By Liz Kirchner
What happens when you buy your dream home tucked between the 13th and 14th holes of the renowned Reems Creek Golf Course and its magnificent mountain views and the golf course, long in decline, files for bankruptcy? You buy that golf course.
There’s a bright blue tarp on the chimney and signs say “Construction Entrance” on some of the doors. Still, at Reems Creek Golf Course this spring, the sun is shining, the parking lot is full, the view from the patio is as stunning as ever and there is that satisfying metallic klak from the busy driving range.
As recently as January, that picture could have looked entirely different, were it not for two determined women, Summer Greene and Pam Faerber, new residents to the community, who saved the course from bulldozers and years of dereliction. Because of them, a new Reems Creek Golf Course refreshed not only in its design but in its attitude toward women and junior golfers, is scheduled to hold its grand re-opening in June.
On the sunny veranda with views above an emerald back nine looking west to the Blue Ridge, Summer Greene greets smiling golfers in brilliant red sweaters and plaid trousers on their way to tee off as she talks about suddenly becoming the co-owner with Faerber of a golf course that had seen better days.
“We’ve never owned a golf course. We came up here to retire and it was very important that we live on a golf course, since I’ve played golf since I was 12,” Greene said.
Last spring, Greene and Faerber, had bought the house of their dreams – a handsome Tudor seated between the 13th and 14th holes.
Before buying, the pair, fresh from long and successful real estate careers, asked: “How’s the stability of the golf course?” owned by Warrior Golf Properties. “It’s great!” said neighbors. Two months later, Warrior filed for bankruptcy.
“We were shocked. Totally shocked,” said Greene.
As real estate agents, Greene and Faerber knew that the collapse of a golf course meant a 20 to 30 percent decline in home values to the surrounding community and R-1 zoning could have put three homes an acre on the 130-acre course, said Greene.
She chaired a group to search for a potential investor for the 40-year-old heritage course designed by world-renowned golf course designer Martin Hawtree.
The purchase required $750,000 in cash with no due diligence. There were no takers.
“We couldn’t get people to the table. So, one night I just said, ‘Pam, let’s just buy it ourselves.’ Faerber’s initial reaction was an emphatic ‘no,’” said Greene. “But she relented and we put an offer in.” Greene and Faerber closed the deal on the last day of 2019.
Renovations will cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Greene.
“We’ve had a lot of sleepless nights, but now we’re totally stoked,” said Greene.
The expense will go to significant structural changes. Over the years, the Reems Creek Golf Course, with its English pedigree, challenging elevation changes and beautiful mountain views had fallen into disrepair that now boasted collapsing sand traps, boggy greens, a disheveled clubhouse and a chaotic vibe.
“We knew what the issues were,” said Greene. “There were huge sinkholes on the 14th hole and a lot of drainage issues…,” she said. “and people were leaving golf carts in the parking lot.”
Odd changes had been made to the picturesque course.
“We wanted to honor the Hawtree heritage,” said Greene. “We found the original drawings in the clubhouse loft. We looked at them and said, ‘Where did all these bunkers come from?’ because they weren’t on the original design.”
Initially, there were two bunkers on the 18th hole, but when Greene and Faerber bought the course, there were eight.
They’ll be turning 35 sand traps into grass bunkers using fescue, pampas grass and wildflowers.
“We’re going back to the original design for the most part. While it would be really great if we could keep them as bunkers, they’d be just as great as grass bunkers, so we feel good about it. It’s not a get out of jail free card, it’s still going to be a penalty box, but it’s going to be much more pleasing to look at and not as costly to maintain.”
Little thought had guided significant structural changes. Now, structural changes are carefully considered in an effort to be broadly inclusive and welcoming.
“It’s a challenging course, so, to soften it up, the red tees had just been thrown into the middle of the fairway,” explained Greene. “You don’t do that. You need to give some thought to that, so we’re softening the course for the higher handicap golfers in that we’re strategically locating forward tees.”
The structural changes are also cultural.
“We’re not calling them ‘ladies tees’ since there are a lot of men who need to be playing from these forward tees. There’s a movement right now to get rid of all gendered tees.”
Encouraging the higher handicap player to go to the forward tee helps with the pace of play she said.
The primary stormwater drainage project to fill the sinkhole and adding a fleet of golf carts with GPS are just some of the changes. At the new course, nonsensical gender classifications will be gone, making the course more female- and junior friendly.
“If you’re a 40-handicap man or a 40-handicap woman, chances are you’re going to hit a seven-iron a hundred yards. It’s more about that.”
Greene experienced exclusion first-hand when she first arrived at the course last year.
“When I first came here, I was not treated well as a female golfer and this was way before I thought about buying the course. And I thought well if I was treated that way, there were probably a lot of other women who were treated that way as well.”
There was no women’s league and the men’s league refused to allow Greene, a 13-handicap who plays competitively from the men’s tees, to play with them. Another men’s league, though, did welcome her.
“We had great Tuesdays and Thursdays. They’re my homies. They’re my guys,” she said, smiling.
Greene’s lifetime as a golfer gives her good instincts.
“I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know,” she said, chuckling. For insight, she relies on the guidance of a local golf course consultant, Brett Miller, and the knowledge of a greens superintendent.
Not only will there be significant changes to the design, with those instincts, but Greene and Faerber will also be bringing substantial changes to the tenor of the course.