Tucked away in a rural area of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Old Fort Golf Course challenged generations of players for nearly 60 years with its unique 9-hole course.
Two years ago, Old Fort Golf Course was revamped to what is called now Jack’s Mountain Preserve. New owners Larry Deal and Deena Wade had a vision for the course, and worked hard to maintain that vision while remaining environmentally sound. But, with a lack of new and returning golfers, and less and less support from the community, Deal and Wade said they are no longer able to sustain the day-to-day operations of running the course. It is now closed.
“We were thinking it would increase because money was being put into it, and it just kept going down,” Wade told The McDowell News.
Deal and Wade purchased new golf carts, hired former superintendent Freddy Edwards, revamped the food as farm-to-table, added trendy foot golf and worked hard to bring the decor up to date with the times.
“We tried all kinds of things with the grill and nobody would come,” Wade said. “People would come to play golf and bring their own food. It was very challenging. Both of us took it (the course) full on and there wasn’t the support coming back to make it survive.”
Wade said she feels that she and Deal tried everything they could to keep it open.
“Every single day that we were open we were losing money,” Wade said. “People love the course but they didn’t support it. I did so much outreach and never got a trace of interest. It really just reached the point where we couldn’t keep going.”
Deal said part of the reason for closing is that young people don’t play golf anymore, with no new generation coming in to keep it going. According to the National Golf Foundation, roughly 200 courses closed in 2018.
“Another factor was the most rain that ever hit McDowell County in the history of McDowell County,” said Deal. “We want to emphasize how wonderful this place was for 50 years. All these people kept this place going and did everything they could, and we thought we could enhance that, but we couldn’t. We were told all we needed to do was get it back to where it used to be, and people said they hadn’t seen this place this nice in years, but they didn’t come back, they disappeared.”
But, even though the course is gone, Wade and Deal’s vision of making the property an area for the community to enjoy is still very much a top priority. Along with the purchase of the course, the land included several lots around the course that seem to be taking off with newly built homes.
“We bought this to build a community around it, and we were neglecting that part,” said Wade. “We just had internet installed for the community, and we renovated the building. We are trying to be very conservative about how much we develop. I feel like over the next few years, this place will develop in such a beautiful little community.”
Plans for the course include making it a space for multiple uses such as year-round park, a wedding venue, private event space, light agriculture, flower beds, walking track, glamping sites and much more.
“We have sold 12 lots, and we just closed on three of them in the last month,” said Wade. We still have about another dozen lots to sell; we just recently lowered the price on lots.”
And more importantly, Deal and Wade made sure to put in the land deed that the course or Jack’s Mountain will not be developed.
“When we worked out arrangements, we said we would never build houses on that golf course or put cell towers, or commercial buildings. It will stay like that,” said Deal. “That is already in stone now, we have written it into the deeds, and it can’t be changed. We all gave an effort, and the future is going to be good.”
For more information, visit jacksmountainpreserve.com.
History of Old Fort Golf Course
(From The McDowell News; Monday, Sept. 18, 1961)
Old Fort Golf Course officially opened on Sept. 16, 1961, according to an article in The McDowell News.
“The golf course was an idea and then put into reality by a group of public-spirited Old Fort citizens, business and professional leaders to promote the growth of this area. It was only through the hard work of the officers and members together to incorporate the project that it has been successful,” reads an article from The McDowell News in 1961.
The golf course was owned by a corporation that was chartered in 1960, Old Fort Golf Course, Inc. Initially, Tom Carter, assistant manager of Old Fort Finishing Company was president and Paul Richardson, an Old Fort banker was vice president. R.E. Cloy, office manager of Old Fort Finishing Company, was secretary; and Dr. Jerald Snyder, a dentist in Old Fort, was treasurer.
John R. Van Kleek, famed golf architect of Tryon, designed Old Fort Golf Course, and told The Asheville Citizen-Times in February 1962 that Old Fort was his “masterpiece”. Kleek is credited with designing over 50 golf courses during his career.
The opening of the golf course was the culmination of approximately 2.5 years of planning and work. The course was open year-round, seven days a week with a pro shop selling golf balls, tees, sandwiches, candies and soft drinks.
On opening day in 1961, a number of prizes were awarded. Clifford Seagle of Marion won $15 for shooting an 84. Lee Jones, also of Marion, took second prize of $7.50 with an 87. Prizes were also given to three golfers that came closes to the pin on hole No. 2. Eston Ross of Marion was closest with 2 feet 6 inches and won a dozen golf balls; Charles McMahan, of Pleasant Gardens, was second at 6 feet 6 inches away, and was given half a dozen golf balls; and Alfred Gardner of Marion came in third at 10 feet 5.5 inches and took home three golf balls.
In 1961, the private course opened to members and guests and cost $1.50 to play on weekdays, and $2 on weekends and holidays.
Richardson became president about four years later when Carter moved away with a job transfer. He remained president until he stepped down in later life, and was the largest shareholder. Currently, Richardson’s son Ron is the largest shareholder. He did not want to comment on the closing of the course.