Bob Berghaus: How the Country Club of Asheville regained its charm

​Photo courtesy of the Country Club of Asheville. ​

ASHEVILLE — When McConnell Golf bought the Country Club of Asheville (CCA) in January 2015, the entire facility needed a makeover, especially the golf course.

Designed in 1928 by Donald Ross, the course had lost much of its original charm. Many bunkers were no longer in play and the greens were worn and flat.

McConnell, who owns courses throughout the Carolinas and one in Tennessee, realized he had to make a huge investment to make the course special again.

“We always had a dream of having a network of clubs from the coast to the mountains,” said McConnell, the founder and CEO of McConnell Golf.

“We purchased our beach club first with The Reserve at Pawleys Island (South Carolina). I looked at CCA as the best fit for our network and it took about four years for their members to welcome us to buy it.

“I love the city and it is a place that many of our members will visit and enjoy the club. And it was the oldest private club in N.C. with a founding in 1894, so that is a special thing. Being a Donald Ross creation made it more exciting as well.”

McConnell eventually put $5 million into the club, with $3.8 million designated for improvements to the golf course.

All greens were redone with a few moved to give holes a fresh look. Some tees were also repositioned. The clubhouse was updated and other amenities were added.

The range was also improved and a practice area with bunkers was built.

CCA was closed for a year and reopened in April.

“Some bunkers were added or moved to adjust to current technologies,” said Robby Watts, CCA’s superintendent the past 17 years.

“Where we used to have bunkers everyone could fly, we brought it back into play. Some of the changes were dramatic.”

The restoration project was led by Pinehurst-based golf course architect Richard Mandell.

Hidden gem

During construction workers found the original green on No. 12 buried under 7 feet of dirt. The green was restored to the original grass line but a different surface was used, according to Watts.

Other major changes included restoring a creek that ran along and across No. 10, shifting the green about 30 yards to the left on the par-3 13th hole and moving the tee box on the opening hole.

Alice in Wonderland

Many celebrities have played the Ross design, most notably Dinah Shore and James Garner. The latest to join that group is musician Alice Cooper, who played in late April.

“He was playing at Harrah’s in Cherokee,” Watts said of the rocker, who is a golf fanatic. “He knew a member and was the first celebrity to play after we reopened.”

A unique 19th hole

One of the benefits of being a member of one of McConnell’s clubs is having access to other clubs he owns. CCA is a top destination spot because of what Asheville offers in the way of breweries, eclectic dining options and overall charm.

“When we were open in 2015, it had the most visitors of all the other clubs,” said CCA general manager Michael Methot. “We’ve only been open a couple of months, but we’re seeing the old patterns from members of the sister clubs. They all want to come to Asheville.”

Not all about golf

CCA has an Olympic-sized swimming pool and clay courts for those who like to play tennis.  There is also a game room with air hockey, Nintendo and other games for the “tweens.”

“Country clubs today are all about the family experience and we recognize that golf is not the only focus to recruiting new members,” McConnell said. “We focus on great dining, tennis, pool and family activities.”

Layout

CCA, which has five tee boxes, is a par-71 that plays 6,648 yards.

The longest hole is No. 16, a par-5 that measures 622 yards and offers the best views of Asheville and surrounding mountains.

Membership

CCA also has golf and swimming programs in addition to golf. For membership information, call 828-258-9183 or visit http://www.ccofasheville.com/membership.

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