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Local man trying to revive closed golf course on the south end of the Grand Strand

Local man trying to revive closed golf course on the south end of the Grand Strand

Mitch Thompkins has always had an affinity for Wedgefield County Club.

As a native of Georgetown, he admired the property growing up and has regularly played the course most of his adult life. He even spent seven months as the course’s de facto superintendent in 2013-14 when he acted as a consultant for its owner.

He now hopes others appreciate Wedgefield as much as he does, as he has a business interest in the property.

Thompkins has signed a five-year lease to operate Wedgefield Country Club from new owner Harry Karetas, and plans to reopen the Manor House Restaurant in the coming weeks and the golf course around July 1.

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The Georgetown property has been shut down since June 2016, when former owner Ray Watts closed it citing a lack of play and poor financial performance.

“I’m excited and nervous at the same time,” Thompkins said. “I want to make it work. I don’t like failing. I don’t like disappointing people, so I’m hoping to make it work.”

Paramont Capital of Phoenix, Ariz., foreclosed on the property late in 2016 and Karetas, the 74-year-old owner of Terminal Storage in North Myrtle Beach, purchased the approximate 175 acres from the lien holder in August for $650,000, according to the Georgetown County Registrar of Deeds.

Wedgefield is a 7,034-yard Porter Gibson and Bob Toski design that opened in 1972. It features several ponds and Lowcountry staples such as large live oak trees, and the property also has the restaurant, four tennis courts, a swimming pool and driving range.

Karetas has kept about six acres out of the lease for potential future development, and also retained a cottage adjacent to the manor house. “That’s kind of like my retreat, so to speak,” he said.

“I bought that property strictly based on the real estate value and the buildings that were currently on the property,” Karetas said. “That to me was a real estate investment there. I was prepared to just maintain the golf course without even leasing it out. I just love the property. I thought about leasing to different people, but Mitch came along and wanted to lease the whole thing, and I think that’s better.

“He’s coming along with the property and I think he’s going to be a big success down there.”

Thompkins will serve as Wedgefield’s general manager and course superintendent. He’s a 1991 graduate of the Horry-Georgetown Tech turf program and worked at Heritage Club as an assistant superintendent from 1991-94 and head superintendent in 1995, assisted designer Mike Strantz with the building of Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and served as an assistant super there for four years, then moved to True Blue Golf Club before purchasing the dry cleaning business where he worked as a high school student.

Thompkins began working on Wedgefield in October and has already completed a lot of renovations and maintenance.

He spent six weeks in October and November bush-hogging the property to get everything down to 2 inches. He said homeowners had already been maintaining about half the course.

A volunteer cleanup day in early November attracted 30 people to pick up limbs, etc., and Thompkins has had some mechanics and superintendents in the golf business assisting him.

“The community has helped out a lot. Everyone is excited,” Thompkins said. “I’m enjoying seeing all the excitement from everybody, but I’m not doing it for a pat on the back. I’m a Georgetown person. I’m a community person. I think it’s a shame the golf course is sitting there closed and I’m doing everything I can to get it back open.”

The Manor House Restaurant will be the first thing to reopen on the property. Thompkins said it is just awaiting a Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) inspection, which could come within a week or two.

The manor house’s roof and hardwood floor have been repaired, the kitchen has new equipment and it has been repainted. Matt Branham has been hired as the chef, his fiancée Maria O’Hara is the dining room manager and Thompkins’ daughter, Meredith, who has a culinary degree, will assist in the kitchen on weekends. “It will be a family business,” Thompkins said.

Elsewhere on the property, the maintenance shed has been repainted, the golf cart shed has been enclosed with new siding and doors, and new maintenance equipment has been purchased.

Drainage and irrigation work is being done, cart path and bunker work are planned, and the greens will be replanted in the spring with TifDwarf Bermudagrass. The grow-in period will determine when the course reopens.

Thompkins plans to hire a golf professional who will give lessons and is planning to host the Georgetown High golf teams and hold clinics for juniors, men, women, seniors, etc.

Wedgefield has had a difficult financial past that includes several sales, bankruptcies and foreclosures.

Thompkins is trying to leverage his connections in Georgetown, where he has lived all but three of his 56 years and was a Georgetown High softball and golf coach from 2000-11, to increase the probability of the property being successful.

He has incorporated “country club” in the title because he plans to make use of all of the property’s amenities.

He has been selling full, golf and social memberships to raise money to assist with the reopening of the club, and has already sold about 80 annual golf memberships that will begin when the course opens. Social membership for $30 per month include a $30 monthly restaurant credit. Tennis is included in all memberships.

He has booked three Christmas parties, three weddings, bridal showers and a class reunion.

He said he also has eight businesses in the city committed to corporate memberships. Employees will receive a discount rate on golf.

He expects his regular walk-in rate to be between $30 and $50 depending on the season and will offer local rates. He plans men’s nights on Thursdays in the summer with nine holes and a steak supper, and monthly ladies luncheons.

Thompkins said he may eventually turn two tennis courts into Pickleball courts to take advantage of that sport’s growing popularity. More information on the reopening of Wedgefield is available at Wedgefieldcountryclub.com.

POYs earned

One woman continued a streak, and another had a record-breaking streak ended in the 2017 Women’s South Carolina Golf Association Player of the Year awards.

Nichols native and Greenville resident Dawn Woodard was edged out in the annual points competition by Lea Venable of Simpsonville after winning the award for six consecutive years. It is Venable’s first POY title.

In WSCGA events, Venable won the Match Play Championship, finished sixth in the state amateur and second in the team championship. She also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and reached the round of 64, and finished second in the Carolinas Golf Association’s Women’s Match Play Championship.

South Carolina Golf Hall of Famer Lea Anne Brown of Mount Pleasant won the WSCGA Senior Player of the Year award for the fourth consecutive year.

Brown won the WSCGA Senior Championship, made it to match play (round of 64) in the U.S Women’s Senior Amateur and finished runner-up in the CGA’s Senior Women’s Championship.

Winners of the Carolinas Golf Association Richard S. Tufts POY awards were Gracyn Burgess of Lexington (Junior Girls), Trent Phillips of Inman (Junior Boys), Courtney McKim of Raleigh, N.C. (Women), Scott Harvey of Greensboro, N.C. (Men), Pat Brogden of Garner, N.C. (Senior Women), Paul Simson of Raleigh, N.C. (Senior Men) and Simson (Super Senior Men).

New RBC pro-am

A new pro-am preceding the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage from April 12-15 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island has been added to the event’s existing pro-ams on the Monday and Wednesday of tournament week.

The Tartan Invitational at Atlantic Dunes will benefit the South Caroling Junior Golf Association and will be held on Wednesday April 11 at Atlantic Dunes in Sea Pines Resort.

Those who enter the 80-player outing will be paired with a special South Carolina guest that may be a PGA Tour professional, a musician, an athlete, an actor or a politician.

An entry fee of $10,000 per foursome or $2,750 per player includes two RBC Heritage clubhouse badges, a weeklong parking pass, an invitation for two to a Wednesday breakfast and awards reception, and tournament gift package per person. It has a shamble format and 10 a.m. shotgun start. More information is at www.rbcheritage.com.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin

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