In its current state, the golf industry needs some success stories. Currahee Club in Toccoa is certainly one of those.
The club initially opened in 2003 as one of the most expensive real estate golf development projects ever created the state, with almost $100 million spent on the sprawling 1,200 acre property located off I-85 along the shores of Lake Hartwell by the Georgia-South Carolina border in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Currahee attracted favorable early attention for the quality of its golf course, clubhouse and real estate offerings, but as the economy sank, the project struggled financially, and eventually went into bankruptcy in 2008.
The bank that took over the facility maintained the course and shuttered the 48,000 square foot clubhouse, searching for a buyer. In 2011, Arendale Holdings, a real estate investment and development company based in Jacksonville, Fla., acquired Currahee, and has nurtured the project back into good health, with the combination of a significant infusion of capital, and many outside the box approaches to its forward thinking direction.
Spearheading the rebirth of Currahee is President and Managing Partner Andrew Ward, who previously helped nurture Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee to achieve respected, national status during his 13 year tenure there.
“We’ve gone from being an unknown treasure, to the best kept secret,” Ward says. “But we don’t want to be secret for long. We have already become a good news story for golf.”
When Ward got his first look at Currahee, he quickly realized it was “something extraordinarily special,” but also knew that “the old concepts about golf were not going to work anymore.” With the continued support of Arendale, the recruitment of superstar employees, and installation of new day golf ideas, Currahee quickly moved in a positive direction.
“We inherited this spectacular Jim Fazio golf course and an amazing clubhouse,” Ward says. “Neither required much in the way of enhancements.” Ward praises Arendale for the support they have given to the project, as millions were invested to ensure there are other amenities for members and property owners to enjoy, other than just great golf.
“We needed to create a lifestyle. We completed our five-acre sports campus with all the amenities you expect to find at a club (floodlit tennis courts, zero entry pool, fitness center) and several things you don’t, like year round vegetable gardens, bocce ball courts, and even a grand lawn where families can gather to participate in non-traditional activities.”
“It didn’t take long to realize that our upfront challenge was to grow the membership and create the lifestyle, and this needed to be done before we launched our real estate offerings. We’ve utilized all sorts of different creative options, and have taken our membership from just a few dozen on takeover, to over 265 today.”
The Club created social lifestyle memberships that have been very popular with non-golfing business residents in the Toccoa area. Modern day generational memberships that extend to sons or daughters who have reached adulthood, or in the opposite direction for a parent or grandparent, have also proven popular, avoiding initiation fees and tagging nominal additional dues onto the main members’ account.
“We had to plant seeds, water them, and watch them grow,” Ward says. “Our members have brought us their friends, and we created a new market with “Buddy Pass” memberships for golfing enthusiasts that clearly were not giving up their primary Club membership, but were extremely enthusiastic, after visiting Currahee to get involved with us.”
“We’re operating a fabulous club and development, and we’ve been able to marry the two together to establish a new home and lifestyle for our current and future property owners and members.”
Now Currahee’s residential community can take off supported by a vibrant Club life. Their Deer Run Village with Southern Inspired homes will clearly be popular with permanent living downsizers and second homers, as well as the custom home and full time living seeker.
The club has won many awards since Ward took the helm, including Southern Living Magazine selecting the project in their 2014 launch of the Southern Living Inspired Communities program – with Currahee being their only development with a golf course. Additionally, Aurora architectural awards for homes, the sports campus and clubhouse have set this development apart, as well as overall honors for best golf community in the Southeast.
Currahee won the most recent Georgia chapter of the National Golf Course Owners Associations award as the #1 Best Golf Club in the state, and Final 4 USA in 2015 after acknowledging the criteria included so much more than just the quality of the golf course.
Currahee’s golf course, which was designed by Jim Fazio, offers some of the most spectacular views you will ever encounter during a round of golf, with Fazio deftly utilizing the natural elevation changes to create a memorable golfing experience for those who visit. There are vistas on the back nine of the course where you can literally see over three of the southern states, and back across to the clubhouse atop the highest peak.
Clark Spratlin, Currahee’s Director of Golf, first got a look at Currahee when it hosted a regional qualifying tournament for the PGA club professional national championship in 2004. At the time, he said it was “the ultimate modern golf course,” measuring over 7,500 yards from the back tees, with many of the holes offering breathtaking views from elevated tees.
Currahee quickly developed a reputation among the relatively few who had experienced it as a beautiful, superbly conditioned and well-designed course, but one that was also long and demanding with some of the highest Course Rating/Slope numbers of any course in the state.
The challenge of the layout discouraged players of modest or limited ability, so with the primary intent of the club’s new ownership to make it more playable for golfers of all skill levels.
“With Jim Fazio’s help, we went through the scorecard to see where we could make this more member-friendly,” Spratlin said. The member tees are now a more manageable 6,319 yards, with Currahee playing a little shorter than the listed yardage because of the elevated tees, which offset some sharply uphill approach shots.The quality of Fazio’s design was unquestioned, but there was a need to reduce the length of some of the holes from the member’s tees, which originally measured 6,665 yards.
The back tees, which exist solely for use in a professional event, have effectively been taken out of play, with the Currahee tees playing between 7,000 and 7,200 yards and providing a very healthy challenge for players accustomed to shooting par or better. Those tees are rated at 75.2/148, with the member tees sporting a reasonable rating (71.4) but a still hefty slope (136).
The senior tees are listed at 6,047 yards (70.1/134) with the forward tees 5,325 (72.3/135). The other change to the course is the addition of what the club calls its Hartwell tees, which serve the same general purpose as U.S. Kids Golf-inspired Family Tees, which were introduced to make the game friendlier for junior or novice golfers. The Hartwell tees are 3,080 yards, with the dramatically downhill first and 10th holes still playing as par 5s, the other par 5s playing as short par 4s, and the rest of the par 4s having tees to make them play as par 3s.
The addition of the Hartwell tees, coupled with the reduction of length in the member tees have helped alleviate Currahee’s reputation for difficulty. “Some people had heard we were really hard,” Spratlin said. “Now when they come, we get them on the right set of tees and they really love it. They enjoy the member tees more at 6,300 yards than they did at 6,700.”
Besides reducing the effective length of the holes and offering gorgeous views, Spratlin points out that the significantly elevated tees allow players “to really get to watch their tee balls fly, and people really get enthralled by that.” The breathtaking views begin on the first tee, with many more to follow.
“You’ll never play a golf course with these kinds of views,” Spratlin exudes. “Even though we’re in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, you really feel like you’re at Highlands,” referring to the well-regarded courses in that area of North Carolina. Spratlin said some of the native grass areas off the fairways have been trimmed or reduced to even further enhance Currahee’s playability.
Superintendent Josh Cooper heads up the staff that keeps Currahee’s course in top condition year round, and is part of a team that Ward says has helped the club “to capture and now offer the very essence of golf living.”