Originally created 02/26/03

In the works

AIKEN - Cedar Creek Golf Club - make that the Golf Club at Cedar Creek - is on the way back.

It might take a while for the Arthur Hills-designed semi-private course to shine as it did a dozen years ago on opening day, but it won't be for lack of effort by the new owners.

The husband-and-wife team of Hank and Carol Thurmond, along with Jim Doherty, make up White Pine Holdings, L.L.C., which they established in February 2001.

The group took over the operation of the Golf Club at Cedar Creek, which Doherty said "was distressed and a little aged," Thanksgiving Day.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more serious group of owners. They're using what they call a "strategic model and business plan" to carry out their "mission and vision" at the course, which they have renamed the Golf Club at Cedar Creek.

That's a change in purpose from the original owners, the Crescent Group of Libertyville, Ill. Under its absentee ownership, Cedar Creek members no doubt felt as if they were second-class citizens. The Crescent Group focused its energy and money on its two Atlanta area semi-private courses, Olde Atlanta Golf Club in Suwanne and Eagle Watch Golf Club in Woodstock, not Cedar Creek.

In contrast, the Thurmonds and Doherty are "pretty much 24/7" at the course, Doherty said.

The Thurmonds, who lived in Rochester, N.Y., before buying the course, have an Aiken apartment and say it's only a matter of time before they make the move permanent. Doherty lives in Beaufort, S.C., and makes the trip to Cedar Creek regularly.

"Our value proposition was to be hands-on management, whereas the previous ownership didn't spend time on the site," Hank Thurmond said. "We believe that will allow us to realize the latent value inherent to the property."

The 170 members of Cedar Creek have welcomed the change in ownership, along with the property builder for the residential community, Hank Thurmond said.

"There had been a lack of cash infusion and because of that, inertia had set in, not necessarily of a positive nature," Hank Thurmond said.

A mutual friend put the Thurmonds together with Doherty, who has 20 years of experience in the golf industry. At the time, Hank Thurmond had retired after 18 years with Bausch and Lomb, Inc.

"Carol and I had the dream to own and operate golf courses and Jim had the experience," Hank Thurmond said. "The experiences and capabilities of the three of us ... one plus one plus one really is greater than three."

The group looked at 40 properties before selecting Cedar Creek

"It was very clear that the Golf Club at Cedar Creek met every single requirement, including the non-quantifiable one: it just felt right," Hank Thurmond said.

"We saw it as a diamond in the rough," Carol Thurmond said. "There was so much potential as far as an Arthur Hills golf course that has a beautiful setting and hasn't been comprised in any way. It just needed some tender loving care to bring it up to the expectations that everybody expects it to be."

To that end, the owners had two ways to go: quick-fix or ongoing progress. They chose the latter.

"We want to take the approach where say, the customer hasn't played the course in a week or so and they notice a trap has been re-sanded, or there's new tee markers out here or this area that was a little muddy has been drained and cleaned up," Doherty said.

"We're investing on an incremental basis to improve the property each day that we're here," Hank Thurmond said.

Club members have been assured by the owners that Cedar Creek will remain semi-private.

"Our stated goal is to be the No. 1 semi-private golf facility in the region," Hank Thurmond said. "That's an ambitious goal, but you should set ambitious goals, and we have done so. We believe we have the basic platform and the wherewithal as long as we stay to our strategy to achieve that goal."

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.


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