LUMBERTON — The Carolina Golf Club, formerly known as Cliffwood Golf Club, on N.C. Highway 41 South of Lumberton has gained a bad reputation in the past.
There were complaints about the poor shape the greens were in and the course was one of the countless properties in Robeson County that suffered mightily from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 as most of the course was underwater. Co-owner of the course Mike Hendron said that those were the dark times for the course, but those times are in the past.
To him, the condition of Carolina Golf Club is up to par with the likes of Pinecrest Country Club and Fairmont Golf Club.
“This course is not in bad shape anymore,” Hendron said. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that not only is it not in bad shape, it’s as good as any of the courses in the area now.
“I wish some of the local people that play Pinecrest, or play Fairmont would come out and give us a chance to see how far we have come since the hurricane. They will be pleasantly surprised.”
Scott Benton, a Lumberton native and avid golfer who works at Carolina Turf Farms, recently visited the course and can attest to Hendron’s claim.
“It’s in that category now, you have to include it,” Benton said of Carolina Golf Club with Fairmont and Pinecrest. “He just needs a little bit more and he will be as good as any course in the county.”
Hendron and his father, Bill, purchased the course from the Bullard family in 2014. Built in the early 90s, the course has had a rocky last few years, but nothing compared to what happened with the hurricane hit town.
“Our business doesn’t exist any more,” Hendron said. “People think that we got destroyed from that, and it’s taken us a year and a half to get it up and running, but people in the community aren’t aware of it.”
Hendron, a Lumberton native, said he has fielded questions from people in recent month on if the course is even open. Driving by the course most days, there is rarely many cars in the parking lot if any besides Hendron’s.
Hendron purchased the course and brought his experience with golf course management with him from stops in golf courses in South Carolina. When he took over the Carolina Golf Club, Hendron set out for the same restoration that he had at Twin Lakes Country Club in Dillon, S.C.
“It was in horrible shape when I got there, but we got it in tip top shape in about three years,” Hendron said of Twin Lakes.
“We were on schedule to get this course back in shape in about three years until Hurricane Matthew came. Now all of a sudden, it’s like plan B, we had to stop with our sprigging and renovation to go to cleanup mode. We cleaned it up for a year, cleaned up all the debris and piles of limbs and trees. It set us back.”
This was not Hendron’s first time dealing with a catastrophic storm.
“When I was at Pineland Country Club back around 2003 or 2004, there was a bad hurricane that come through,” he said. “We lost a lot of trees and had a lot of water, but nothing like I saw here.”
An estimated 500 trees were downed in the storm, and flood waters brought debris and trash all over the property. The course was temporarily closed and the first rounds for nine holes on the course were played in January or February 2017 to Hendron’s recollection.
Hendron can estimate the physical damage that was done to the 18-hole course, but the monetary value of the damages he doesn’t keep track of. However, there is one total he can guess, his profits.
“I can’t even put a number on it because you’re still spending every day,” Hendron said of the expenses spent on the course. “We’ve not made a dime since the day we took it over. I haven’t paid myself a paycheck in over four years. Every dime that has come in, we’ve put it in the golf course and with a lot of our own too.”
The hurricane took the course “60 steps back” from the progress Hendron was making on the course, and once the clean-up process was done, what was delayed was brought back to the forefront.
Hendron brought in specialists from the Clemson agricultural extension to test the soil of the green complexes to find there were parasitic and systemic issues to the soil. After resolving those issues to clean the soil to allow the growth of turf grass, the greens were sprigged with MiniVerde that has put the greens in the good shape for the first time Hendron said he has been involved with the course.
“To me, a golf course has a lot to say about the greens, and Mike has put 100 percent effort into getting those greens ready,” Benton said. “They are a lot better than where they were. He’s got the fairways good and he’s mowing it right. He just needs some play over there.”
Tifway 419 Bermuda was also put in the fairways that have filled in and are tightly mowed and well kept.
“Partly because I’m hard-headed, but I didn’t want just give up and walk away,” Hendron said. “Had I walked away then we would’ve saved a lot of money. But at the same time, I think once we got to the maturity that we are now with the course, when people finally do see it, they’re going to think, ‘We’ve got another nice course in the area to play now.’”
Hendron has instituted discounted rates to bring golfers to the course to show that it is back and in better shape. Monday through Thursday, 18 holes and a cart are $15 a round, and $20 on Friday through Sunday. He said he is planning a free day in the fall that will be open to the public and have free food and golf to bring people out to the course.
After the storm, Hendron said the amount of people who regularly supported the course dropped significantly and he could name nearly everyone that was loyal to him and the course.
“Prior to Hurricane Matthew, I had about 96 members. I now have 26 members,” he said. “I can honestly only say that about 20 people stuck through the rough times.”
Work is still ongoing for Hendron as he said the course is at “80 percent” of his goal on a plan that was delayed nearly a year with the disaster, but the course is ready for golfers to come fill the fairways.
“We’re not giving up because we feel like we’ve got it in shape now,” Hendron said. “It’s like the Field of Dreams. We’ve built it, now will they come.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.