Originally created 04/14/02

Golfer builds own course in back yard



Four years. Thirty pallets of Bermuda-grass turf. Four loads of sugar sand. Sixty-seven sprinkler heads.

And the result is Cherokee National Golf Course, safely tucked away in Alvin Johnson's Clearwater back yard.

The two-hole golf course was a labor of love for Mr. Johnson - a love of golf. He went to college on a basketball scholarship, but he picked up his golf clubs almost 20 years ago. When his job at Professional Boiler Services kept him from making his tee-off one time too many at Midland Valley Golf Course, he decided to build his own, so he could golf anytime he wanted.

Friends and acquaintances thought he might be nuts.

"When people heard about it, they said, 'You're doing what ... Did I hear you right ... Did you say you're building a golf course?"' he says, imitating the high-pitched voices and wide-eyed surprise. "I'd go down to Hardee's or to the post office and people would say, 'Hey, I heard you're building a golf course.' I'd go into the hardware store: 'Is that right, that you're building a golf course?' "

Mr. Johnson, 48, crafted his golf course from the cornfield beside his house - the field where his grandfather taught him to plow behind a mule. The course is still surrounded by family: Mr. Johnson's mother lives on the other side, where her parents used to live. His sister, who lives behind the course, loves the pond he dug between the two holes - Mr. Johnson feeds it with runoff he captures before it can erode her property.

"I wasn't going to let the land go - that's my heritage," he says. "But I'm sure not a farmer."

Most of his work designing Cherokee National (named for its location on Cherokee Drive) involved trial and error - landscaping, digging the bunkers, packing and lining the greens and laying the grass with the help of guys from work. He installed artificial greens, with multiple hole placements he changes every couple of weeks to keep the game challenging. But the fairway is natural and has started greening after the winter - he talked to other greenskeepers who told him not to plant rye grass the first year because it would hurt the Bermuda.

A wishing well at the first tee holds scorecards printed with the Cherokee National logo. Neatly raked bunkers are scattered on the course and Pap's Pond - named for Mr. Johnson's grandfather, stocked with fish and complete with a fountain - has been built in the middle.

"People are so intimidated by that water," he says with a laugh, looking out over the pond. "It's a head-game."

He's got the course wired so he can light it at night. When he held the "grand opening" in September, friends and acquaintances scheduled tee times past 2 a.m. Sometimes when he leaves to go to work in the mornings, he runs into a foursome from the sheriff's department, who have shown up to play a round after getting off the night shift.

He keeps the course open to anyone interested in playing and accepts donations instead of charging. The course has been designed with a back-and-forth route between the two holes that allows a full 18-hole, par-54 game. When pressed, he admits he usually shoots six or seven over par. He said one person has shot par and there have been two holes-in-one.

Of course, there have also been seven balls hit into the swimming pool behind the house.

All you need to play the course, he says, is a sand wedge, a pitching wedge and a putter. He offers small golf bags so players don't have to haul all their clubs around with them.

"It's not the drive, it's how you arrive," he says. "If you can do your short game - which this is - you've got it made."

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.