have a game."
Wyatt, who co-owns Sage Valley with his son Tom, is a member of four area clubs (Palmetto, Mount Vintage Plantation, Houndslake and Woodside Plantation) and two in Columbus, Ohio (Muirfield and Double Eagle).
Because he's not a member at Augusta National, Wyatt knows some people will call Sage Valley his version of the course Jones and Alister MacKenzie built off Washington Road.
"Our thoughts are that anybody in golf would like to be a member at Augusta National," Wyatt said. "But not everybody can be. This is not an alternative, but a level of that experience we're trying to create."
Even if he was a member at Augusta National, Wyatt said he still would be building Sage Valley.
As a member of so many clubs, Wyatt knows what he likes about them and what he doesn't. He doesn't like tee times, so there won't be any at Sage Valley. Slow play is another irritant.
"I like to play a round of golf in three hours," Wyatt said.
If the first tee is crowded when a group arrives at Sage Valley, there is an alternative to waiting. Three regulation holes that are being called practice holes are located near the clubhouse. There will be two par 4s and a par 3.
"You can play the first (practice) hole or maybe all three of them while you wait for the tee to clear," Wyatt said.
The practice holes also will be used to settle bets when a match is tied after 18 holes.
Sage Valley is built on 500 acres of land that once belonged to the Graniteville Co. Wyatt purchased the land in December 1999.
"In our part of the country, the most difficult thing to find is specimen trees," Wyatt said. "We wanted to find property that hadn't been timbered and had creeks and terrain. We've got all of that at Sage Valley. It took me a long time to find it. I guess about five years ago we started putting a lot of effort into trying to find a site."
"The property is really special," Seawell said.
Adding to the difficulty of finding such a piece of land was the fact Wyatt wanted a course located between Augusta and Aiken. Because it will have so many out-of-town members, Wyatt wanted the course to be centrally located to both cities' airports and Interstate 20.
Wyatt's wife, Brenda, named the course.
"The creek that goes through the course is Sage Mill Creek and a lot of the holes are in a valley so she said, `Why don't you name it Sage Valley?' I kind of liked it," Wyatt said.
The scheduled opening date is not set in stone, Wyatt said.
"They tell me that's plenty of time," Wyatt said. "But we're not going to open until everything is ready. If it's not ready Oct. 1, we'll wait until the spring of 2002."
Whenever it does open, Sage Valley will offer at least one thing the Augusta National doesn't.
Unlike the Augusta National, which is a winter course that is open from mid-October to late May, Sage Valley will be open year round.
Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.
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