Originally created 06/09/01

Golf club will shift to private



Jones Creek Golf Club has been preparing to switch from a semipublic course to a private course, a move that will occur once course owners sell 20 more memberships.

"The decision was made ... that once we reach 400 members we'll go private," said Tom Grant, the general manager of Jones Creek. "Then we'll cap membership at 450."

The move has been rumored since August, when Connecticut-based Fairways International Clubs LLC bought the 194-acre semipublic course from Capitol Golf Group/Blackacre LP for $5.5 million.

Mr. Grant, who has managed the club since November, said he expects the course to be private within a month.

That leaves just one public course in Columbia County: Three Oaks Golf Course in Harlem. The county's other course, West Lake Country Club, has been private since it opened in 1969.

But construction is expected to begin on Bartram Trail, a public course planned near Patriots Park, by October. The course will open sometime in 2002.

Fairways has spent more than $1 million at Jones Creek in course and clubhouse renovations since December, Mr. Grant said. The upgrades include new locker rooms, a new restaurant and bar to replace the snack stand, a remodeled pro shop and new golf cart paths.

About 40,000 rounds of golf were played at Jones Creek this past year. Mr. Grant said that number will be cut by as much as 12,000 rounds when the club goes private.

"It makes my job much easier," Mr. Grant said. "A private club gets less traffic, and you're dealing with the same clients day in and day out."

The club will be more customer-oriented, Mr. Grant said. There will be full-time locker room attendants and a full-time shoe service. Employees will be able to build relationships with the members.

The idea is for the Rees Jones-designed course to live up to its original promise.

"It's been a lot of work to bring the quality to the level of a private course," Mr. Grant said. "One of the reasons we bought this course is so we could take it in the direction that Rees Jones intended. The previous owners weren't able to do that."

Fairways is the club's fourth owner. The course was developed in 1985 by Bankers First Corp. and was sold to Illinois-based Crescent Co. in 1990.

Fairways owns courses in Scotland, New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut, Arizona and Georgia. For a $300,000 membership fee, people can join the company's world club and play at any of its courses.

Initiation fees at Jones Creek are $5,000 for a family and $3,700 for seniors. Monthly dues for a family are $200. For seniors they are $144.

The company has invested in Atlanta's Golf Club of Georgia and the new Ritz Carlton resort at Lake Oconee. Mr. Grant said a big reason Fairways bought Jones Creek was to have a presence in Augusta.

"It's known around the world as a golf city," Mr. Grant said. "People join a golf club because of the course. We think, outside of the Augusta National, this is the best course in the state."

"The big thing here is we want this to be a golf club," he said. "A lot of people say they belong to 'XYZ Country Club.' This is not a country club - this is a golf club. People join because they want to play golf."

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or jbanks15@hotmail.com.