Lin Rick Golf Course
In many ways, Lin Rick Golf Course - the Columbia area's lone municipal (Richland County) course - hasn't changed much since opening in 1972. The hilly Russell Breeden design, with a number of mounded greens and water in play on five holes, has always been one of Midlands' golfers' favorites for economical public play.
When there is a change, though, the regulars notice.
Around 2000, or three years before general manager John E. Rutherford took over, Richland County upgraded the course's irrigation system, which immediately improved playing conditions. More recently, Rutherford says, a seemingly minor tweak - removal of a tree near the tee box of the signature par-5 16th hole - was greeted with a joyous response.
"Ninety percent (of players) hated that tree," he said of a tall pine that knocked down more than its share of errant tee shots from the regular and back tee boxes. "The only ones who didn't hate it were the guys playing from the senior tees," which were positioned past the tree.
Rutherford laughed. "We found some mini-bottles out there, so I guess some (players) were celebrating it being gone."
In its 40 years, Lin Rick occasionally suffered from conditioning woes, but no longer. Recent play revealed plenty of grass on tees, fairways and greens; "lush" was one player's description. The mild recent winter helped the conditions, and boosted winter play.
"We're just getting a lot more play; overall, we're up 15 percent (in 2012)," Rutherford said. "That's probably the condition of the course, and maybe the economy picking up a little - but the (nice) weather is more than anything."
Indeed, with warmer, dryer conditions in January and February, Lin Rick's rounds played jumped 60 percent over 2011. Recently, "the (100-degree-plus) heat has knocked that down a little - around 11 a.m., it slows down - but (two weeks ago), I was out spraying at 5:30 a.m. and had a jacket on," Rutherford said.
Lin Rick's design has been a constant. At 6,795 yards and par-73, its rolling terrain and eight ponds offer challenges for all players, with several blind shots (at the water-protected par-4 third hole, the roller-coaster par-5 14th and the all-uphill par-3 17th, in particular). Also daunting can be the rolling, climbing par-5 eighth and the par-4 ninth, which plays downhill to a lake, then uphill to an elevated green.
But the most renowned - and cursed - is No. 16. Even with the tree gone, it requires a long drive uphill to a narrow landing area, followed by a second shot to a wide fairway before doglegging left to the water-encircled green, which slopes severely back-to-front. Only the longest players - and most daring - attempt to reach in two shots.
A self-sufficient entity - "we don't take any tax dollars, zero," Rutherford says - Lin Rick offers some of the area's best prices, ranging from $31 (weekdays with cart) and $38 weekends with cart) to $22 weekdays with carts for seniors. Walkers are welcome and pull carts ($2) are available.
"We've had people say they hadn't played here in years, and now - wow," Rutherford says. A recent social-media discount brought some 400 first-timers to the course, and Rutherford hopes they liked what they saw, and return.
Too bad they missed seeing the tree at No. 16.
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