Friday, April 13, 2012

SPORTS >> Southern Oaks has grown in first year

Leader sports editor

April 1 marked the end of the first year of operation at Southern Oaks Country Club in Jacksonville. Formerly the semi-private Foxwood Country Club, the totally private Southern Oaks has enjoyed a resurgence and is still growing.

Brian Hagewood, Joan Zumwalt, Harold Gwatney, Jon Johnson and Jordan Cooper bought the club and have continued investing in improvements to the entire project.

Several renovations to the clubhouse and course, as well as added amenities for social members, have spurred growth since the investment team, led by Hagewood, bought and reopened the club after it closed because of dwindling memberships and financial struggles.

“People realized when it was closed that it was such a vital asset to the Jacksonville Community,” Hagewood said. “We really needed to keep it open.”

There have been projects going on at Southern Oaks throughout the offseason. Much of the course got new sod and new cart paths and the back nine has a brand new irrigation system that will slightly alter the way the course is played.

“It’s a state-of-the-art irrigation system that no other course around here has,” Hagewood said. “It’s Going to dramatically spur growth and add water to the course where it’s never been.”

Superintendent Bo Brachaus has overseen the course renovations. He and the grounds crew have the course in great condition.

“This year our course, I’m going to say, is in the best condition it’s ever been,” Hagewood said. “Bo has done a great job getting the course in shape. This is not the course people remember playing five years ago. We feel like we have one of the nicest courses in central Arkansas. Prospective members come out here and are just blown away. We have a lot of really neat holes.”

The clubhouse now has a sports bar with flat screen televisions and shuffleboard. The swimming pool is being renovated and will include a 45-foot gazebo.

“We’ve spent over $350,000 on these renovations,” Hage-wood said. “I think that’s why we’ve seen our memberships grow like they have.”

When Foxwood closed, it had just more than 80 members. Southern Oaks had 112 commitments when it opened, and now has 244 golf members as well as 100 social members.

The club is having a membership drive through April in which the $500 initiation fee is waived. Swimming pool only memberships are also available. There is also a membership referral program like no other.

“Our membership referral program is a really good one,” Hagewood said. “Once you’re a member, every member you refer you get 20 percent off your membership dues. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if you sign up five members, your dues are free.”

The current plan of waiving the initiation fee ends April 30, but the membership drive will last through May.

“April and May will be our really big push to gain members,” Hagewood said. “We have some things coming up and we’ll decided how we want to continue the membership drive next month. Our goal is to have about 300 full members and we’d like to see Jacksonville people becoming members.”

Jacksonville residents make up about 80 percent of the memberships, with a few from Cabot, Sherwood and Little Rock. Hagewood wants local members more than anything else.

“We did get some Greystone golfers and North Hills, people that no longer had a course of our quality. My thinking on that is, we don’t need to rely on out-of-town golfers to support our golf course. If we have to do that we’re in trouble. I really believe Jacksonville people need to support this. I think it’s a vital part of our community. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be so invested in it.”