Originally created 10/10/01

Exclusive club opens Sunday



AIKEN - No expense has been spared or detail overlooked at the soon-to-open Sage Valley Golf Club.

Co-owner Weldon Wyatt has seen to that.

The ultra-exclusive private club's golf course, designed by famed architect and Augusta National Golf Club consultant Tom Fazio, will be unveiled Sunday in western Aiken County. The course is located on Bettis Academy Road, not far from the Graniteville exit off Interstate 20.

Most of its local and national membership, hailing from 13 states and counting, will be on hand to play the 7,182-yard, par-72 course that Fazio has been privately raving about.

"It's really something," said Wyatt, who owns the club with his son, Tom.

Weldon Wyatt, president of Wyatt Development Co., in Aiken, let Fazio handle the design of the course, which has been ready for play since early summer. Wyatt has taken care of the rest.

That includes a caddie program, five cabins, four bedrooms and an elevator in the mammoth clubhouse, a barber on site, three practice holes, a teaching facility and a first-rate golf pro staff, headed by noted instructor Jackie Seawell.

It was Wyatt's enthusiasm for Sage Valley that got Seawell, the former Woodside Plantation head pro, back into the business.

Seawell, now 59, had been retired for three years when Wyatt, a member at Woodside when Seawell was the pro there from 1988-98, came calling.

"I'd retired and was as happy as I could be," Seawell said. "But I knew what he (Wyatt) was going to do and I wanted to be part of it. That's why I came back."

Seawell is the director of operations and golf at Sage Valley. Former Augusta National assistant Eric Pedersen is the head pro. The assistant pros are Matt Frazier, Russ Padgett and Travis Pack.

"There is nobody that could have put more effort into the whole deal, from a caddie program down to food and beverages," said Augusta's Danny Williams, one of Sage Valley's founding members.

"Anything I've done, it's been determined by how much effort you put into it," Wyatt said.

To that end, Wyatt has taken trips in the last two years to all corners of the United States and even to Ireland and Scotland. The destinations have been the world's top courses, where Wyatt picked up ideas and made sure his course wasn't missing any amenity.

The list includes Pebble Beach Golf Links and Cypress Point in California, Castle Pines in Colorado, Sand Hills in Nebraska, Iron Horse in Montana, Double Eagle in Ohio and the Honors Course in Tennessee.

"We went to eight different courses on the last trip and we already had everything covered," Wyatt said. "That's the truth. My general manager (Dave Christensen) was waiting for me when I got back. He had a legal pad and was anxiously waiting on what I found.

"The only thing I found I would incorporate here is at the security entrance," Wyatt said. "Whoever the officer is on duty, his name should be posted. We have gone far beyond the extent of any golf course I've played over the years."

It is what Wyatt calls "the ultimate experience in golf" that he is striving for at Sage Valley, his dream course.

"There are a lot of good golf courses," Wyatt said. "But golf isn't all there is to it. It's what goes with it. It's the housing, the food and all aspects of it. We're trying to give them everything they could possibly want. What I've been after, ever since I started this, was when a member comes through that gate, they say 'Wow!.' I'm hoping that's what they say when they go out the gate too."

None of the famous courses Wyatt has played "are on this level" in terms of the total golf package, he said.

"We've incorporated them into one facility; you won't find that anywhere else I've been to," Wyatt said. "Pebble Beach is scenic, but as a golf experience, it's not even close to this. Sage Valley is going to be a pretty unique experience."

Some will no doubt draw some comparisons to Augusta National when Sage Valley opens. Wyatt won't be one of them.

"We couldn't ever be a rival to them," Wyatt said. "I don't think anybody thinks that. You can't replace historic value.

"But it is kind of unique to have two of these facilities within 15 minutes of each other," Wyatt said. "I don't know anywhere else in the country where you'd be able to put that together."

One comparison with Augusta National that Wyatt wouldn't mind has to do with mystique. He wouldn't mind having the kind that surrounds that famous course that Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie built.

"I want to make people aware of it, but not make them aware of it," Wyatt said of Sage Valley.

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.