Four Ooltewah, Tenn., residents purchased the Champions Club golf course from Henry Luken, who owns six other Chattanooga-area courses. The group plans to spend $1 million to refurbish the course, clubhouse and swimming pool, with the hope of eventually selling assets to adjacent homeowner associations.
Jim Brunjak has lived on the 14th hole at the Hampton on the Lake community for the past decade and watched the changes at the Champions Club golf course and country club in Ooltewah, Tenn., a suburb of Chattanooga, through the years.
Eager to restore and improve both the course, the club and its swimming pool, Brunjak and three of his neighbors—John McCormick, Bill Cronin and Derek Steele—decided last year to try to buy and upgrade the club and its course, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported. In December 2018, the four investors—organized as Champions Club LLC—acquired the Champions Club from Henry Luken for $2.1 million, and the new owners have already begun making upgrades to the 18-hole course, its clubhouse and swimming pool.
“This is all about the Ooltewah community,” Brunjak told the Times Free Press. “This club affects land values and really the whole synergy of the community.
“We live in this community and know that most of us bought into a golf course environment here as a place with a clubhouse and a pool where friends and family could gather,” Brunjak added. “We wanted to do something to protect that.”
The Champions Club, which grew out of the former Hampton Creek golf course originally developed by Phil Martin and Delwin Huggins, has had a series of owners through its 21-year history, the Times Free Press reported, including Toby McKenzie who filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and a series of banks before Luken acquired the course nearly a decade ago.
“This was once one of the nicest courses in [the Chattanooga area], and unfortunately it’s far from that right now,” Brunjak said.
The barn-style clubhouse and the swimming pool needs repairs; the golf greens have never been redone, and the furniture and fixtures in the restaurant and clubhouse need to be replaced, Brunjak told the Times Free Press.
Luken acquired seven golf courses in the Chattanooga region over the past decade and created a “seven-for-one” golf package that allowed golfers to not only be able to play at Champions Club, but also Eagle Bluff overlooking Harrison Bay, Montlake on Mowbry Mountain, Mount Airy in Dunlap, Valleybrook in Hixson and Battlefield in Ringgold, Ga., the Times Free Press reported.
Champion Club, the most demanding of the seven courses, was built in 1999 with rolling, tree-lined fairways and water hazards, the Times Free Press reported. The par-72 course includes a pro shop, swimming pool, tennis courts, bar and grill, driving ranger and practice greens.
Although Luken wasn’t looking to necessarily sell the Ooltewah course, he said he was approached by a group of buyers from the neighborhood who wanted to see a more upscale operation, the Times Free Press reported.
“Some of the neighbors there wanted it to be a different, but more expensive kind of facility, and that doesn’t work with my program,” Luken said.
The 149-acre golf course weaves between three Ooltewah subdivisions — Hampton Creek with 200 homes, Hampton Cove with 99 homes and Hampton Lakes with 78 homes. Brunjak told the Times Free Press he hopes the homeowner associations for the three neighborhoods eventually may acquire Champions Club.
For now, he and his partners are willing to invest their own money to buy and upgrade the club to hopefully attract more members and more money, the Times Free Press reported. Aided by the support of Ellsworth McKee, whose property fronts on part of the course, the new owners closed the purchase of the golf course four days before Christmas and have already begun to make improvements.
“We decided to make this move as a leap of faith and to go to the community and ask them for their support to help restore and upgrade this great facility,” Brunjak said, noting that the buyers had to pay nearly three times what the golf course property was initially appraised to be worth.
The new owners are pumping at least $1 million into the property to repair the club facilities, upgrade the swimming pool and improve the golf course, the Times Free Press reported. Already, the new owners have bought new golf carts with satellite tracking to help keep golfers on the right track and to allow delivery of food and drink items from the clubhouse. New tee markers have also been installed at each hole.
The roof on the clubhouse is being repaired, the restaurant is being upgraded and a new outdoor 19th hole food-and-beverage venue is being added at the club, the Times Free Press reported. Repairs will soon begin on the swimming pools.
Brunjak hired Andrew Uchytil, formerly General Manager of the J. Alexander’s restaurant at Hamilton Place in the region, to be the Champions Club’s General Manager and to bring fine dining back to the club, the Times Free Press reported.
Derek Montecalvo, who played golf at Mississippi State University, interned at The Honors Course in Ooltewah and worked as an assistant pro at Chattanooga Golf & Country Club, has been hired as the Champions Club’s new Director of Golf, the Times Free Press reported.
Steve Ray, owner of Steve Ray’s gas station in Ooltewah and the president of the Hampton Creek homeowners association, applauds the new owners and their efforts, the Times Free Press reported.
“It will eventually be the social epicenter of Ooltewah,” Ray said. “I think most of the community is certainly encouraged by their plans.”
Along with the improvements, dues, cart fees and other charges are going up at the Champions Club, which Brunjak said will be more in line with what other area courses such as Windstone, Black Creek and Council Fire charge, the Times Free Press reported.
Champions Club had 126 golf members and about 90 social club members among its 25 different club membership options in the past, the Times Free Press reported. The new owners are offering four different memberships.
A community meeting with members is planned for January 20, at which the new owners will explain their plans for the club, the Times Free Press reported.
Brunjak said he isn’t trying to make money with the golf course investment, but he and other neighbors want to ensure the survival of the club and course, the Times Free Press reported. “I’ve always done well by investing in people and I hope that works out in this case,” he said. “I believe there is still a place for a country club with the synergy of a pool, tennis course, a golf course and a dining facility in a close-knit community like Ooltewah. It’s about more than golf; it’s about our community.”