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Jim McNair on Restoring Aiken's Golf Club at Cedar Creek

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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golf club cedar creek
Aiken's Golf Club at Cedar Creek.

In the years since the U.S.'s economic downturn, investing in a golf course has become an often-questionable business decision. In Jim McNair's case, though, buying a second golf course in his hometown of Aiken made, to him, perfect sense.

McNair, whose Aiken Golf Course is one of South Carolina's hidden-in-plain-sight gems - a 1912 design situated just a few blocks from downtown Aiken that's a step back in time, and a delight for walkers and fans of classic golf - now also owns the Golf Club at Cedar Creek, a 1991 design by noted architect Arthur Hills, located on the town's south side. His reasoning for the November 2012 purchase, he says, was simple.

"At our price for golf in Aiken (rounds at both clubs are $38 with cart, and a winter special offers a $28 price on Saturdays), they were my direct competition, so I took out my competition," he says, laughing. "Plus the price was right." McNair bought the course's note from Regions Bank for roughly 50 cents on the dollar, he says.

He got more, though, than just elimination of a rival. Both courses are open to public play, but Aiken Golf Club does not have an on-site practice facility; Cedar Creek has an extensive practice area, plus an on-site teaching pro (Kenny Evenson) and the latest teaching aids. So, McNair created a Players Club membership, giving his members the ability to play both courses for $30 extra a month.

"You can hit all the range balls you want at Cedar Creek and be a member at both," he says. "This first year, we signed up 210 members. We get a lot of cross-play and increases in the number of rounds at both courses."

For non-members, the benefits of McNair's ownership of Cedar Creek have been more immediate. The course, which features nine holes along the eponymous creek and a back nine with more hilly terrain, had deteriorated under its previous ownership. In his first year, McNair and superintendent Gary Frazier have removed 550 trees, which helped the turf and also opened up hole corridors to speed play; re-cut and configured tees; and reseeded greens with Tif Dwarf mini-verde Bermuda (fairways and tees are 419 Bermuda), resulting in a prettier and more playable course.

"It looks like Augusta National now," McNair says with pride. Improvements in the irrigation system, incorporating a satellite-based timing operation, also have helped bring back the 20-year-old Hills layout.

Though longer than cozy Aiken Golf Club, Cedar Creek (with tees ranging from 5,182 to 7,206 yards) also is designed to be user-friendly. "Eighty percent of our members (180 at Aiken GC) are retired," McNair says. "That's why we are making it more playable, with enlarged front tees and the bunkering."

In their upgrade of Cedar Creek, McNair and Frazier continue to seek a sort of retro look popularized by the recent Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore renovation of Pinehurst (N.C.) No. 2, site of the 2014 U.S. men's and women's Open Championships. "The back nine had that look, and we did some of what we did at Aiken Golf Club, incorporating waste areas," McNair says. "We may move or enlarge some greens, too."

An example of a likely change, he says, is the short-but-challenging par-3 fifth hole, which plays just 100 yards but entails a carry over Cedar Creek. "We're doing a complete re-do, putting in a retaining wall and bringing the green closer to the creek for a more aesthetic look," McNair says.

In the future, McNair envisions guests relaxing at the on-site hotel and being able to play, if they like, rounds at both courses on the same summer day; Aiken Golf Club and Cedar Creek are less than 20 minutes apart. That sort of proximity is a plus - especially when the courses are partners, not rivals.

For information on Cedar Creek, call (803) 648-4206 or click here.

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.