Friday, June 18, 2010

SPORTS>>Darter back at North Hills

Leader sports editor

Dawn Darter isn’t just at home on the golf course. The course is her childhood home.

Darter, 50, has returned to the course where she grew up, Sherwood’s newly renovated The Greens at North Hills, to serve as the course pro.

Darter’s childhood home, where her parents Dawn and Gene Barlow still live, is on hole No. 6, and the former country club, which officially reopened as a public course May 29, is where Darter developed her game and apprenticed as a club pro under veteran Tom Hanson in the early 1980s.

“I just played every day,” said Darter, a 1977 graduate of Mount St. Mary, in Little Rock, and a three-time Arkansas high school state champion.

Darter’s warm feelings toward The Greens at North Hills stem not only from her upbringing on the course but from the warm reception she got from the mostly male golfers around her.

“They all embraced me as one of their own,” Darter said. “It was very nice. To this day they’re all my good friends.”

Darter was a medalist in the state women’s amateur at age 15-16 and earned a golf scholarship to the University of Oklahoma
as the school’s first out-of-state athlete to participate under Title IX.

As part of the Educational Amendments of 1972, Title IX banned sex discrimination in athletics and academics at schools receiving federal funds.

“I saw opportunities as a golfer,” Darter said. “If I wanted to play sports for a living, I had an avenue.”
Darter worked at being a touring pro after college, until she was 21.

“There wasn’t enough money out there to chase and I didn’t want to wake up later and see that I wasted 20 years of my life,” Darter said.

So Darter married her love of golf with the life of the club pro and apprenticed under Hanson, a one-time standout junior golfer in Kansas and a veteran of North Hills himself.

“Tommy was a great role model,” Darter said.

Darter learned aspects of course management that included operation of the pro shop, merchandising, assigning carts, giving lessons and the oh-so-important scheduling of tee times that keeps play from bogging down.

Darter left North Hills to become head pro at Jacksonville’s Foxwood Country Club from 1982-85, then she moved on to Blytheville before taking the pro job at Black Mountain Golf and Country Club in Henderson, Nev.

From 2004 until February, Darter was the director of golf at Wild Horse Golf Club, which she opened as Henderson’s first municipal course on which players averaged between 60and 65,000 rounds a year.

But Darter had always been interested in her old home course in Sherwood, even when the facility was closed for three years.

Darter said she tried to let people in Sherwood know she was interested in North Hills and didn’t want to see the place fall into decay and disrepair.

So when plans were set in motion to renovate and reopen the 106-acre North Hills Country Club at a cost of $7 million, which included overcoming several legal hurdles, Darter left the dry heat of Nevada for the humidity of her native Arkansas.

“This property holds a lot of sentimental value to me,” Darter said. “This is the only property I would have left Nevada for.”

Darter isn’t the only person enjoying a homecoming at The Greens at North Hills.

Hanson, who at 81 assists Darter any way he can, is the former club pro and Mandel Brockington, who worked there as a teenager, is the golf superintendent.

“We’re not just looking for money,” Darter said. “We’re not just looking for paid greens fees. We’re looking for people to play golf.”

With the course opening in late spring during peak golfing weather, The Greens at North Hills had some catching up to do.

Darter initially spent 15-hour days on her duties and staff training.

Darter said the course is averaging 100 golfers a day and she would be happy if, with the late start, it could finish the year with 28,000 rounds played.

“This is where we set our trends,” Darter said.

The Greens at North Hills is a public course, like the one Darter left in Nevada, and while it offers rental space for receptions and meetings, there is no longer a pool or tennis courts. However. the objective is to enhance the public-course, golf experience with certain country club-style amenities.

Golfers are met in the parking lot and have their bags carried to the cart area, a full-service bar and restaurant sit next to the pro shop and the course requires tee times seven days a week and allows no individual play.

Darter said the tee times are especially important in maintaining the PGA-rated course’s pace of play at four hours and 15 minutes for 18 holes. Also, Darter’s staff pairs lone golfers with twosomes or threesomes to avoid slow play.

“You’ve got to look at a golf course as a highway,” Darter said.

“Traffic backs up. The car- pool lane moves because there are more people in the car,” she added.

There is another benefit to pairing off stray golfers, Darter said.

It’s one of the reasons she has loved the game since she took it up at age 5.

“It’s a social game,” she said. “It’s a game for all ages. You can pair the youngest guy with the oldest guy and they’ll have a great time.”