Back on Course
Heather Hills was the first place that I ever attempted to play golf. I had bought a mixed set of clubs from my friend Kurt Myers brother in-law Brent Russell. I had know idea what I was doing and had only been to a driving range a few times at Myrtle Beach. So off to the golf course I went with my brother in-law Jim Giles and I think Eric Giles his son. To make a long story short I shot 110 and think I lost 4 or 5 balls that has been around 12 years ago and still trying to play. Heather Hills has had its ups and downs since then and I can say that the new owners have really turned this little Executive Golf Course around.
On a spot of land alongside Ebert Road, the weeds grew tall. In some spots, they were up to a grown man’s waist. Underneath the weeds, the ground was all squish-squash, soaked from rain that settled and never evaporated. Five years’ worth of storms knocked limbs and leaves into the weeds and slop. If you looked at it, you had to wonder: What else was down in that mess?
Golf stories, that’s what. Thirty years of putts that lipped out, chips that hit the stick and fell, a few hole-in-ones, and all other sorts of memories created through the game.
Of course, people who’d been around golf in this city knew what was underneath the mess. They knew that from 1973 to about 2007, Heather Hills was a delightful little course, consisting of all par-4s and par-3s. It was known as an "executive course," one of the few of its kind in the state; not a par-3 course, but not a full-length course, either. The total par was 60. Children learned to play there because it was short enough to mess up.
Top golfers honed their skills there because it was tough enough to challenge them. And seniors finished their careers there because it was simple enough to not hurt old bones.
It was a special place. But in 2007, the owner and founder, Gene Doub, ran into some health problems and couldn’t run the course anymore. So he let it go. For the next four years, those weeds along Ebert Road grew.
David Hagie saw promise. The local businessman bought the small course from Doub and put some people to work. He put his son, Brandon, in charge of the property. Brandon knew he’d need a knowledgable superintendent to turn the grass back into shape.
In early 2012, Brandon Hagie found another Winston-Salem native, Dustin Jennings, who had spent the previous year working for the Washington Nationals’ grounds crew in Washington, D.C. Before that, he’d gone to turf school in Pinehurst and worked at a course there. Needless to say, he knew about grass.
So Jennings went out to the weeds in early 2012 to try and make Heather Hills a golf course again. "When I first saw it … you couldn’t tell where greens used to be and where tee boxes used to be," Jennings says. "It was all just a muddy mess. It looked like the place flooded and then whatever could grow here just grew. It was pretty much a jungle."
The Hagies and Jennings and Calvin Harris, a consultant, hit plenty of problems along the way. They underestimated the damage that had been done in the dormant phase. So they had to replace the irrigation system and totally overhaul the greens. They turned the old bentgrass up and laid down diamond zoysia—a grass much more resistant to heat and moisture. They also redid the clubhouse and renovated the popular tavern.
"There’s really no rhyme or reason to rebuilding a golf course," Jennings says. "You just do what you can. Whatever needed to be done; you chip away at it a little at a time."
Now officially reopened, Heather Hills has retained much of its neighborly vibe. A variety of townhomes and condos scatter along the edges of the course, while the sounds of barking dogs and smells of barbecue grills add to the backyard charm.
There’s a distinct suburban buzz along the front nine, as players tee off next to busy Ebert Road and walk underneath a set of power lines. The scenery is much calmer on the back nine, thanks to the rolling terrain and rushing waters of Salem Creek. The par 60 course now features six par-4 holes and the rest are par-3s with distances ranging from 96 to 323 yards.
All in all, it’s a welcome sight for those living in the area—many of whom purchased houses here because of the proximity to the golf course. When it became overgrown, their values went down. Now, they have hope of a rebound.
"I think it’s very important," Brandon Hagie says of the course’s place in the area. "It gives people a place to go play golf, especially for the elderly and the women, it’s not as long from a distance standpoint.
"But it also helps this community a ton. We get thank yous all the time from people who live around here."
See more pictures of Heather Hills as it was being renovated. Click here
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