Joe Garverick, left, one of the new Heather Downs owners, and general manager Dan Hathaway show a sign of the times. The club, which opened in 1925, was private until this year.
It s funny the little things that crop up.
Joe Garverick, one of the new owners of Heather Downs Country Club, was walking the property recently when it struck him there were no signs in place to direct players from one green to the next tee.
For 80 years, no such signage was necessary. As a members-only, private club, Heather Downs wasn t a mystery to the golfers who played it. No directions were needed.
Now, everything has changed.
For the first time since it was founded in 1925, the Downs is open to the public. Thousands of golfers who have never before set foot on the south Toledo grounds will need to know how to get from greens to tees.
The club s dwindling membership, facing increased costs of doing business, put the property on the market late last year, months after rumors first swirled that it would be sold to developers for home sites.
The No. 4 hole at Heather Downs Country Club provides a stark elevation change. The golfers here laid up short of the creek on their second shots and are chipping to the green.
In the end, though, sentiment won out, according to general manager Dan Hathaway.
"There was too much of an emotional tie by the members for it to be turned into something other than a golf club," said Hathaway, who remains in his position under the new ownership group.
So the bidding went to Garverick, also the managing partner at The Legacy in Ottawa Lake, Mich., and two fellow investors.
Heather Downs will be operated as a semi-private club, meaning members paying reduced annual rates will still have access to the swimming pool, tennis courts, and a members-only mixed grill room. They will also have first dibs on preferred tee times.
"We have about 100 members who remained, a nice base, and it continues to grow," Hathaway said.
The club is selling annual memberships that range from $70 per month (social) to $265 a month for full family privileges.
As a daily fee course, the Downs will be available to the public for $50 on weekdays and $55 on Friday-Saturday-Sunday. Those rates include cart rental. Walking will be allowed on weekdays with a $36 greens fee.
In the Toledo area, those rates translate into an upscale operation, much like The Legacy.
"It should be," said Garverick. "It s a country club and it s going to join The Legacy as one of the premier public courses in the area. One of the things that surprised me when we did our research was that 190,000 people live within five miles of this course. Up at The Legacy, we have maybe 2,800 people in the township.
"So there is a potential here that really excites us, and it s not just golf. We have a restaurant that s open to the public and wonderful banquet facilities. We think our [semi-private] rates are very competitive and there s no initiation fee and no food minimum to deal with like at private clubs. So we re targeting young families who are looking for a full-amenity club at more than reasonable rates."
Mike Stark chips onto the green at the ninth hole at Heather Downs Country Club with the clubhouse as the backdrop.
Heather Downs is also targeting public links and league players and Garverick has been pleasantly surprised by demand for the latter.
"We came very close to selling out all the [league] times in the first two weeks," Garverick said.
Hathaway said 20 leagues will play on four nights a week, alternating between the front and back nines. He added that there is already a waiting list for league openings in 2007.
What those golfers new to the Downs will find are two distinctly different nines and lots of small greens. The front, which has several very good holes, is fairly wide open. The back nine is a forest.
It is a relatively short course, playing 6,250 yards from the tips and 5,844 yards from the middle tees.
The front nine offers a wonderful stretch of three holes starting with No. 4. It is a short par 4, just 301 yards from the middle tees, but with a dicey landing area over a valley that discourages using a driver. The second shot of about 145 yards is sometimes blind and is straight downhill to a green protected in front by a sliver of Swan Creek. If a golfer over-shoots the landing area, he or she will deal with a steep downhill lie maybe side-hill, as well with water ahead.
Next up is a 193-yard par 3 with an elevated tee and a green buried next to a rocky-faced hill in the deepest valley on the course. It is both picturesque and difficult.
The sixth hole offers a blind, tree-shaped tee shot from a low tee to a rising fairway. It plays anywhere from 340 to 447 yards, depending on tee location.
"There s no question that the prettiest part of the course is where Swan Creek goes through the property," Hathaway said.
Making the turn to the back nine is like dealing with a dual personality. Players must thread the needle with tee shots on some extremely tight holes.
That s not a problem, though, on the par-3 16th, perhaps the prettiest hole on the grounds. It s an easy par after all, it s the No. 18 handicap hole providing you handle a tee shot that is all carry over water and avoid more of the wet stuff that wraps around the back, left side of the green. Don t get greedy if the pin placement is left of center.
Contact Dave Hackenberg at: email@example.com or 419-724-6398.
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