The club traces its beginnings to 1899, but has seen membership dwindle in recent years. Charles Morris, who is in the poultry business and lives on the property, paid just over $1 million for four parcels of real estate and pledged to also make a “considerable investment” to enhance the club’s facilities and operation. He committed to retaining the golf course while also looking to “get the food back to where it used to be” and restore regular social events along with special events and outings.
With a toast of champagne and expressions of thanks, members of the 121-year-old Henderson (Ky.) Country Club recently celebrated the sale of the property to one of its members, The Gleaner of Henderson reported.
With it, club advocates and staff hope to see the golf course rebound and recapture some of its previous popularity and remain in operation for years to come, The Gleaner reported.
“Thank you for your support,” Charles Morris, who closed on the purchase of the 18-hole, 142-acre course on September 29th, said during a celebration at the club’s upstairs banquet room, The Gleaner reported.
“We appreciate what you’re doing,” Eric Williams, who has been President of the club’s Board of Directors, replied.
A deed recorded at the Henderson County Courthouse indicated that Morris Enterprises LLC paid the country club just over $1 million for four parcels of real estate, The Gleaner reported. But Morris said he has also agreed to make a “considerable investment” to enhance the property and operation.
In an interview with The Gleaner, Morris outlined a vision for upgrading Henderson CC’s facilities and services, making continued improvements to the golf course itself and rebuilding the club as a social venue.
And while ownership changes from an association into private hands, he said the facility’s name won’t change.
“We’re leaving the name ‘Henderson Country Club,’” Morris said. “I thought, it’s been around since 1899; it would be a disservice to change the name.”
Morris said he also committed to the country club’s Board to keep the course open for golf for three years, but in an interview with The Gleaner, he said he expects the course to remain open well beyond that.
“It won’t be row crop,” he said, referring to converting the golf course to corn or soybean fields. “It will always remain a golf course. Always.”
Henderson CC had its beginnings in 1899 when the organization was formed and developed a nine-hole course on leased ground, The Gleaner reported. It closed some years later when the club struggled to collect dues from members.
In 1909, some of the original members led by President B.G. Witt revived the country club, building a clubhouse on a hillside and developing a nine-hole course in Atkinson Park — presumably, the subsequent site of the former Henderson Municipal Golf Course (which closed in July 2019, as the city of Henderson prepared to reopen the renamed Bridges Golf Course of Henderson, The Gleaner reported).
Henderson CC’s clubhouse then burned to the ground in early November 1923. After a failed attempt to purchase much of Fernwood Cemetery from the city that was defeated in court by relatives of several people buried there, the club purchased a 2½-story brick building that had been constructed in 1917 as the Henderson County Tuberculosis Sanitarium. In November 1924, the Henderson Fiscal Court agreed to sell the building for $10,000 to the club, which developed a nine-fairway, 18-hole course that crossed U.S. 60-West.
The club relocated to its current 18-hole course off U.S. 60-East in 1973, providing members a full-sized course that didn’t require crossing a busy highway.
Membership of the club, which once numbered in the hundreds, has declined sharply in recent years, The Gleaner reported. Club Pro Brant Williams said the club today has about 75 full-time members and a few dozen introductory memberships, not counting social (swimming- and dining-only) members.
Morris said his goal is to build the club to 300 golfing memberships, The Gleaner reported. “We’re going to service these people,” he declared.
But he also acknowledged that the club has room for improvement. “A couple of years ago, [after] I had been a member for many years, I knew everything was struggling,” he said. “I told [Wiliams] to tell me if there was ever an opportunity to buy this, if anything ever happened, [to] call me first.”
Six months ago, Williams and Vice President Adam Grogan came to Morris’ home at the club to discuss just such a transaction, The Gleaner reported.
“They [club officials] had several meetings,” Morris said, and on July 26th club stockholders voted unanimously to sell the property to him.
“They needed two-thirds” of stockholders to approve the sale, Morris said, adding that while “I never expected it would be unanimous, [the vote] was 62-0. That meant a lot.”
Morris is a native of northern Florida and a 28-year veteran of the poultry-growing industry who moved to the Henderson area in 2008, The Gleaner reported. He said he now operates 50 broiler houses in Webster and McLean counties.
While Morris acknowledged that “over the years, [golf] had been dwindling” in the U.S., he noted that during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it has been one of the few activities people can safely do together. “Actually, golf is on the upswing now,” he said.
While members have said the condition of the golf course deteriorated some years ago and with Morris acknowledging that “I wouldn’t even play out here, and I live here,” he said that under current Course Superintendent Brandon Miller, the course “has come a long way.”
“Brandon and the guys have done a good job,” Morris said. “This course is in the best shape in four or five years. Members will tell you.”
One longtime member agreed and said credit also is due to Grogan, who chairs the Greens Committee, The Gleaner reported.
“It’s a good course,” Morris said. “I love playing here.”
Morris said he intends to maintain the existing staff at the club, including Miller, Williams, Office Manager Katie Brooks and Clubhouse Manager Reeanna McCarty. “I’m keeping them all, keeping the entire staff,” he said.
There will be a renewed focus on upgrading the club’s foodservice operation, Morris told The Gleaner. “We’re going to get food back to where it used to be,” he said. “Back in 2009, we’d eat breakfast [here] in the morning—it used to be we’d hang out here and eat dinner” or watch ball games in the evening.
“Down the road, [but] not too far down the road, we’re going to have a chef,” Morris added, noting that “when I get home [from work in the evening], I don’t want to go back to town” to eat dinner.
He also wants to upgrade the facilities, including the two-story, approximately 9,500-sq.-ft. clubhouse and the adjacent 2,400-sq.-ft. pro shop. “We’re going to pick it up,” Morris said.
“I’ve already painted outside,” he noted. “When you pull up [to the clubhouse], we want it to look good.”
Morris said he also intends to remodel the clubhouse’s downstairs 19th Hole bar and grill, as well as the upstairs banquet room upstairs, while also refurbishing the tennis courts and building a fitness center. The club also has two swimming pools.
“We’re getting all new golf carts,” Morris reported—a fleet of 25 E-Z-Go rental carts with lithium batteries.
Morris also hopes to restore special events at the club. “Because of the pandemic, events haven’t been here,” he said. He hopes to bring back golf scrambles and corporate outings on Mondays, when the course is closed to regular play.
In prior years, the club also regularly hosted social events such as trivia nights, Halloween masquerade parties, tailgating before University of Kentucky football games, New Year’s Eve parties±—even a Goodwill Date Night, when couples were encouraged to go to a second-hand store to select clothes for each other to wear.
The country club’s two Williams—Eric, who has been President, and Brant, the club pro—each expressed optimism with the change in ownership, The Gleaner reported.
“He [Morris] is in a position to make some improvements to the club that we as a club would struggle to do,” Eric Williams said. “So it’s all going to work out.”
“This is finishing my 10th season [as club pro], and this is the most exciting day I’ve had here,” Brant Williams said. “I’ve been talking to Charles and hearing his vision for what the club could be. This is very promising for the club.”
Eric Williams also credited club staff with keeping the operation going through the challenges of 2020. “Reeanna and Brant have both done an excellent job through this pandemic—above and beyond the call of duty,” he said