The Cleveland, Tenn. course is owned by the city and has been run by Luken Holdings in Chattanooga, Tenn. for the last five years. Conditions had deteriorated to the point the city was about to shut it down before a local family stepped in.
Gary and Rhonda Davis finalized a 10-year deal with the City of Cleveland, Tenn. June 12 to lease the Waterville Golf Course and revitalize the property and bring it back to a facility the city can once again be proud of, the Cleveland Daily Banner reported.
“I grew up in Cleveland and lived right beside the golf course,” said Davis. “My childhood memories were playing golf at Waterville. I drove by one day and saw it was not being taken care of and made a few phone calls and the rest is history.”
For the last five years, Waterville has been managed by Henry Luken of Luken Holdings in Chattanooga, the Daily Banner reported. The corporation also manages Valleybrook in Chattanooga; Battlefield in Ringgold, Ga.; Mt. Airy in Dunlap; Montlake in Soddy-Daisy; and Eagle Bluff in Harrison.
“The city, for decades, has owned the golf course … It was municipally operated for a long time,” explained Cleveland City Manager Joe Fivas. “Gary and his family grew up across the street from that municipal park. We [the city] operated it up until about five years ago. The course had taken a significant economic hit because when [the Tennessee Department of Transportation] widened Dalton Pike they had to shut it down for a couple of years to do that construction and they had to remodel. It never quite recovered from that.
“The council wanted to go in a different direction, and we did a lease to Henry Luken who owns some courses in Chattanooga,” Fivas said. “He has been operating the course for about five years from a leasee standpoint. He decided he did not want to be in business out there at all.”
The Davises are no strangers to running, owning and operating golf courses, the Daily Banner reported. In 1991 the Davis family built, owned and operated Flagstone Golf Course in Cleveland and know the ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of what it takes to manage a club. The course was renamed Chatata Valley after was sold by the Davis family.
“I grew up beside Waterville and played sports all my life. I worked at Rolling Hills when it was there and worked at Waterville running carts around and helping wash carts. I’ve been in the golf business quite a while,” said Davis. “It will be family-run; my wife and I and our two kids will all be working together.”
Fivas said the deal with the Davis family comes just in the nick of time as Waterville was on the verge of going the way of Rolling Hills, a course inside the city that now sits overgrown and forgotten, the Daily Banner reported. Now that the Davis family has taken on the challenge of restoring Waterville, the hope is recreational golf will again flourish on the south end of the city and save a valuable resource that was close to being lost possibly forever.
“Someone intervened and brought Gary and Rhonda to the city and we started having some conversations, Fivas said. “They gave a compelling story of how they wanted to take a stab at making the golf course go. We think it’s a tremendous asset. We worked out an agreement and the council approved it.
“The course needed some repair and we just happened to stumble upon the Davises,” he continued. “We had put out a couple of proposals for people in the community. We were literally within a couple of weeks of shutting it down.
“Grass would have grown up and that asset for the community where younger players play golf and where those who can’t go play at the country club would have been lost,” Fivas added. “This gives them that opportunity. That recreational golf opportunity would have been lost to the community probably forever. Once a golf course goes, it’s hard to bring it back if not impossible.”
Davis told the Daily Banner the plan is to get the 18-hole course back up and running as soon as possible, but acknowledged it is going to take a great deal of time and effort to get things in shape the way he envisions.
“We are going to shoot for the end of the year, but it will be more likely after the first of the year,” said Davis. “All the greens will have to be completely redone. Then we will mow it like a golf course, spray weeds out and let it grow. We are going to treat it like a family-run course. We will be hands on. We want it to be as great as it was when I grew up. It’s a work in progress, but I just want it to be back like it was when I grew up.”
Although Luken Holdings runs several golf courses in the area, there was no immediate connection to Cleveland, which possibly led to the downward trend of the course, the Daily Banner reported. Fivas feels the course will be in good hands and is happy to see it back in the custody of a local family who cares about the community and is looking to promote the sport of golf in Cleveland.
“I think the really interesting part is, Luken, who was here before, didn’t really have a foothold in Cleveland. He wasn’t from Cleveland or Bradley County as far as I know. Gary [Davis] is from here, grew up here,” Fivas said. “[The Davis family] started the Chatata Valley Golf Course. He grew up across from Waterville. They build the other course [the former Flagstone]. They got out of the business 20 years ago and we just started talking. He wanted to bring his magic to the Waterville Golf Course.
“We think it’s a great story of someone who wants to help youth get more involved in golf,” Fivas added. “They want to have more recreational golf—they want to have leagues and tournaments and make it a center of attention for golf in the area. We’re just very excited about the opportunity and look forward to working with the Davises.”
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