Bob Gillespie



Lending a hand: Residents at Timberlake Country Club help maintain course

Posted 6/14/2012 10:21:00 AM

When it first opened more than two decades ago, Timberlake Country Club, located northeast of Columbia off Interstate 26, near the town of Chapin, was envisioned as a private golf community with picturesque Lake Murray as its backdrop.

But a combination of 1990’s overbuilding of golf courses and the economic downturn starting in 2008 have presented Timberlake’s members with a new reality: one in which public play is not just allowed but encouraged, and where members take an active role in keeping the course in top shape.

Today, the Willard Byrd-designed layout, which features some of the South Carolina Midlands’ most stunning holes – notably its par-5 finishing hole, with the lake bordering much of the right side – is open to outsiders. And don’t be surprised if some of the folks trimming the rough, taking out trees and planting decorative flowers and shrubs are also residents and club members.

That’s the story told in a May 26 feature in the New York Times. Writer Bill Pennington, the Times’ well-regarded “On Par” golf reporter and blogger, writes about how Timberlake has become an example of how to survive down times and keep a fine golf course in immaculate condition.

“With dozens of golf courses closing nationwide because of failed real estate developments, the Timberlake club is an example of a new model in the industry,” Pennington wrote of a recent visit to the course. “Rather than watch home values plummet as a lush golf course is abandoned, nearby residents are banding together to buy the course — even if it means running it themselves. …

“(I)n the case of Timberlake Country Club and others like it in states flush with retirement golf communities — North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona and Nevada — the members have donned work gloves and wielded hedge clippers and weed whackers to help keep the courses green and the clubs’ revenue ledgers in the black.”

Pennington notes that some three hours east, in the Myrtle Beach area, more than 20 courses have been shuttered in the past 10 years because of economics. Timberlake, though, has not just survived but in some cases thrived thanks to locals’ efforts to keep costs under control.

Another result, he writes, is that once-private courses are now available for visitors to enjoy. Timberlake, in fact, is the northwest Columbia area’s most highly regarded course.

“The members’ ‘sweat equity’ cuts our maintenance budget in half,” Timberlake general manager David Madden told Pennington. “I hope the economy improves and the members might not have to do all this extra work. But right now, (that work) is letting us survive and prosper.”

Not to mention adding a destination golf course for visitors to the Columbia area. For tee times and dates, call (803) 345-9909, or click here.